Tag Archives: heart health

South Asians, Stay Heart Healthy During COVID Isolation

South Asians have the highest risk of heart disease of any ethnic group. The facts are sobering – 1 in 4 heart attacks occur before the age of 40.

In fact, South Asian men and women have a significantly higher likelihood of having a heart attack before age 50 that is more lethal compared to any other ethnic group.

Although cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death all over the world, why do South Asians carry an especially heavy burden of this disease?

Stanford’s South Asian Translational Heart Initiative – (SSATHI) is trying to find answers.

Helping South Asian Heart Health

At SSATHI we are helping South Asians – people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, and Sri Lanka – better understand what makes them predisposed to cardiovascular disease and providing culturally tailored, medical and lifestyle changes to help them lower their risk factors.

We are the first cardiology clinic dedicated to the detection and long-term management of heart disease risk among  South Asians.

Health Impact of the coronavirus pandemic

Since the shelter in place began on March 17, our clinic has seen many South Asian patients whose lifestyles have grown increasingly unhealthy.

These profound changes in lifestyle  include poor diet, reduced physical activity, increased alcohol consumption, weight gain and increasing levels of stress.

South Asians must be vigilant about staying heart healthy during social isolation.  At SSATHI, we are dedicated to increasing awareness about risks and lifestyle choices and offering advice on how to improve heart health.

 Dr. Rajesh Dash MD, PhD, Medical and Scientific Director of SSATHI

Partnering with SSATHI for Clinical Services

SSATHI’s team of clinicians – behavioral psychologists, dietitians, nurses, pre-diabetes specialist and cardiologists – offer comprehensive heart risk assessments, as well as medical and lifestyle interventions aimed at aggressive risk reduction.

As one example, the clinic offers the oral glucose tolerance testing that provides detailed insight into blood sugar and insulin regulation, and helps to identify patients at risk for pre-diabetes. This insight helps our providers tailor treatment by going beyond traditional markers such as hemoglobin a1c (Hba1c – three-month blood sugar mean).

Our pre-diabetes specialist Dr. Fahim Abassi,  has developed several tools to help providers and patients better understand blood sugar regulation and to develop personalized lifestyle recommendations.

The SSATHI clinic also offers virtual care so patients can access clinic services from the convenience of their homes and offices.

SSATHI Clinical Trials

In addition to clinical care, SSATHI has a robust research effort underway to uncover the underlying causes of South Asians’ increased risk for heart disease. Our clinical trials focus on genetic and hormonal risk factors behind heart disease, and a more recent trial on the effects of lifestyle intervention delivered by telemedicine has shown promising results. SSATHI is currently recruiting for a trial that studies the effect of plant sterol supplementation on LDL cholesterol levels. Trials like these helps explore alternative treatments beyond standard medication therapy.

Dangers of Covid19

Though our community has been making steady progress in managing their health, COVID-19 presents a whole new danger. People with co-morbidities such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease are at an increased risk of developing complications from COVID19. It is therefore more important than ever that we pay attention to our physical and mental health.

Recommendations to improve heart health during shelter in place

In addition to observing city and state mandates for masking and sheltering in place, and continuing proper hand washing, it is equally important to follow positive lifestyle behaviors.  Good nutrition, regular physical activity, consistent sleep schedule and instituting positive coping mechanisms to manage stress, will enhance our ability to deal with the pandemic.


Sheltering in place has forced us to change the way we shop for groceries so dedicate a couple of pantry shelves to nutrient dense shelf stable foods. Channel your culinary curiosity towards creating more vegetable and lentil-based dishes and learn to cook with whole intact grains.


  • Refined & processed starches/carbohydrates such as Maggi noodles, poha, sooji, instant mixes of idli,  or dhokla,


  • Whole grain alternatives like whole wheat noodles, steel cut oats,
  • Coarse cracked wheat or dahlia, quick cooking farro,
  • Barley, bulgur, quinoa, brown and red rice.

Must have

  • Fresh vegetables and fruits, organic low-fat dairy,
  • Plant-based protein sources like lentils and beans
  • Whole intact grains like quinoa, millet and brown rice.
  • Frozen vegetables

Snack Mindfully

  • Avoid using sugar and other refined and processed snacks as a crutch to get through your mid-afternoon slump.
  • Choose low fat organic yogurt and or fresh fruit as a refreshing wholesome snack instead.

Create a schedule to obtain groceries on a regular, biweekly basis and consider online delivery or in-store shopping with safety practices.


Setting aside a few minutes – even as little as 20 minutes to go for a walk could make a big difference in your mood, energy levels and digestion. This could also be a great way to get some sun exposure and restoring your vitamin D levels while giving you an opportunity to clear your mind and getting some exercise.


It is particularly important to establish a consistent sleep schedule. Positive sleep habits include avoiding late night eating (eating after 10:00 pm), unwinding at least an hour before bed (even if it means going to bed later) and allowing sleep to unfold help support a good night sleep.

Getting up around the same time every day, getting light exposure shortly after waking up and blocking blue light on electronic devices 1 – 2 hours before bedtime are all valuable sleep strategies recommended by Stanford sleep specialists Dr. Rafael Pallayo and Dr. Rachael Manber.


As COVID can add a higher degree of stress and anxiety, SSATHI’s behavioral psychologist Dr. Valerie Hoover recommends practicing patience and compassion by lowering your expectations in areas of your life that you cannot control.

Instead, focus on parts of your life that you can control, whether it is health, finances, recreation or relationships. Separating work and non-work activities if you are working from home, creating daily routines such as showering and dressing up, further helps us deal with the lack of daily structure and disrupted routines.

We wish you all good health and optimism!

Vijaya Parameswaran MS, RD, CDE is a clinical researcher, dietitian and certified diabetes educator. She has developed a virtual lifestyle intervention program (NEST – Nutrition, Exercise, Sleep and Transcendence) at the SSATHI clinic. She is also the program manager for Stanford’s telemedicine program CardioClick.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents


Gala For Heart Health A Success

On Saturday, March 17, 2018, more than 320 philanthropists, physicians, and community leaders came together for the Scarlet Ball, an annual gala to benefit the South Asian Heart Center at El Camino Hospital. The fundraising event, which was held at the Dolce Hayes Mansion in San Jose, raised more than $348,000 to support the Center’s work.

A commendation letter from the 19th Surgeon General of the United States Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA, was shared at the event recognizing the South Asian Heart Center staff, volunteers, and supporters for their lofty vision of working to improve the health of the South Asian community. Dr. Murthy stated, “You saw that heart disease was disproportionately affecting South Asians, leading to heart attacks, disability, and lives lost. You also recognized that many of these tragic events could have been prevented if only evidence-based prevention measures had been brought to the community in a culturally appropriate manner. Admirably, you took it upon yourself to build an institution that would close the gap between what our community had and what it needed to prevent disease and save lives.”

Congressmember Ro Khanna and Assemblymember Ash Kalra attended the event, and presented the South Asian Heart Center with certificates of recognition for outstanding work in reducing heart disease and diabetes among South Asians.

Since opening its doors in 2006, the South Asian Heart Center has dedicated its resources to increasing awareness and prevention of diabetes and heart attacks in South Asians, and research to improve risk prediction and reduction in this vulnerable population. To date, the Center has enrolled more than 7,800 participants in its culturally appropriate AIM to PreventTM and STOP-DTM programs, educated more than 3,000 physicians, reached out to more than 80,000 community members, published its findings in peer-reviewed journals, and opened satellite offices in Fremont and Los Gatos.

“The four little secrets that have helped us improve health outcomes for our participants are Meditation, Exercise, Diet, and Sleep – what we call our MEDSTM lifestyle platform. This enabling platform forms the basis of the Center’s education curriculum, expert lifestyle counseling, and personalized health coaching to help stop diabetes and halt heart attacks,” says Ashish Mathur, executive director of the South Asian Heart Center at El Camino Hospital. “Through the ideal daily practice of MEDS, we’ve seen 68% of our participants lose weight, 62% improve their cholesterol ratio, and 71% improve their HbA1c.”

Building off the importance of developing a healthy lifestyle, keynote speaker Munjal Shah, a successful entrepreneur and South Asian Heart Center participant, shared his story of determination to get healthy. After Shah sold his company Like.com to Google in 2010, he had a heart attack scare. He modified his diet and lost 40 pounds and through the process, realized he had a passion for digital health and healthy living. Shah now focuses his entrepreneurial energies in this direction and co-founded Health IQ in 2013. As part of his keynote, Shah quizzed the Scarlet Ball attendees on how much they knew about aspects of a healthy lifestyle and challenged them to evaluate their health literacy.

The gala also featured a live auction, heart-healthy cuisine by Chef Vittal Shetty of Jalsa Catering, entertainment, and dancing.

About El Camino Hospital
El Camino Hospital is an acute-care, 443-bed, nonprofit and locally governed organization with campuses in Mountain View and Los Gatos, California. Key medical specialties include cancer, heart and vascular, men’s health, mental health and addictions, neuroscience, orthopedic and spine, senior health, urology, and women’s health. Additional community-based services include the South Asian Heart Center and Chinese Health Initiative. The South Asian Heart Center’s mission is to reduce the high incidence of diabetes and heart attacks in Indians and South Asians through culturally tailored, science-based, and lifestyle-focused services. To learn more visit www.elcaminohospital.org.