|Cardiovascular disease (heart disease, diseases of the blood vessels and stroke) accounts for the
death of more Canadians than any other disease (1). Every 7 minutes in
Canada, someone dies from heart disease or stroke. Blood vessels around the
heart deliver essential nutrients and oxygen to the heart muscle. Over time,
factors can affect a change on the interior of these vessels, roughing the
surfaces, encouraging clotting and creating a porridge-like plaque to form.The build-up of this
plaque narrows the passage way for blood, restricting the amount of oxygen and
nutrients that can be delivered and the amount of cellular waste that can be
removed. The narrowed vessels lose their natural elasticity and become
hardened. This is commonly referred to as Atherosclerosis, or “hardening of
the arteries”. According to the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada risk
factors for heart disease are: smoking, alcohol, physical inactivity,
obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes.The Cholesterol ConcernAmbulances cause accidents Every time your commute is slowed to a crawl on the expressway, you
will commonly see a crumbled vehicle or two, a tow-truck, police cruiser and
as an inevitable result of the 911 call, an ambulance on scene. So, one could
assume that, since they are always at the scene, ambulances cause accidents.
It seems an absurd notion to those of us in the know, yet this is the same
logic used to conclude that cholesterol is the cause of heart disease.
Chicken or egg?
If disease prevention is your primary objective then the question you need to ask is, “What comes
first?” In the body everything is inter-connected. A domino cannot fall
without creating a cascade of actions and re-actions so rather than chasing
symptoms like a chicken with your head cut off, the ultimate goal should
always be to discover which came first.
Cholesterol is manufactured by the human liver as an anti-oxidant. Your body will go to
great lengths to regulate the amount of cholesterol contained within (which
is why cutting dietary cholesterol is often ineffective at lowering blood
cholesterol levels.) If your blood cholesterol levels are high then you are
likely suffering from some degree of oxidative or “free-radical” damage in
the body (2). Free radicals can instigate cellular mutation and lesions in
the smooth muscle of arterial vessels (3) and like the ambulance that shows
up at the accident to help the injured, cholesterol arrives at the site of
the arterial damage, to form an internal type of band-aid over the wound.
The notion that elevated cholesterol alone increases our morbidity from heart disease is
misleading. After following almost 5,000 Canadian men for 12 years, Dr.
Gilles Dagenais and his team, based in Quebec, were unable to find an
associated risk between elevated cholesterol and atherosclerosis (4). A distinction
needs to be made between Risk Factor and Cause. Elevated cholesterol should
not be seen as a danger in and of itself, but rather as a marker for some
underlying issue. By addressing the root cause you can positively change the
course of your heart health.
Factors to Consider
- Smoking, alcohol, excess caffeine, chemical food additives, petrochemicals, heavy metals,
environmental pollution and consumption of rancid fats can create free
radical damage in blood vessels (5). Like a car that sits outside all winter,
the exposed metal begins to roughen and rust. When this occurs in blood
vessels, the smooth membrane becomes rough and clotting factors, minerals and
cholesterol form a patch over the damaged area. This patch can increase in
size like a runaway snowball until the passage way for blood flow becomes
completely restricted, or the “patch” breaks off and becomes a clot in
another area of the vessel (6).
- In a study conducted at the Evans Department of Clinical Research and the Cardiovascular Institute in
Boston, Dr. Dieter Kramsch and his colleagues studied over 2 dozen wild
rhesus monkeys, divided into 3 control groups (7). Two groups were fed a diet
of high cholesterol fodder while the third group was fed regularly. Blood
cholesterol levels became increasingly elevated in both groups eating a
high-fat diet, however only the group kept sedentary and confined to their
cages developed atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. The group allowed
to exercise regularly had no signs of hardened arteries or CVD, in spite of
their high fat consumption.
- High Blood Pressure (hypertension) affects 1 in 5 Canadians yet 42 percent of those with the
condition do not realize because there are no outward symptoms. Blood
pressure can rise as arterial vessels begin to lose elasticity and harden.
Hypertension stresses the heart muscle and over time the heart can become
weakened and enlarged. Weakened blood vessels begin to form saclike bulges
that can rupture and cause stroke.
- In the body, the breakdown of an amino acid called Methionine produces another toxic amino
acid (or protein constituent) called Homocysteine. When nutrition is optimal
the body is able to easily neutralize and eliminate this by-product. However,
if the raw materials to complete this task are not present, Homocysteine can
build up in the blood. Several studies suggest that elevated Homocysteine
levels are associated with increased risk of vascular disease and
- Diabetes is a disease whereby the pancreas does not produce enough insulin and/or the cells do not
respond to insulin, making glucose (sugar) in the blood unusable as an energy
source, leading to harmful excess. Uncontrolled Diabetes is associated with
many heart harming risks including; elevated cholesterol and blood fats,
acceleration of atherosclerosis, damage to the heart, capillaries and
arteries. The Public Health Agency of Canada states that heart disease will
kill 80 percent of those currently living with Diabetes.
Signs & Symptoms
There are many subtle warning signs that can indicate diminished blood flow long before a heart
attack or stroke. When minor indicators present themselves, taking corrective
action can stop and even reverse degeneration. Key success factors are
self-awareness and a proactive approach.
The following is a list of indicators that could be associated with other health concerns but can
also be the result of diminished blood flow and arterial degeneration:
- Cold sensation in
fingers and/or toes
- Limbs often “fall
asleep”, feel numb or heavy
- Cramping in hands when
- Sharp, diagonal crease
- Cramping or pain in
legs after minimal exertion
- Diminished memory
- Persistent, nagging
- Ankles swell late in
- Urinating more than
twice per night
- Chest pain after
physical exertion or emotional stress
- Erectile dysfunction in
Conventional medical treatment will vary depending on the severity of the symptoms and condition presented.
Diet and lifestyle recommendations can include; regular physical activity,
smoking cessation, reduction of dietary fats in particular saturated and
trans-fats. A progressive physician or dietician may recommend increasing
dietary fibre and eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids regularly.
The issue of heart disease is complex and without a single solution but one factor that everyone
can agree upon is that diet plays a tremendous role. This is wonderful news,
considering everyone has 100% control over what they decide to put into their
body and when matters of the heart are on the line, it is always a good idea
to eat like your life depends on it.
Water – “is
the medium for all bodily fluids including blood” (9) and an important factor
in blood pressure regulation and blood “stickiness”. Chlorine and fluoride
added to tap water can have detrimental effects on the blood vessels and
bodily cells (10) so choosing a filter to remove these chemicals, reverse
osmosis water and distilled water are your best options (11). Your body
weight in pounds, divided in two is the number of ounces of water you need to
drink daily for optimal hydration. Hot climates, high altitudes and physical
activity increase your need for water. If in doubt, the wetter the better as
your experience of thirst is not a good indicator of optimal hydration. (12)
Carbohydrates - rich
in fibre and in their natural state are the best options for heart health.
This means choosing oats instead of processed cereals for breakfast, whole
grain brown rice instead of bread and pasta for dinner, eating a piece of
fruit instead of drinking a glass of juice. Whole foods will have a more
moderate impact on your blood sugar, keeping it steady and stable rather than
way up or way down. These wild fluctuations can lead to Metabolic Syndrome
and Diabetes, two risk factors for heart disease (13).
Protein - and
its building blocks amino acids are essential for many vital functions in the
body including, repair of muscle tissue (including the smooth muscle of
arterial vessels) and production of healthy blood cells. Certain animal
proteins such as beef, pork and mutton are higher in saturated fat and for
this reason leaner meats such as chicken and turkey breast have become
favoured over the past few decades. Oily fish rich in heart healthy omega-3
fats are also a popular choice.
Eggs, nature’s “perfect
protein” are also our richest source of dietary cholesterol. Although
it has been common practise to advise patients with elevated blood
cholesterol to avoid egg consumption, a multitude of studies have proven that
the intake of cholesterol-rich foods has almost no bearing on blood
cholesterol levels (14). The body naturally produces cholesterol and when
dietary intake increases, natural production in the body decreases to
regulate the total amount. Conversely, when you stop eating cholesterol rich
foods your cells increase production to make up for the lack (15).
Essential Fatty Acids –
particularly Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) found in fatty
fish, are essential to heart health. Regular consumption of this important
fat has been shown to reduce all-cause mortality in men who have already
suffered one heart attack and cut the risk of stroke by up to 50 percent.
(16,17) This may be attributed to the properties in fish oil that reduce the
“stickiness” of blood, decreasing the risk of clotting, favourable impact on
inflammation, blood pressure and blood vessel integrity. (18,19,20)
Countless studies have demonstrated a link between excessive salt intake and
hypertension. The Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada estimates that most
Canadians are consuming two to three times the recommended daily maximum of
2,300mg or 1 teaspoon. An estimated 80% of the salt consumed in the average
Canadian diet is from processed, pre-packaged, frozen, canned and
store-bought foods (21).
Keep the spice rack
fully stocked as a variety of natural herbs and spices will keep food
flavourful while avoiding the sodium over-load.Trade in nutrient-dead
processed food for nutrient-dense ingredients as adequate mineral intake
(such as calcium and magnesium from fresh fruits and veggies) have been shown
to decrease salt sensitivity in both healthy and hypertensive populations
When provided with the
proper raw materials in therapeutic amounts the human body has a remarkable
ability to heal, cleanse and repair damaged vessels. The following key
nutrients are required by the body to achieve an “arterial cleansing” effect.
Vitamin A – Enhances
immunity by promoting the increased production of T-cells and antibodies.
Increases the utilization of the anti-oxidant selenium. Protects epithelial
cells and mucous membranes. 22,000 – 40,000IU/daily
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) – Facilitates
the removal of lead from tissues. Required for health of heart tissue. 66 –
200mg/daily Niacin – Helps to dilate or enlarge blood vessels. Helps the body
eliminate excess cholesterol. 44 – 70mg/daily
Pantothenic Acid – Necessary
for the production of healthy antibodies. 330-550mg/daily Vitamin B6 – Helps
prevent the amino acid methionine from breaking down into homocystine.
Folic Acid – Facilitates
the removal of excess homocysteine in the blood. 0.04 – 2.2mg/daily Vitamin
B12 – Works synergistically with Folic Acid to facilitate the removal of
excess homocysteine in the blood. 160 – 550mcg/daily
Choline – Emulsifies
fats, keeping them in solution in the blood, preventing them from plugging up
in narrowed arteries. Helps prevent blood fats from sticking together. Burns
fat in the liver. 440-725mg/daily
Inositol – A
general relaxant. 40-55mg/daily Vitamin C – A powerful anti-oxidant and
chelating agent. Protects against heavy toxicity and keeps them in solution
so they can be eliminated via the urine. Stimulates the production of
lipoprotein lipase (LPL). 4,000-4,400mg/daily
Vitamin E – A
powerful anti-oxidant that protects against free radicals. Dissolves clots in
the bloodstream and helps to prevent clots from forming. Increases the rate
at which collateral blood vessels develop around damaged areas. Assist in
normalizing viscosity of blood. Helps to prevent platelets from sticking
Chromium – A
trace mineral essential to the proper metabolism of lipids and sugar. Helps
lower serum triglycerides and cholesterol. Magnesium – Helps to keep calcium
in solution so that it cannot adhere to artery walls. Helps to regulate heart
beat. Counteracts the build up of aluminum in the body. 400-555mg/daily
Potassium – Helps to normalize blood pressure and regulate heart rhythm.
Zinc – A
free radical inhibitor. Helps the body utilize Vitamin A. 25-33mg/daily
Selenium – Incredibly potent antioxidant. Enhances antioxidant capacity of
Vitamin E. Counteracts mercury build up in the body. Helps to normalize blood
Hydrochloride – An amino acid that acts as a chelating agent in the excretion
of lead from tissues. Assists in the termination of free radicals.
dl-Methionine – An
amino acid that helps detoxify the body and emulsify fats. A chelating agent
and free radical scavenger. 160-550mg/daily
Concentrate – Glandular tissue that supports thymus function, supports
immunity and helps the body overcome free radical activity. 55-100mg/daily
“Cinnamon has a
long history of use in both Eastern and Western Cultures as medicine.” (24)
Scientific studies have supported the use of cinnamon as a sedative for
smooth muscle (like the muscle found in the middle layer of arterial vessels)
and circulatory stimulant. A study examining 60 patients with Type II
Diabetes for 40 days revealed that consuming 1 to 6 grams of cinnamon daily
reduced fasting blood glucose by up to 29 percent, triglycerides by up to 30
percent, LDL cholesterol by up to 27 percent and total cholesterol by up to
26 percent. (25)
Bitter Melon -
(Momordica charantia), member of the gourd family of fruit, has green skin
and appears something like an ugly, bumpy cucumber. Beneath its unattractive
exterior is a white flesh and loosely packed seeds with serrated edges. One
of the most popular fruits in South East Asia, Bitter Melon has a long
history of medicinal use in both Ayurvedic Healing and Traditional Chinese
Medicine. In fact, Bitter Melon has a potent healing capacity that has been
scientifically proven to work as well as pharmaceutical drugs for some
diabetic patients (26). The health benefits of Bitter Melon are derived from
the insulin-like compounds contained in the juice of the fruit which have an
exceptional capacity to lower blood-sugar levels without the side effects of
insulin, even when consumed in small amounts.
Zwell Lifestyle Recommendations
One of the greatest advantages to fighting heart disease is its slow progression over time. This
allows anyone with the motivation to take proactive measures to safe-guard
their heart health.
CRON – Eating a diet rich in nutrients and low in calories does not mean depriving or
starving yourself. It means making the most of every bite and creating a diet
based on whole foods in their natural state. This could be the simplest diet
you have ever followed. Just remember nature got it right the first time and
anything “man made” like margarine, chocolate-puff cereal or meat from a can
is probably offering you more calories than you need with fewer nutrients
than you deserve.
CRON diet is naturally low-glycemic, high fibre and anti-oxidant rich; three essential factors in
heart healthy eating, weight optimization and vitality.
Stress – Whether from positive or negative sources stress places strain on your system. A car
going 120 kilometres / hour on the expressway will burn fuel at a much faster
pace than a car puttering along at 50kms. The same is true for a body under
stress. Protein, healthy fats and co-factor nutrient (such as vitamins and
minerals) will be used up at a higher rate during stressful periods.
Production of the stress hormone cortisol increases the rate at which free
radicals are released in the body, adding to the increased need for
exceptional nutrition. (27) If the diet is inadequate at meeting these
demands then deficiencies and degeneration occur.
Sweat – Your body knows two things for sure; growth and decay. Regular strenuous exercise
that elevates your blood pressure for at least 20 consecutive minutes 3 times
per week offers measurable health benefits including; lowered “bad”
cholesterol, increased oxygen capacity and increased life expectancy for
hypertensive patients. (28) Exercise uses fatty acids for 80% of the energy
needed to complete a given activity. Inactivity sets the stage for unused
fatty acids to accumulate in the body and blood vessels. Obesity and
overweight are major factors in hypertension. Almost 60 percent of Canadians
are currently overweight or obese, an increase of 9.3 percent over the past
25 years. (29) So put down that bag of chips, get off the couch, fill up the
‘Klean Canteen’ and go for a walk. Your heart will thank you.
Connect – As important as it is to feed your body the right stuff, you also require a
bountiful diet for your mind. Humans are curious and social animals to the
core. Connecting with people and constantly developing interests and ideas is
proven to keep you living better, longer. Epidemiological studies demonstrate
clear links between depression, anger, hostility, that classic Type A
personality and heart disease. (30) So, why not comit and connect to
something bigger than yourself – your family, community, church, charity,
favorite sport – whatever is important to you – and put those stressful
feelings into perspective. Travel, play, flirt, frolic, reach out, and do new
things. Appreciation for what you have, how far you’ve come and who you share
your life with certainly will do your body good.
Reprinted from Zwell