What is Heart Disease?
Heart disease doesn’t just involve the heart but the whole circulatory system. This includes the arteries and veins which respectively, carry blood to and away from the heart.
The three principles of heart disease are:
1. Thicker blood containing clots.
2. Atherosclerosis; the blocking of the arteries with a deposit called atheroma (the Greek word for porridge).
3.Arteriosclerosis; the “hardening” of the arteries as they lose elasticity and flexibility.
The result is a heart attack if the blood supply to the heart is blocked or a stroke if the blood supply to the brain is blocked.
The Cholesterol Myth
Over the last half century or so much of the focus of health advice around heart disease prevention has been on reducing cholesterol. Yet a massive 60% of people who die from heart attacks have normal or low blood cholesterol levels. In fact people with normal cholesterol levels are just as likely to die of a heart attack than those with high cholesterol and blood levels of cholesterol are not a predictor of a heart attack.
Despite this the NHS continue to concentrate on cholesterol reduction as first line treatment. Millions of prescriptions are given out each year for cholesterol medications such as Statins. These drugs have unpleasant side effects, amongst which are liver damage, nerve damage, cognitive decline (memory loss and depression has been reported), violent behaviour, mood alteration and muscle damage. In addition, Statins are known to block the production of CO Q10 which is needed for cellular energy production. It is particularly important for the heart muscle function and anyone taking statins should supplement 60-100mg CO Q10.
The Real Causes of Heart Disease
Oxidation is a chemical reaction which occurs continuously in the body. Breathing, digestion, the conversion of fat and carbohydrate into energy and detoxification of harmful substances such as alcohol or drugs all involve oxidation. Oxidative stress occurs when potentially harmful free radicals out number antioxidants which have the capacity to neutralise them. Lack of exercise, stress and insufficient fruit and vegetables in the diet lead to an imbalance between free radicals and protective antioxidants. The heart and blood vessels are a major target for damage by free radicals produced by oxidation.
In addition, when free radicals attack LDL cholesterol, it converts into the form that promotes atherosclerosis. It is cholesterol in this damaged, oxidised form that poses a threat rather than cholesterol per se. Damaged cholesterol is more difficult to clear from the arteries and it injures the artery wall.
Metabolic Syndrome consists of abdominal obesity, high blood pressure and glucose/insulin disturbances and is clearly linked with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The focus of health advice should be on reducing consumption of high amounts of refined sugar and carbohydrates (these foods will anyway be turned into fat if eaten in excess and increase cholesterol and triglycerides). Their frequent consumption in Western diets causes insulin resistance as the cells, continuously flooded with insulin become desensitised to it resulting in more and more insulin being produced. Excessive insulin has damaging effects on blood vessels, causing them to contract. It is interesting to note that the increase in CVD parallels the increase in sugar consumption over the last century.
Fibrinogen is a protein in the blood which is involved in the clotting process. Elevated levels thicken the blood and causes excess clotting. In addition high fibrinogen promotes damage to the blood vessel wall by attaching itself to plaques.
Homocysteine is a substance produced from dietary protein. If not metabolised, homocysteine builds up in the blood. It promotes clotting, the oxidation of cholesterol and artery damage and is probably a better predictor of cardiovascular disease than cholesterol. Vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid are known as methyl donors. This means they allow the vital process of methylation to take place, on which the metabolism of homocysteine is dependent. Low levels of these B vitamins lead to high homocysteine.
A substance in the blood called C-reactive protein (CRP) is a marker for inflammation and a predictor of cardiovascular problems. It is linked with damage to the delicate lining of the blood vessels (endothelium) and increased blood coagulation.
There is a clear link between stress and cholesterol since cholesterol is the raw material for making stress hormones. So when we are stressed, cholesterol production will increase. Cholesterol will test high after stressful events such as surgery. Then it will decrease again. Stress produces a high amount of free radicals which cause oxidative damage.
Natural Prevention Action Plan
Research has shown that a diet rich in antioxidants, despite exposure to other cardiovascular risk factors such as dietary fat, is associated with lower incidences of cardiovascular events. The richest dietary sources of antioxidants are fruit and vegetables. Anti-inflammatory foods, e.g. ginger (put a 1oz piece in a juicer with an orange, 2 carrots and 1 apple for a delicious and healthy drink), garlic, green juices and green vegetables. Garlic also contains sulphur compounds which with important cardioprotective properties. Onions, garlic, kale, French/runner beans and apples contains bioflavonoids which are anti-inflammatory, promote good circulation and strengthen capillaries. Hesperidin and rutin, two flavonoids which are very beneficial for varicose veins, are found in abundance in citrus fruits. Other flavonoids called catechiins found in green tea, red wine, peaches and hawthorn berries are also very protective to the heart. Bitter foods, according to Chinese medicine, are very cleansing and supportive to the heart, digestive and circulatory systems e.g. endive, chicory, asparagus, artichoke, very dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids, green tea. Minimise refined carbohydrates, for example white bread or pasta, baked foods and refined cereals and replace with low glycaemic foods (which are mainly whole grain foods). This will help maintain balanced insulin levels. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is an extremely potent antioxidant, with the ability to significantly reduce oxidation of fat. In one study 20mg turmeric reduced high fibrinogen levels. After only 15 days, previously elevated levels of fibrinogen dropped dramatically in all eight subjects. No adverse effects were noted.
Vitamin D. A review involving 100,00 middle-aged and older people, found a clear reduction in cardiovascular disease associated with vitamin D levels. The much publicised low vitamin D levels amongst the general population, due to lack of sun exposure, is now of widespread concern. Oily fish is the best food source of vitamin D.
Vitamin C forms collagen, the substance which give arteries their elasticity.
Magnesium is important for the functioning of the heart muscle and for the cardiovascular system generally. It helps keep blood pressure at a healthy level. Calcium helps regulate the heart beat.
B vitamins including B6, B12 and folic acid to help maintain healthy homocysteine levels and support heart function. A brand new study has shown that low levels of vitamin B6 increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. The researchers found that the people with the lowest levels of B6 had the highest levels of inflammatory marker, CRP and oxidative stress.
Vitamin E has been found to be far more effective than aspirin in reducing the likelihood of heart attack in patients with coronary heart disease.
L. plantarum is found in fermented foods of plant origin and probiotic supplements. It has been found to decrease fibrinogen concentrations in blood.
The benefits of omega 3 from fish oil, nuts and seeds have been well publicised in recent years in relation to cardiovascular health. What is often forgotten is that omega 6 fats are just as vital. These fats are needed for many body functions especially the heart and circulatory system. Modern diets usually supply plentiful amounts of these omega 6 fats in the form of commonly used oils such as sunflower, corn and safflower. BUT these oils are often heavily refined and processed and usually heated, which totally destroys their beneficial properties and results in the formation of unhealthy chemicals. To obtain the undamaged omega 6 fats, these oils must be pure, unrefined, cold pressed and eaten cold. Fish contains omega 3 fats in the already converted forms of DHA and EPA, which the body can take up and use straight away. So keep eating oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, sardines, pilchards) 3 times per week.
Sesame oil has a high percentage of omega-6 fatty acids. Make sure it is cold pressed from raw seeds in order to preserve the full quota of beneficial fatty acids and antioxidants.
Flax seed oilhas 3 times as much omega 3 to 6 and is useful to correct an omega 3 deficiency. Of all the oils, flax contains the largest amount of the type of fat that has a strong dispersing effect on deposits of saturated fats in the blood. This helps to keep the blood thin and avoid clots.
Udo’s Oil provides a balanced 2:1 ratio of omega 3 to omega 6. It contains organic oils of flax, sunflower and sesame with unrefined rice and oat germ oils and evening primrose oil.
Extra virgin, cold pressed olive oil, whilst beneficial for the heart, is not a good source of the omega 3 and 6 fats, being a mono unsaturated fat rather than a polyunsaturated fat.
If the above oils are fried or heated, the beneficial fatty acids will be destroyed. They can be used in salad dressings, mayonnaise and yoghurt or poured over warm (not hot) vegetables or grains.