Know Your Cholesterol Number: Measha Brueggergosman Speaks Up For Heart Month

Measha Brueggergosman Heart

The Huffington Post Canada   Posted: 02/ 9/2012 5:12 pm

People always think they're too young to have heart attacks, but heart disease doesn't discriminate -- it can strike at any age. Measha Brueggergosman, Canadian soprano and judge on the upcoming TV show Canada's Got Talent, found that out the hard way when, at the age of 31, she underwent emergency surgery after a near death experience due to a dissected aorta in 2009.

A family history of heart disease and diabetes had compelled Brueggergosman to lose 145 pounds and undergo gastric bypass surgery around 2006. Taking up Bikram yoga helped her shed the weight, and though she seemed to be living a healthier life, she was neglecting one thing -- her cholesterol.

"I have a history of heart disease in my family and I can use genetics as an excuse, but the fact is that I simply didn't know what was going on with my blood pressure and cholesterol," Measha told The Huffington Post Canada. "Eventually your body will find a way to express itself, and unless you are able to control and be aware of what your cholesterol is, you're never going to be fully in control of your heart health."

A pain in her throat lead her to the hospital, and resulted in almost immediate open-heart surgery. The doctors warned her that her blood pressure was something she'd have to look after for the rest of her life.

To help prevent women from finding out as dramatically as she did, the soprano has teamed up with Becel, the founding sponsor of The Heart and Stoke Foundation's 'The Heart Truth' campaign, to get women motivated to get out and check their cholesterol number -- a pivotal step in reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Free screening centres will be open at eight malls and in more than 200 stores across the country throughout the month.

The target for total cholesterol for otherwise healthy adults is less than 5.2. If it's found to be higher than that, it's important to discuss lifestyle changes with your doctor and even consider cholesterol-lowering medication to help regulate it. Finding out this crucial number can help to understand what's going on inside your body and which treatments you should seek.

"The formula is simple, but the execution is difficult," Measha says.

That's why she and her mother, Ann Gosman, are urging women to take back their health and do something productive about it. Ann's wakeup call came when she had to stand by her husband's bedside, who underwent a quadruple bypass a few years ago.

"Measha was spared -- 87 per cent of people who suffer through a dissected aorta die -- so if she can make a difference in women's lives across Canada, that's a real blessing," says Ann.

Don't forget to get your cholesterol number checked -- and make sure to add these foods to your diet to help you keep your heart healthy:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Salmon

    The American Heart Association recommends <a href="http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Fish-and-Omega-3-Fatty-Acids_UCM_303248_Article.jsp#.TymfZePLzwc" target="_hplink">eating fish twice a week</a> -- especially fatty fish like salmon, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s can reduce the risk of arrthymias, slow plaque build up in the arteries, lower cholesterol and slightly lower blood pressure. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/wallslide/3109583081/" target="_hplink">Jeremy Hall</a></em>

  • Olive Oil

    Switching from butter to olive oil (or even <a href="http://www.rd.com/health/the-great-olive-oil-misconception-dr-ornish-responds/" target="_hplink">olive oil to canola oil</a>) can <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eatingwell/healthy-foods_b_1199933.html" target="_hplink">lower cholesterol levels</a>. The "healthy" monounsaturated fats found in olive oil are still fats however, so use in moderation. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/trixer/3799291822/" target="_hplink">Thomas Ricker</a></em>

  • Nuts

    A large 2011 study found that <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22207512" target="_hplink">swapping nuts for red meat</a> as a leaner source of protein resulted in a 17 percent lower risk of stroke. The unsaturated fat in nuts can help reduce cholesterol in comparison to eating red meat, but nuts are still high in fat and calories, so be aware of portion sizes. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/s58y/4415406430/" target="_hplink">s58y</a></em>

  • Berries

    Berries are rich in a type of antioxidant called polyphenols, which can lower blood pressure and <a href="http://www.ajcn.org/content/87/2/323.abstract" target="_hplink">boost "good" HDL cholesterol</a>. A 2011 study focussed on blueberries found that they contain a compound called anthocyanins (also found in other dark fruits like raspberries) that can <a href="http://www.uea.ac.uk/mac/comm/media/press/2011/January/berries" target="_hplink">protect against high blood pressure</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/kimberlykv/4810740536/" target="_hplink">Kimberly Vardeman</a> </em>

  • Oatmeal

    The <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120111103854.htm" target="_hplink">soluble fiber</a> in oatmeal (as well in other whole-grain foods, fruits and vegetables) <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cholesterol/CL00002" target="_hplink">reduces the absorption of "bad" LDL cholesterol</a> into the bloodstream, <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20307113,00.html" target="_hplink">helping to keep arteries clear</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/nate/359386784/" target="_hplink">Nate Steiner</a></em>

  • Soy

    While the <a href="http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/features/low-cholesterol-soy-protein" target="_hplink">cholesterol-lowering claims</a> of soy protein <a href="http://www.webmd.com/heart/news/20060123/soys-heart-benefits-questioned" target="_hplink">have been debated</a>, there's no question that it's a low-fat source of protein when compared to fattier options, like red meat. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/ev0luti0nary/6746428573/" target="_hplink">Adriane Dizon</a></em>

  • Dark Chocolate

    Thanks to compounds called <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/11/chocolate-stroke-prevention_n_1004426.html" target="_hplink">flavonoids that operate like antioxidants</a>, satisfying that sweet tooth can actually lower bad cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and prevent blood clots. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/chocolatereviews/4724615475/" target="_hplink">Lee McCoy</a> </em>

  • Popcorn

    When air-popped (read, not drenched in butter and smothered in salt), popcorn is actually a surprisingly <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Health/WellnessNews/story?id=8356993#.TymrBuPLzwc" target="_hplink">good source of heart-healthy antioxidants and fiber</a>, according to a 2009 study, because it's technically a whole grain. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/superiphi/2521340333/" target="_hplink">Joelle Nebbe-Mornod</a></em>

  • Tomatoes

    Tomatoes are the <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110301091338.htm" target="_hplink">biggest source of lycopene</a> (a powerful antioxidant) in the American diet, according to a 2011 review of literature on the topic. While more research is needed still, preliminary experiments suggest that lycopene could play a role in <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21291369" target="_hplink">preventing cardiovascular problems</a> due to its <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22076972" target="_hplink">anti-inflammatory properties</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/33909700@N02/3158937163/" target="_hplink">Dave Stokes</a></em>

  • Seaweed

    Just like their leafy, green, land-grown counterparts, seaweeds pack some impressive benefits for the heart, including <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110913184059.htm" target="_hplink">antioxidants and even some good fats</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/khawkins04/5473790679/" target="_hplink">Ken Hawkins</a></em>

  • Potatoes

    Sweet potatoes are packed with disease-fighting antioxidants, and both sweets and regular <a href="http://shine.yahoo.com/healthy-living/5-foods-that-are-surprisingly-good-for-your-heart-2450980.html" target="_hplink">spuds contain fiber and potassium</a>, <a href="http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/potassium-and-your-heart" target="_hplink">key in keeping your heart functioning</a> its best. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/22280677@N07/2201327206/" target="_hplink">Svadilfari</a></em>

  • Coffee

    A 2011 study suggests that coffee is one of the <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110504095630.htm" target="_hplink">biggest sources of antioxidants</a> in the average person's diet, and that caffeine is actually behind the heart-healthy effects of that morning (or afternoon) pick-me-up. Although more research is still needed to more clearly understand the process of how caffeine counteracts free radicals in the body, it seems to help fight heart disease, Alzheimer's and more. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dyobmit/18588671/" target="_hplink">Timothy Boyd</a></em>

  • Alcohol

    A 2011 review published in the "British Medical Journal" found a 14 to 25 percent <a href="http://www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.d671" target="_hplink">drop in heart disease</a> in moderate alcohol drinkers compared to teetotalers. For years, research has flip-flopped on the healthy or not debate over alcohol. While once-heralded <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/19/red-wine-health_n_1018934.html" target="_hplink">resveratrol might not be worth all the hype</a>, a recent Spanish study suggests it's <a href="http://www.ajcn.org/content/95/2/326.abstract" target="_hplink">alcohol itself that has cardiovascular benefits</a>, not just the compounds in red wine. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dinnerseries/5958666230/" target="_hplink">Dinner Series</a></em>

  • Related Video

FOLLOW HUFFPOST CANADA LIVING