Heart Disease Risk Factors and Prevention

Causes of Coronary Heart Disease

Many people believe eating high cholesterol foods which are solid at room temperature will cause this fat to wind up in your blood and stick to your arteries, theorizing that since saturated fats are solid outside your body, they will be solid inside your body too. In actuality, atherosclerotic plaque accumulates behind the layer of the artery, not in it, and the cholesterol and fat within it is engulfed in white blood cells. It is now thought that the root cause behind coronary heart disease is inflammation, not lipids and that this form of heart disease is degenerative, not infiltrative.

Atherosclerosis is largely driven by the degeneration of lipids which infiltrate the blood vessel and thereby cause inflammation. This is the process in which fatty deposits build up in the inner lining of arteries. In addition, there is also research that indicates an infection - possibly one caused by a bacteria or a virus - might contribute to or even cause atherosclerosis.

The main determinant of plaque rupture according to the current scientific literature is the balance between collagen degradation and collagen synthesis. Collagen synthesis requires vitamin C. Atherosclerosis itself probably diminishes the quality of life by impeding blood flow and blood vessel function, but it clearly does not inexorably lead to heart attacks. The reason why atherosclerosis produces heart attacks in humans might be that humans do not get enough vitamin C.

C-reactive protein (CRP) is one of the acute phase proteins that increase during systemic inflammation. Testing CRP levels in the blood may be helpful in determining cardiovascular disease risk.

Current Treatments/Preventions

Allopathic medicine considers high blood cholesterol levels to be a risk factor for coronary heart disease, and prescribes statin drugs to lower blood cholesterol levels. Statin drugs work by blocking the action of the liver enzyme that is responsible for producing cholesterol. This can cause a host of problems, since your body needs cholesterol to perform certain vital functions. In fact, lowering one type of cholesterol, HDL, can be bad for your heart.

The most common statin side effects include headache, difficulty sleeping, flushing of the skin, muscle aches, tenderness, or weakness, drowsiness/weakness, dizziness, nausea and/or vomiting, abdominal cramping and/or pain, bloating and/or gas, diarrhea, constipation, rash, cognitive problems and peripheral neuropathy, pain or numbness in the extremities like fingers and toes, irregular heartbeats, elevated blood glucose, tendon problems and myositis, which is inflammation of the muscles or other, more serious muscle conditions such as myalgias. Statin drugs may also predispose many people to serious muscle and kidney problems, potentially deadly heart arrhythmias and a host of other health problems.

Statins cause this long list of side effects because they cause injury to the mitochondria. They generate adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is used as a source of cells' chemical energy. With injured mitochondria, the body produces less energy and more "free radicals" are produced which cause many of the conditions listed above.

As they block the production of cholesterol in the body, statins also block the production of much of the body's coenzyme Q10 (Co-Q10), a compound important to the process of making energy within mitochondria and also to stopping free radical damage. In addition, statins reduce the very blood cholesterol that is needed to carry Co-Q10 and other fat-soluble antioxidants throughout the body.

"The loss of coenzyme Q10 leads to loss of cell energy and increased free radicals which, in turn, can further damage mitochondrial DNA," Dr. Golomb explained in the press statement. She added that statins may cause additional mitochondrial problems over time, leading to new adverse effects the longer a person takes the drugs. Hypertension and diabetes are independently linked to higher rates of mitochondrial problems and associated with a higher risk of statin complications, too.

Natural Prevention

In addition to the list of adverse health effects of statin drugs listed above, the main danger people face when they start cholesterol lowering medicationis thinking that they need do nothing else except take the pills.

Instead of taking statin drugs, there are many natural ways to lower blood cholesterol levels. You can positively affect your cholesterol through diet, exercise and lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking. The most important step you can take is to make these lifestyle changes permanent, not just a short term fix until the numbers look good.

Exercise is a very effective means of lowering cholesterol and other forms of heart disease. Any form of aerobic exercise, such as walking, running, bicycling and swimming can help lower heart diseaserisk. To be most effective, practice some form of exercise for 30 minutes at least 5 days a week.

Exercise is also beneficial for increasing shear stress. Since the average shear stress over time seems to be the critical factor, exercise might help prevent atherosclerosis by decreasing the permeability of the endothelium and increasing nitric oxide production in those areas of the blood vessels where the resting level of shear stress is insufficient for protection.

If you weigh more than you should, losing weight can significantly decrease your cholesterol level. Research suggests that being overweight disrupts the normal metabolism of dietary fat. So even though you may be eating less fat, you may not see a difference in your cholesterol profile until you shed excess weight.

Learn the difference between unhealthy saturated and trans fats, and healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Peanut butter, avocados, olive oil, and most nuts are mostly monounsaturated fat. Research has shown that monounsaturated fat can help lower LDL and triglycerides (another type of blood fat) while raising HDL. It's a much healthier choice than saturated fat, found primarily in animal products -- meats, butter, full-fat milk and cheese. Saturated fat can elevate your cholesterol level more than anything else you might eat.

Also included in the good fats category are the omega-3 fatty acids, found in abundance in fish such as mackerel, albacore tuna, and salmon. Be sure to only eat wild caught fish, as farm raised fish are lacking in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s appear to lower levels of VLDL (very low density lipoprotein) and triglycerides. Studies have shown that when people cut back on saturated fat and consumed more fish oil, their LDL dropped.

Eating lots of soluble fiber will lower cholesterol by binding with cholesterol-containing bile acids in the intestines and escorting them out of the body. Eating about 15 g of soluble fiber a day can lower LDL cholesterol by 5 to 10 percent. Fruit and vegetables contain high fiber content and almost no cholesterol at all. Fruit and veggies are also good for overall health, promote digestive health and are low in calories.

One kind of soluble fiber, pectin, not only lowers cholesterol but also helps curb overeating by slowing the digestive process. Eat apples and other pectin-rich fruits to eat less, lose weight, and naturally control your cholesterol. Also, foods high in fiber tend to be low in saturated fat and cholesterol, as well as calories.

Other foods which help to lower cholesterol naturally include garlic, flax seed, green tea, oats and nuts. Analyze your diet to identify nutritional gaps. A natural, plant based multivitamin/mineral supplement can fill in these nutritional gaps and may even lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. Be sure to eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin C or take a vitamin C supplement, to prevent atherosclerosis.

As much as possible, reduce stress in your life because stressand the emotions it triggers (tension, anxiety, anger, depression) in turn trigger the release of chemicals that constrict arteries, reduce blood flow to the heart, raise blood pressure, and elevate your heart rate. These changes, in combination with uncontrolled cholesterol, can put you on course for a heart attack. Also, when you're tense and anxious, you're less likely to stick to the lifestyle habits that help lower cholesterol in the first place.

This article on heart disease risk factors and prevention methods was written to help you determine your best course for a long life with a healthy heart.

Author: Mary Ann MacKay
Mary Ann MacKay promotes health education on her website http://www.healthwellnessconnection.com.

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