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Articles > A Short Primer on Heart Disease

by Peter Holleran, DC

   For crisis care, see your physician, but for prevention, consider the following. It is far better to avoid serious health problems than stray so far from the natural path that one must buy time with surgical or pharmaceutical intervention - with all of their inevitable complications.

   Recent studies have concluded that 80% of heart attacks can be avoided by taking three simple steps: (1) eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (2) exercise and (3) quit smoking. That's amazing. 80% less incidence of the number two killer of our time, by doing three easy things, with thousands of dollars saved in health bills and a lifespan prolonged and improved. What a bargain!

   A Swedish study tracking 175,000 men and women for five years (along with another study that comparing 15,000 heart attack patients with an equal number of healthy subjects for ten years) concluded that the strongest predictor of death from heart attack is something called the apo ratio. This is the ratio of the protein component of HDL to LDL (good to bad cholesterol). Regardless of the TOTAL cholesterol or triglycerides, the ratio of apoA-1 to apoB was THE consistent marker of heart attack risk.

   Based on this and other findings, it is becoming clear that “low cholesterol” by itself is a false indicator, and drugs such as statins that attempt to lower total cholesterol - an essential substance for many vital body functions, including nerve transmission - may be on the wrong track, not even considering their numerous side-effects. Cholesterol can actually be relatively high with an individual still in perfect heart health. It is the ratio of HDL to LDL, and especially, apoA-1 to apoB, that is of primary importance. The ideal ratio is 2:1.

   The easiest way to favorably affect the apo ratio is by improving the dietary ratio of omega-3 oils to omega-6 and omega-9. Eating wild salmon a couple of times a week or supplementing with fish oils is a good way to do this. The traditional practise is using cod liver oil, and it still remains one of the easiest and most effective methods to boost levels of omega-3. An added benefit, as discovered in Bowman Grey Medical School in the 1980’s, is that cod liver oil is more effective than aspirin in decreasing platelet aggregation. Thus, it decreases clotting risk while avoiding possible stomach and kidney problems.

   Reducing animal protein in favor of plant protein has been shown to lower total cholesterol even if the total fat intake stays the same. Increasing the intake of plant protein will also favorably alter the apo ratio.

   A few more tips: Avoid homogenized milk. The laceration of the fat particles that occurs during homogenization releases xanthine oxidase which has been implicated in increasing the risk of atherosclerosis (fatty deposits in your arteries). If you must eat beef, eat grass-fed beef only as it has a higher omega-3 content than feed lot beef fed mostly grain. Eat oatmeal. It can help lower cholesterol and also promote the good cholesterol. You must have seen the Quaker Oats ads, which I consider misleading. You must eat the plain oatmeal. Don’t buy the little flavored packets that are up to 50% refined sugar, as that will negate all the good effects you were eating it for in the first place! I make a breakfast concoction out of steel cut oats or 5-minute oats (not instant), garbanzo beans (chick peas) or peanuts, tomatoes, a dab of butter and/ or peanut butter, soy sauce, and a few raisins. It tastes alot better than it sounds! Plenty of cholesterol lowering benefits, and very stabilizing on the blood sugar. It keeps me going along time without the let-down one gets after eating the sweet stuff. More like a meal than a dessert.

   Two other indicators recently considered among the most important risk factors for heart disease are elevated levels of both C-reactive protein and homocysteine. C-reactive protein is produced by the liver in response to inflammation, usually caused by injury or infection. One current theory of heart attacks is that many are associated with inflammatory changes in the lining of heart arteries secondary to hidden infections elsewhere in the body, such as with chlamydia pneumonis, heliobacter pylori, or gingivitis (gum disease). According to Dr. James Howenstine, "excess sugar intake is now regarded as the number one risk factor for heart attacks in women and number two in men. Dr. Emanuel Cheraskin learned that one teaspoon of sugar immediately reduces the number of bacteria destroyed by white blood cells by 50% and [this ability to kill by] white cells does not return to normal for five hours. Millions of Americans are consuming 2 or more teaspoons of sugar every hour and are thus keeping their immune status constantly defective... Persons using large quantities of sugar will have trouble eradicating bacteria from artery walls." (www.newswithviews.com)

   Omega-3 oils, garlic, onions, tumeric and ginger can help manage inflammation in the body. Refined flours and sugar, on the other hand, are pro-inflammatory. Many aches and pains go away just from eliminating these two from the diet. This advice is a healthy alternative to the modern fad of taking daily aspirin to prevent heart disease.

   Increased homocysteine causes increased production of LDL, and can be caused by a deficiency of B-vitamins, especially folate. This can be remedied with supplementation and increased intake of fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens as well as lentils and other beans. Thyroid disease and other serious health conditions can also cause elevated homocysteine, however, so one should get checked for these. (HSI Research notes that a Comprehensive Cardiovascular report (CCR), measuring C-reactive protein, fibrinogen, homocysteine, total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and apo ratio can be obtained from Great Smokies Diagnostic Laboratories; 1-800-522-4762).

   Exercise, stop smoking, reduce or better yet eliminate consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugars, eat whole grains, beans, nuts, fish (omega-3 rich; ie., wild salmon), more fruits and vegetables (a significant amount raw), avoid trans fats, and eat smaller quantities of clean, naturally raised meats, if necessary - this, along with chiropractic adjustments that reduce stress and improve the functioning of the nervous system, which in turn has a beneficial effect on all other systems of the body, is the best regimen for preventing heart disease. Funny thing, it is the best regimen for preventing just about everything else, too.

   By the way, just what happens when you smoke, or even inhale second hand smoke (such as in spending a few hours in a casino or bar)? One study determined that within 5 minutes: the aorta begins to stiffen; 30 minutes: the blood begins to get sticky with activated blood platelets, damage to the artery linings begins, and blood vessel dilation is reduced; 2 hours: heart rhythm may become disturbed).

   The choice is largely ours. Take a few simple natural steps towards adopting a natural diet and lifestyle or look forward to the golden years filled with aspirin, diuretics, statins, beta blockers, and bypass surgery. Wouldn’t it be great to to be like Boston Marathon legend Johnny Kelley who saw only four doctors in his lifetime and, still racing well into his eighties, was able to say: “I don’t even have a doctor of my own...You never know what those guys are going to find.” (Young At Heart: The Story of Johnny Kelley - Boston’s Marathon Man, by Frederick Lewis and Dick Johnson, 1992, WRS Publishing)