Atherosclerosis and its associated vascular complications are the principal causes of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases (CVDs), leading to myocardial infarction (heart attacks) and stroke (brain attacks) respectively.
It has been estimated that every 20 seconds a person in America has a heart attack, with over 1 million new and recurrent coronary attacks occurring every year. CVDs are a leading cause of death and impairment in the United States, affecting over 60 million Americans. In Western civilizations, CVDs account for more than 40% of all deaths.
The most common form of heart disease is called atherosclerosis, which describes a thickening and/or hardening of the arteries. It involves a slow buildup of fatty substances, cholesterol, body cellular waste products, calcium, and fibrin (a clotting material in the blood). The buildup that results, called plaque, may partially or totally block the blood’s flow through the artery. As a result, a blood clot (thrombus) may form on the plaque’s surface. If this occurs and the entire artery is blocked, a stroke or a heart attack may occur. Inflammation is now recognized as an important factor causing atherosclerosis and heart disease. Molecules that are inflammatory in nature may overcome the ability of the adrenal glands (that secrete cortisol in response to inflammation) that can lead to events that lead to the recruitment of white blood cells into the blood vessel wall. Here, they can give rise to abnormal cells that initiate the development of atherosclerotic lesions.
Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive disease that may start in childhood. Today, more people in their thirties and forties (men more than women) are developing this disease. Specific diseases caused by atherosclerosis include coronary artery disease, angina, pectoris, stroke, cerebral vascular disease, ischemic attacks, and diabetes, including vascular complications.
Surgeons often suggest by-pass surgery and angioplasty to open arteries. However, these invasive approaches are effective, but temporary at best. An efficacious–and in the long run natural–solution is to support the body’s own systems to heal itself.
Drink plenty of water. Omit caffeinated foods and beverages. Limit salt, sugar, and cholesterol-rich foods. The Paleo Diet is highly recommended, as are olive oil, onions, garlic, and carrots.
9 Dietary Considerations
- Monitor the quality and the quantity of fats. Avoid saturated fats from commercially grown red meat and trans-fatty acids found in hydrogenated fats like shortening, margarine, and commercially processed foods. Use refined, cold-pressed nut and seed oils such as flaxseed, olive or walnut oil. Seafood is recommended, as it contains Omega-3’s.
- Eating more, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes may help protect the heart.
- The risk of eating too much refined sugar is equal to the risk of eating a high-fat diet.
- Reduce or eliminate caffeine (it raises blood pressure).
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol.
- Reduce or eliminate excess salt.
- Increase fiber intake (oat bran, psyllium, and apple pectin).
- Limit dairy intake (dairy decreases magnesium absorption). Research suggests that cow’s milk contains an enzyme known as xanthine oxidase, which is capable of damaging the blood-vessel wall and promoting atherosclerosis. While butter may not be the perfect food, the evidence suggests it may be safer than margarine.
C-reactive protein (CRP) is produced in the liver and has emerged as a strong predictor of clinical events of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes, even in cases where cholesterol levels may be normal. For this reason, a CRP assay may become a routine part of blood tests for determining cardiovascular risk.
Normally, CRP levels in blood are undetectable or very low. High levels are strongly associated with inflammation. CRP levels may be lowered by physical exercise, weight loss in obese people, and anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin. Antioxidants also may play an anti-inflammatory role.
- Diabetes, active and passive smoking, physical inactivity, and obesity increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis.
- There is a growing consensus that homocysteine overload may be a major contributor to degenerative diseases such as atherosclerosis. An overload occurs when homocysteine levels are greater than 14 mcm/liter.
- Oxidative stress refers to a person’s exposure to chemicals, toxins, pesticides, radiation, drugs, pollution, adrenal stress, and other “free-radical” destroyers that slowly tear down our immune system and increase the risk of endothelial dysfunction (injury to the blood vessel walls.)
- High levels of LDL (referred to as “bad” cholesterol) is another major risk factor. Oxidation of LDL renders it “sticky” and facilitates deposits on the internal lining of blood vessels. This condition should be treated if LDL reaches 103 mg/dl or greater.
- Age, genetic background, and gender (men develop atherosclerosis earlier than women) are other risk factors.
- The onset of atherosclerosis increases the risk of developing other disease states, such as angina pectoris, cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia, coronary heart disease, heart attacks, congestive heart failure, and diabetes
- Hypertension (>140/90 mm Hg) is a risk factor and should be treated.
- Since diabetes increases the chances of developing atherosclerosis, blood sugar levels should be kept in check.
59% of atherosclerosis patients are deficient in this key mineral for the proper functioning of the heart. Magnesium calms the heart, inhibits platelet aggregation, improves heart function, lowers blood pressure, and dilates the arteries. It can also raise levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol. There are synergistic benefits when magnesium is combined with CALCIUM. Dosage: 400-800 mg/day.
- CO-ENZYME Q10
CoQ10 shuttles oxygen into the muscle cells of the heart and has reduced the number of hospitalizations of congestive heart failure (CHF) patients by 30-40 percent. CoQ10 is involved in several of the steps that have to do with the production of energy within the cell. There appear to be clinical advantages with CoQ10, with no side effects or toxicity. Animal experiments have shown that CoQ10 markedly improves survival after an ischemic stroke. It is especially important to take CoQ10 if you’re on a statin drug for cholesterol. Dosage: 60-200 mg/day.
- VITAMIN E TOCOTRIENOLS and TOCOPHEROLS
A deficiency of this lipid soluble micronutrient is common in conjunction with many symptoms associated with heart disease. A natural blood thinner, vitamin E can treat blood clots as a result of arrhythmia or valve abnormalty. Vitamin E strengthens artery walls, improves muscle function, and improves the oxygen supply to the heart. Recent studies show that the gamma form of vitamin E may be more beneficial to the heart than the alpha form. Decrease to 200 IU daily if on Coumadin (warfarin). Dosage: 400-1200 IU daily.
- OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
These help maintain cell membranes and play a role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS keep blood vessels healthy and flexible, work as anti-inflammatory agents, and lower cholesterol. Flaxseed: 1-2 tbsp/day. Cold water fish contains both DHA and EPA. Dosage: 1,000-3,000 mg daily.
- ALPHA LIPOIC ACID
Alpha lipoic acid is a naturally occurring compound that appears to be useful in treating pathologies associated with oxidative stress. It has been safely used in Europe for 30 years to prevent and treat complications associated with diabetes, polyneuropathy, and cataracts. Because alpha lipoic acid is an excellent metal chelator and has an antioxidant function, it may potentially delay atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. Dosage: 100-600 mg daily, as directed by practitioner.
- L-CARNITINE and L-ARGININE
L-carnitine has anti-arrhythmic effects. It lowers triglycerides and LDL cholesterol while raising HDL. Dosage: 500 mg, 2-3 times a day. ARGININE improves the flow of nitric oxide and may improve the symptoms of atherosclerosis. TAURINE is a major nutrient associated with heart health. Dosage: As directed by a qualified health care practitioner.
- POTASSIUM CHLORIDE
Potassium chloride is imperative in maintaining good heart rhythm and decreasing hypertension. Dosage: 100-300 mg daily unless taking a prescription diuretic drug than more may be recommended.
Garlic improves the elasticity of blood vessel walls. It also prevents platelet aggregation and thrombus formation by prolonging clotting time. Do not use concurrently with anti-platelet agents (e.g., aspirin) and anticoagulants (e.g., warfarin), for it may increase bleeding time. Dosage: 1-3 tablets daily or a few cloves daily.
- GINKGO BILOBA
Ginkgo is an herb that naturally thins the blood and improves oxygenation to the brain. Ginkgo dilates blood vessels, reduces blood pressure, and has an antioxidant effect. Dosage: 60-180 mg daily.
Hawthorn reduces vascular permeability and fragility, and increases coronary blood flow. It also slightly increases the strength of the coronary contraction and decreases blood pressure. Hawthorn remains one of the most popular botanical medicines for heart conditions in Europe. Dosage: As directed by a qualified practitioner. (Do not use when taking digitalis Lanoxin medications.)
- POMEGRANATE JUICE
Pomegranate juice is a rich source of antioxidants and it may have anti-atherosclerotic properties. Animal studies shows that it decreases bad LDL cholesterol and retards development of plaque on arterial walls. Dosage: As directed.
Chelation therapy removes plaque from the arteries by injecting a synthetic amino acid called EDTA (ethylenediamine tetra acetic acid) into the bloodstream. This takes place slowly, over a number of hours. The process reduces the mineral content from the blood, which can cause heart disease. The mineral content is then eliminated through the kidneys. EDTA causes calcium to be pulled from arterial plaque, restoring the balance of blood.
Claudication (Painful Walking)
- GINKGO BILOBA
Trials showed that the use of GINKGO BILOBA (compared to the use of the prescription drug pentoxifylline) was effective in significantly increasing pain-free walking distance. Dosages used
Peripheral arterial disease impairs circulation and can lead to claudication. L-carnitine may improve exercise ability for those with poor circulation in their legs. It contributes to energy production within muscle cells and skeletal cells, and improves blood vessel integrity. Dosage: 1-2 gm daily.
Patients with claudication showed significant improvement in some studies with IV injections of L-arginine. Dosage: See a qualified practitioner.
Very positive results were noted by a study in which 62% of the patients were treated with 10 mg of policosanol twice a day for 6 months. Policosanol also improved lower extremity coldness and pain.
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