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The Real Cause of Heart Disease

Why Common Treatment Methods Have Failed and What You Can Do About it

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Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in North America and the world. For decades we have been told that saturated fats and high cholesterol were the primary culprits. This has now been questioned (and dis-proven) as I have written about here and here. For years we have religiously followed low-fat, low-cholesterol diets; yet heart disease remains steady as the number 1 killer worldwide. Surely there must be a logical answer to this problem?

This history of the ‘heart disease industry’

We are all aware that lifestyle factors play a huge part in the cause of heart disease. Sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise, excess alcohol, smoking and stress all have a major impact on heart health. I would like to focus more on the treatment and diet side of things for this post.

In the 1950’s, a scientist by the name of Ancel Keys hypothesized that saturated fats (from animals) and cholesterol caused cardiovascular disease (CVD). This is commonly referred to as the ‘lipid hypothesis’. While this has generally become accepted as fact from the majority of the medical community, there is a lot of recent research that questions the validity of this hypothesis.

Studies have shown that high-fat diets are more effective than low-fat diets at lowering triglycerides while increasing HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol). Large meta-analyses have also shown that saturated fats are not associated with all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease (CVD), coronary heart disease (CHD), ischemic stroke, or type 2 diabetes. We also have evidence to prove that cholesterol (total and LDL (low-density lipoprotein)) on their own does not cause CVD, atherosclerosis or stroke. I wrote about that here

If you think about it logically, it makes perfectly good sense. We have been following government recommendations of low cholesterol and low fat for decades; and yet heart disease still remains the number 1 cause of death. It is true that rates have fallen; however, this is largely due to better long-term management, lowered rates of infectious diseases, and lifestyle modifications, such as the reduction of alcohol consumption and people quitting smoking.

Sugar, Insulin and Heart Disease

Food manufacturers have long known that there are three primary tastes that appeal to human beings. They are sugar, salt, and fat. As low-fat, low sodium diets took a foothold, so too did high sugar. Sugar consumption has increased dramatically in the last 100 years, and the average North American now consumes over 100 pounds of sugar per year.

When we eat sugar (any carbohydrate really), our body produces the hormone insulin in response. The more sugar/carbs, the more insulin is produced. Insulin has many ‘messages’. It tells cells to burn carbohydrates for energy and tells the liver to store glycogen. It also instructs our body to convert excess carbs into fat and to store them.

In other words, insulin puts us in fat storage mode. This is why 90% of type 2 diabetics are also overweight or obese. We know that being overweight or obese significantly increases your chances of developing heart disease and a host of other diseases.

Insulin and inflammation

Insulin is also well-known to ramp up inflammation. It does this by up-regulating the conversion of omega-6 fatty acids to something called arachadonic acid. Arachadonic acid, in turn, produces pro-inflammatory molecules, such as lukotrienes and thromboxane.

This is where things get interesting. Inflammation causes damage to the lining of the arteries. To repair the damage and protect our arteries from further damage, the body sends in cholesterol to ‘patch up’ the artery lining. We also secrete lipoprotein-A (LPa), which thickens the lining of the arteries. I have asked many clients and students to ask their doctor WHY they have high cholesterol.

The standard answer is that they don’t know why and that it doesn’t matter. Here we see that cholesterol has protective benefits. What happens when we go on cholesterol-lowering medication? This accelerates the damage to YOUR arteries! How many physicians are monitoring their heart disease patients’ blood sugar markers?

So, cholesterol is NOT the cause of heart disease. Rather, it is a sign that our arteries are getting damaged by inflammation.

A Quick Word on Heart Disease & Diabetes

The incidence of type 2 Diabetes is projected to increase by 54% to more than 54.9 million Americans between 2015 and 2030. The most common complication of type 2 diabetes is heart disease. Once you understand the connection between insulin and inflammation, it becomes crystal clear as to why this is happening.

One of the other reasons type 2 diabetics develop heart disease is because of compounds called advanced glycation end products (or “AGE’s”). Glycation occurs when glucose reacts with protein, and this results in sugar-damaged proteins (AGEs). The sugar-damaged proteins have altered cell membranes, which leads to impaired structure and function. This then leads to the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and free radicals. These both cause damage to the artery lining. One of the best ways to halt the progression of damage by free radicals is to ramp up antioxidant consumption.

The Low-fat Diet

Government food guides all recommend a low-fat, high-carb diet. The emphasis is on eight to 10 servings per day of whole grains while lowering our intake of saturated fats and cholesterol. These recommendations have largely remained unchanged for the past few decades. Remember, there is a direct relationship with carbohydrate intake and insulin production, and this is regardless of the type of carbohydrate. Simply put, the more carbs you eat, the more insulin you produce.

So it’s no wonder that heart disease remains the leading cause of death worldwide.

On top of that, a recent study done by the American College of Cardiology found that high-carbohydrate, low-fat intake was associated with higher risk of total mortality and heart disease. They also found that higher saturated fat intake lowered risk of stroke and did not cause heart disease.

What’s the Solution?

There is a reason why diets like the Paleo and Keto Diets have become so popular. The simple fact is that they are low in carbs and therefore lower in insulin production. These diets can seem quite radical for some people.

Personally, I think that in general, it is a good idea to aim for a Paleo diet (or high-fat, low-carb diet) as a diet/lifestyle. These diets are typically grain- and legume-free, and they have an emphasis on getting adequate amounts of fats and proteins.

By lowering our carbohydrate intake and insulin production, we reduce the damaging effects of insulin and AGE’s, and this is particularly prevalent in people with blood sugar issues. It is also wise to include a wide array of brightly coloured vegetables and fruits.

Useful Supplements

I like to recommend a number of supplements for blood sugar regulation, and for heart health in general.

The following are well-known supplements to help balance blood sugar and insulin:

  • Chromium
  • Vitamin B3 (also great to improve circulation and positively affect lipid balance in the body)
  • Zinc
  • Vanadium
  • Alpha-lipoic acid
  • Bitter melon
  • Cinnamon
  • Gymnema sylvestre

Also, when it comes to heart health, my favourite supplements to recommend include:

  • Vitamin D3
  • Omega-3 oils
  • Resveratrol
  • Alpha-lipoic acid
  • Turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin
  • Berberine (my personal favourite all-round supplement for heart health)
  • Hawthorne berry
  • Garlic
  • Cayenne

Don’t be part of the number 1 killer worldwide. Heart disease doesn’t have to be your reality, especially when you follow some of the diet and supplement recommendations from this article.

What to learn more about the natural approach to heart disease? Check out some of my other articles on the subject below:

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