In my last newsletter I talked about how foods that are high in cholesterol, such as eggs, shrimp, and butter, don’t actually cause heart disease. However, heart disease is still the number one cause of death, not only in America, but also in the world (1). There is definitely something in common globally about diet and lifestyle which contributes to heart disease. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) begins with damage to the lining and inner layers of the coronary (heart) arteries. The damage leads to narrowed or blocked blood vessels which cause a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke (2).
How, we ask, does plaque in the arteries develop? Many people understand that the arterial plaque buildup has something to do with cholesterol in the blood. However, in my last Newsletter, I mentioned that 50 percent of the people who are hospitalized with heart attacks have normal cholesterol levels, and 25 percent of people who develop premature heart disease, have no traditional risk factors at all. So, elevated cholesterol may not be the real cause of heart disease in the first place.
Of course, not only total cholesterol level but also LDL, HDL, and Triglyceride levels are important measures to pay attention to. However, many researchers have discovered that Oxidized low-density lipoprotein (Ox-LDL) is an important, and mostly overlooked factor in heart disease prevention. As many of my readers know, Oxidation means, yes it is rusting. Oxidation is the loss of electrons. When a compound is oxidized, its properties change. When researchers studied the oxidation of LDL, they found that glycated LDL (the bonding of a protein or lipid molecule with a sugar molecule, such as fructose or glucose) is more prone to oxidation than non-glycated LDL. Oxidation of LDL substantially impairs the endothelial (inner lining of a blood vessel) function (3). Moreover, LDL particles have different sizes; large and buoyant and small and dense. The small and dense LDL particles are more susceptible to glycation than those large and buoyant LDL (4). Once LDL has become glycated it is no longer recognized by the LDL receptor on cell surfaces (LDL receptors is to keep the amount of cholesterol in the blood at a normal level), meaning that it will remain in circulation (5). So LDL particle size is extraordinarily important.
Since elevated levels of blood sugar create ideal conditions for glycation reactions to occur,
Individuals with diabetes are known to be at substantially greater risk for developing atherosclerosis than non-diabetics. Dr. Ron Krauss, who is a Senior Scientist and Director of Atherosclerosis Research at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, and other researchers began testing the effects of diet on these LDL particles. They consistently found that dietary carbohydrates seemed to be changing the density of the LDL particles. As the carbohydrate content of the diet increased, along with a decrease in dietary fat, the LDL particles migrated from their buoyant form to the small, dense, atherogenic form. (6)
One recent 15-year long study, which included data for 31,000 Americans, found that those who consumed 25 percent or more of their daily calories as sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those who got less than 10 percent of their calories from sugar. (7)
So now you know, food with a high glycemic index is our main enemy when it comes to heart disease prevention. You also need to pay close attention to your lifestyle in order to reduce free radical damage. Enormous stress, excessive exercise, cigarette smoke, sunlight, radiation, and every drug prescribed greatly increase the number of free radicals produced in the body.
If you have a family history of heart disease, you need to review your diet and lifestyle and change immediately to a preventive one. In addition, there are more detailed blood tests you can have done to try to find out what your real heart health is, since your regular checkup lipid test may not be enough to understand what is really going on in your heart.
The blood tests described below measures the blood’s average LDL particle size (8).
1. LDL-S3 GGE test
2. The VAP test
3. NMR lipoprofile test
You also need to find out your Oxidized LDL level which can be tested with a non-fasting blood test.
Dr. Decker Weiss, M.D., a Naturopathic Cardiologist and the founder of the Scottsdale Heart Institute in Arizona says, “By the time conventional risk factors such as large waistline, high triglycerides, low HDL or ‘good cholesterol,’ high blood sugar, or high blood pressure show up, much of the damage has already been done to the body by oxLDL. Oxidized LDL raises the amount of triglycerides the body produces, as well as increasing the amount of fat deposited in the body. In turn, fat tissue enhances the oxidation of LDL, creating a destructive cycle.” Dr. Weiss treats patients who have elevated oxLDL with high quality antioxidant supplements containing lycopene. He added that lifestyle change is important, such as healthy diet, exercise, reducing stress, stop smoking, but supplements are fast acting and can produce results in as little as 90days. Dr. Weiss says that reducing oxidized LDL with antioxidants has shown dramatic results in his patients. (9)
Before heart disease symptoms show up, we should understand if our lipid profile is healthy or not. Of course, taking high quality antioxidant supplements and reducing or eliminating carb and sugar are something you can start today for your heart health!