We tend to ask the question: “What is the cause of blood vessel disease”? Would you have expected that at this point there are not just one cause, but seventeen causes of blood vessel disease identified that can all be treated? In the May 2015 issue of the Life Extension Magazine one of the causes, high homocysteine has been stressed as being an important risk factor that not every health professional has yet appreciated.
In the following overview I will briefly address all of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease and then summarize what can be done to prevent heart attacks and strokes.
1. Excess cholesterol: Too much cholesterol can lead to clogged arteries. When we eat too much red meat too often, this extra dietary cholesterol can elevate your total blood cholesterol.
2. High LDL cholesterol: The LDL cholesterol is often labeled the “bad cholesterol”. In reality it is the cholesterol that is being transported from the liver to all of the body cells, which utilize it to replace the aging membranes that envelop the cells. What is important to know is that sugar and starchy foods (pasta, cakes, cookies, noodles, white rice, potatoes, pizza, muffins etc.) lead to a surge of blood sugar, which stimulates the liver to produce more LDL cholesterol. Any excess sugar in the blood will oxidize the LDL cholesterol, which leads to accelerated hardening of the arteries.
3. Low HDL cholesterol: HDL is the type of cholesterol that is transported from the cells back to the liver. Any oxidized LDL cholesterol is also mopped up by HDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol has been dubbed the “good cholesterol”. It is important that LDL and HDL cholesterol are balanced. It is noteworthy that HDL cholesterol is much higher in athletes and those who exercise on a regular basis (like 5 to 7 times per week). This means that there is a surplus of the protective HDL cholesterol, which prevents hardening of the arteries.
4. Oxidized LDL: As explained above sugar and starchy foods oxidize cholesterol, so does radiation. A Mediterranean diet including olive oil will stabilize your metabolism and protect LDL from being oxidized.
5. High blood sugar: In pre-diabetes and diabetes, the blood sugars are high, but they are normal in people with a normal metabolism. As explained before it is this scenario, which leads to oxidation of LDL cholesterol and accelerated hardening of arteries. This is the reason why diabetics have severe blood vessel disease with closure of major arteries like the one going to the legs. If arterial by-pass surgery is not feasible because of the severity, often a physician has no other choice but to amputate a lower leg.
6. Excess triglycerides: People with excessive weight have a change in metabolism called metabolic syndrome, where triglycerides are high. But diabetics also often have high triglyceride levels in their blood. This is an independent risk factor to develop hardening of the arteries.
7. Elevated C-reactive protein: Dr. Paul Ridker published a landmark study in 2002 where he concluded that the blood test C-reactive protein was a reliable indicator to identify people who were at risk of developing heart attack. It measures inflammation in the body. What is inflamed here is the lining of the arteries from oxidized LDL cholesterol. I hope you see a pattern. Some of these points are actually connected.
8. Low blood EPA/DHA: Essential fatty acids are not contained in processed foods. Instead the food industry puts omega-6-fatty acids into processed foods, as this is much cheaper and leads to a longer shelf life of the processed food products. Omega-6 fatty acids are the precursor for arachidonic acid, which causes inflammation, hardening of the arteries and arthritis. By introducing fish oil or wild salmon two or three times per week you can achieve a counter balance to omega-6-fatty acids. Our bodies want us to balance omega-6 fatty acids with omega-3.
9. Excess insulin: with type 2 diabetes there is a high fasting insulin level. This leads to inflammation of the blood vessel wall and triggers accelerated hardening of the arteries. It also causes the brain arteries to get narrowed, and as a result the brain develops Alzheimer’s and dementia. Alzheimer’s is now called “type 3 diabetes”. An overweight or obese person who cuts out sugar in the diet and exercises can often control excessive weight, lower insulin and normalize cognitive deficits.
10. Excess fibrinogen: Blood clotting factors are manufactured in your liver and this is balanced by fibrinolytic factors that circulate in the blood. In certain conditions like diabetes, or the metabolic syndrome too much fibrinogen is produced. This can lead to blood clots.
11. Excess homocysteine: Some people are born with gene defects that program our cells to run abnormal biochemical reactions in our cells. Correct methylation pathways are important for normal cell function. However, if there is a methylation defect, abnormalities set in and homocysteine accumulates. As we age, there is also a weakening of certain enzymes that are involved in the methylation pathway. With any of these enzyme defects you need to use appropriate supplements to normalize this metabolic defect. Vitamin B2, B6 and B12 supplementation will often stabilize methylation defects and homocysteine levels return to normal. Methyl folate 1 mg per day is also very useful. Some people in older age cannot metabolize folate very well. This is important as severe, familial cardiovascular disease, where people often suffer heart attacks during the best years in their lives, can be postponed this way by several years or decades.
12. High blood pressure: Many people are not aware that high blood pressure is a disease where the linings of the arteries are inflamed and there is too little production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a signaling substance contained in many vegetables, particularly in red beets. Nitric oxide is the body’s tool to keep blood pressure normal by widening the diameter of arteries. High blood pressure leads to accelerated hardening of the arteries, because the oxidized LDL cholesterol gets deposited right under the diseased lining of the arteries. Just lowering the blood pressure with medications will not remove the other risk factors; they have to be addressed separately. The DASH diet has been developed to assist in lowering elevated blood pressure.
13. Low nitric oxide: Too much sugar and starch in one’s diet cause oxidation of LDL cholesterol as explained and this causes a dysfunction of the lining of the arteries resulting in less production of NO (nitric oxide). The lack of nitric oxide causes constriction in the arteries throughout the body, which will in turn elevate the blood pressure. Exercise will also lead to more nitric oxide production, but the right diet is the other factor. There is a supplement you can buy, called NEO-40 (one or two per day can be taken as a supplement, available on Amazon in the US, in health food stores in Canada). But make no mistake: it’s not about supplements; it is about the proper diet and lifestyle!
14. Vitamin D3 deficiency: I have blogged about the importance of vitamin D3 before. Vitamin D3 is now considered to be a hormone, as all cells have receptors for this molecule. It has anti-inflammatory qualities. It helps in the prevention of heart attacks and strokes.
15. Low vitamin K2: In this blog I have explained that vitamin K2 and vitamin D3 co-operate in removing calcium from the blood and transporting it into the bone. This way they both help in the prevention of osteoporosis. A co-factor in the prevention of osteoporosis is estrogen in women and testosterone in men.
16. Low free testosterone: Low free testosterone has been established as an independent risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. In the man there are a lot of testosterone receptors located in the heart and in the brain; this explains why with a lack of testosterone there is not only erectile dysfunction, but also the risk of developing a heart attack or a stroke.
17. Excess estrogen: When a women approaches menopause, her menstrual cycles can become irregular due to the fact that there are anovulatory cycles, and the progesterone production is starting to slow down. This hormonal state is called estrogen dominance, because estrogen dominates over progesterone. In other words, the ratio of progesterone over estrogen is less than 200 to 1 (progesterone/estrogen ratio) when saliva hormone levels are measured. This is a risk factor for hardening of the arteries. In males with a “beer belly” there is too much estrogen floating around due to an enzyme in fatty tissue, called aromatase. This enzyme manufactures estrogen out of testosterone and contributes along with other factors to causing heart attacks in that scenario.
How can we protect ourselves from these factors?
As already indicated above, there are lifestyle issues that need to be addressed as follows.
- First adopt a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, which includes olive oil. No sugar, no bread, pasta, potatoes, and go extremely easy on certain fruit that is high in sugar, such as dried fruit, mango, bananas and grapes, because we do not want to oxidize our LDL cholesterol for reasons explained already.
- Exercise regularly. If you like, go to a gym (my wife and I do this regularly). If you are insecure, ask a trainer initially to guide you through the exercise equipment. It really is not that difficult to do. You develop a routine that is good for you. Alternatively, you may want to go for a brisk walk, run or participate in dancing. If you get easily bored, rotate the activities, but do not skip days, let alone weeks! Remember that your heart works 24/7!
- Take some vitamins and supplements: Vitamin B2, B6, B12 and methyl folate were mentioned before. Take vitamin D3 in a good dose like 5000 IU per day or more and vitamin K2 200 micrograms per day. Omega-3 supplements (EPA/DHA) are very useful to keep inflammation under control. For more on vitamins and supplements follow this link.
- Have your hormones checked. Some doctors do not feel comfortable about this; maybe you want to see a naturopath about it instead. Your body needs the hormone receptors satisfied by adequate bioidentical hormone levels; otherwise you age prematurely and give up body functions that you would rather keep. Normal hormone levels prevent osteoporosis, premature hardening of the arteries, Alzheimer’s, erectile dysfunction and premature wrinkles.
All of these 17 factors explained above are independent risk factors for developing hardening of the arteries, which affect mainly the heart, brain and kidneys. All you need is one of these factors, and you could develop a heart attack, stroke or kidney failure. You have no problem accepting a preventative maintenance program for your car. Think of having appropriate tests at least once a year done through your doctor. There are blood tests available to monitor hormone and vitamin levels, as well as C-reactive protein and homocysteine levels. Here are also three tests that will assess your heart function.
Your doctor may not order the tests spontaneously. Ask for it!
More info about heart attack prevention: http://nethealthbook.com/cardiovascular-disease/heart-disease/heart-attack-myocardial-infarction-or-mi/prevention-heart-attack/
More info about stroke prevention: http://nethealthbook.com/cardiovascular-disease/stroke-and-brain-aneurysm/stroke-prevention/
More on arteriosclerosis (blood vessel disease):http://nethealthbook.com/cardiovascular-disease/heart-disease/atherosclerosis-the-missing-link-between-strokes-and-heart-attacks/