Low calorie, low fat, right? Avoid eggs, red meat and I’m good to go, right?
Nope. In fact, enjoy those eggs and healthy animal fats. The real culprit behind cardiovascular disease is sugar. Cholesterol jumps in to help save the day, and has gotten much of the blame off and on for many years. What’s really going on? Inflammation.
Cardiovascular health myth: follow a low-fat diet if you have high cholesterol. The Reality: Often people associate high cholesterol with dietary cholesterol intake and hence cut out nearly all of the fat from their diet, thinking it will reduce their bad LDL cholesterol levels. Excellent, beneficial foods such as nuts, olive oils, and guacamole get eliminated. Unfortunately, slashing fat intake too drastically can cause ‘good’ HDL levels to drop as well. Foods rich in monounsaturated fats like nuts, olive oil, and avocados help to lower total cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol, without dropping good HDL cholesterol. Atherosclerosis is progressive, but it’s also preventable.
Atherosclerosis is the hardening of the arteries, a fatty buildup along arterial walls throughout the body. It is an underlying condition leading to heart attacks, strokes, and central to all forms of heart disease. Atherosclerosis is caused by the formation of plaque along the walls of the blood vessel. Plaque formation is a gradual process that occurs over several years. As plaque accumulates, it narrows the arterial lumen and restricts blood flow.
1. Oxidative damage to the endothelium (arterial wall) induces secretion of growth factor and causes plaque to form. This layer protects the endothelial cells. Result: endothelial cells are exposed to damage by free radicals.
2. White blood cells migrate to the site of injury and attach to the endothelium. Plaque begins to form. The white blood cells also initiate an inflammatory reaction. In response to the inflammation, cholesterol and other immune cells are deposited at the site of the injured arterial wall to help repair the damage.
3. Cells from smooth muscle layer also migrate toward the lesion.
4. The deposits lose their endothelial covering, allowing blood platelets to adhere and secrete potent growth factors.
5. The endothelium may remain intact, but growth factors secreted by smooth muscle and endothelial cells continue to enlarge the plaque.
Clogged blood vessels increase the risk for clot formation (blood doesn’t flow smoothly through vessels) by increasing platelet aggregation (blood thickens). Clots in an artery that lead to the heart are what cause a heart attack, clots that lead to the brain are what cause strokes.
Cholesterol numbers. There are several types of cholesterol that can be tested from the blood.
- Total cholesterol: shows the total number of each of the following. Alone it is not very useful as it includes both HDL nad LDL (good and bad) levels of cholesterol. The ratio between these is much more important and informative to cardiovascular health
- LDL (low density lipoproteins, recommended to be lower than 130mg/dl), and VLDL (very low density lipoproteins) are the ‘bad’ cholesterol numbers.
- HDL (high density lipoproteins, recommended to be greater than 35mg/dl) is the ‘good’ cholesterol number.
- Triglycerides (recommended to be lower than 150 mg/dl) show fat levels in the blood, which can be raised by high intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates. How
- Physical inactivity
- Low antioxidant intake (veggies & fruit)
- Low levels of essential fatty acid intake
- Mineral deficiencies
- Chronic inflammation
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- High cholesterol levels
- High blood pressure
- Abdominal obesity
- Uncontrolled Stress
- Excess alcohol intake
The foundation of prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis is based on minimizing oxidative damage and inflammation. The following are major nutrients for treating and preventing atherosclerosis. The best protocol is to remove the substances that cause harm: environmental toxins, especially smoking, oxidative foods such as rancid oils, hydrogenated oils (trans fats), sugar, and processed foods; and increase vegetables and health-promoting fats.
- Increase fiber (aim for 35-50g/day), fiber has a number of jobs in the body. Primarily it helps slow the absorption of glucose (sugar) to balance blood sugar levels, and it also helps ‘clean’ the digestive track, keeping good bacteria and getting rid of all the ‘junk’.
- Reduce sugar as it causes systemic inflammation. Sugar: refined sugar, refined carbohydrates (reduce/eliminate gluten), and artificial sweeteners (they create an insulin response in the body). Reduce processed foods and table salt (processed foods are often also loaded with sugar and highly processed sodium).
- Eat ‘real’ food. Turn to produce for carbohydrates, get more vegetable based proteins, increase dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (chard, kale, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts). ‘Cleaner’ meats and dairy, such as pasture raised, hormone/antibiotic free, will contain less toxins that that body will not have to process (which results in more stress on the liver, and oxidative stress in the blood).
- Increase vegetables: The more vegetables you can consume, the more fiber and phytonutrients your body will have to combat disease and ‘clean’ out the systems for a healthy body.
- Omega 3 essential fatty acids (EFA): will provide the nutrients that every cell in the body needs to survive, and help to raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. These fats are absolutely essential to keeping cells healthy, well lubricated, and help protect against oxidative damage. Examples are avocados, nuts, seeds, fresh fish, olive oil, etc.
Antioxidants are very important to combat oxidation in the body, they block the formation of harmful compounds:Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Flavonoids (found in red wine, berries, grape seed extract, and pine bark extract),Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), Essential fatty acids (EFA) (tuna, herring, salmon, mackerel and sardines, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts). Fish oil, such as cod liver oil, is a good supplement to add to the routine (2,000-3,000mg+/day), and magnesium, potassium (Swiss Chard, yams, spinach, papaya), and calcium (tofu, sesame seeds, sardines, goat milk, collard greens, spinach).
- Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, kale, chard, collards, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage
- Garlic, onions
- Dark berries, nuts, seeds, flax seeds, walnuts.
- Flax seed oil or fish oil (cod liver oil, i.e.).
- Cold water fish: mackerel, herring, halibut, salmon
- Eggs, legumes, ancient grains (amaranth, quinoa, etc.), poultry
- Exercise: pushes the big muscles of the body, strengthens the heart, reduces stress reactions in the body, and helps maintain a healthy weight (or reduces obesity). Minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity (increase heart rate!) 5 days a week.
- Limit alcohol (more than one drink for women, one or two drinks for men, per day).
- Quit smoking &/or exposure to cigarette smoke. Smoking contains chemicals that can directly tear and damage arterial linings, increases clotting risks, increases blood pressure.
- Reduce stress. Stress has a direct chemical reaction in our bodies. The hardworking body does not know the difference between a mountain lion attacking or stressing over bills, work, a big test: it reacts the same chemical way. Stress can affect everything from food cravings (leading to obesity) to exhaustion/fatigue, and poor health.
 Growth factor is a protein molecule, a naturally occurring substance made by the body. It regulates cell division and cell survival.