Three things you may not know about heart health

By eating eight servings of fruits and vegetables a day, you can dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease.

by Paula Owens —

What causes heart disease? A healthy heart is the foundation of your health, vitality, physical ability and longevity. There are many risk factors to be aware of that you can control, such as smoking, lack of exercise, low vitamin D levels, obesity, type II diabetes, stress and poor diet. Food items like white flour, hydrogenated oils and trans fats, margarine, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and flavors or coloring promote systemic inflammation and are poisonous to your heart and overall health.

A study published in the December 2010 issue of the Journal of Cardiology Research and Practice reports that long-term adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet results in significant improvements of several risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes in overweight men. The beneficial shifts included a decline in blood glucose and blood pressure, insulin, LDL cholesterol, oxidative stress and triglycerides.

There are three key components that directly influence heart health, as outlined below.

1. C-reactive protein (CRP) and fasting insulin are tests that determine the level of inflammation in your body. The CRP level is used as a marker of inflammation in the arteries. Fasting insulin is a test that screens for diabetes and heart disease, but it is also a marker for inflammation.

The higher your insulin levels are, the more inflammation your body is producing. A poor diet, oxidative stress, emotional stress, gum disease, obesity, injuries, smoking, long-term infections, existing heart condition, diabetes and too much or too little exercise contribute to increased inflammation.

2. Saturated fat is actually healthy for your heart. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that women who regularly eat the highest amounts of saturated fats have the least amount of plaque buildup in their arteries, and had a healthier balance of HDL and LDL cholesterols. Trans fats found in many snack foods, including cakes, pies, cookies, chips and pizza, are responsible for raising LDL cholesterol and increasing your risk of heart disease, while also lowering beneficial HDL cholesterol.

Healthy saturated fats not only decrease your risk of heart disease and improve your lipid profile, but they also prevent osteoporosis, kill candida, boost immune health, are healthy for your brain and nervous system, and help balance hormones. Excellent sources of “healthy” saturated fats include: cage-free, organic poultry and eggs; coconut oil; grass-fed beef and buffalo; real butter; organic nuts; unpasteurized raw milk; and wild fish.

3. Cholesterol is a steroid found in all body cells and blood, and is a precursor to hormone production. Up to 80 percent of cholesterol is produced in your liver.

Statins are now the number-one selling drug in the U.S. However, heart disease is not a Crestor® or Lipitor® deficiency. Drugs do not treat the underlying causes of chronic illness. The causes of chronic disease are rooted in what you eat, how much you move, how connected you are to the community, how you handle stress, and the toxic chemicals and metals present in the environment.

By eating eight servings of fruits and vegetables a day, you can dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease. A study published in the European Heart Journal found that people who followed this simple, easy and effective method had a 22 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease.

If your cholesterol is too high (>240), the problem is not the cholesterol. Your body has raised those levels in order to play some type of essential role in your survival. The cause of high cholesterol is often due to an overconsumption of starchy carbohydrates, sugars, alcohol and hydrogenated trans fats or hormone imbalances such as hypothyroidism. Emotional and physical stress can also influence cholesterol levels. In general, cholesterol is increased in most endocrine or organ hypofunction, and decreased in most endocrine and organ hyperfunction.

If you have elevated cholesterol levels, it is a sign that your body, emotions or intellect are subject to excessive stress. The majority of excess cholesterol is manufactured in times of psychological stress and dehydration. The LDL can be high because your body is attempting to produce hormones (i.e., hypothyroid, menopause or andropause). Testosterone is vital for more than just sex drive; it is important for heart health. Testosterone levels decline as we age. Those with low testosterone are more likely to have elevated cholesterol, heart attacks and diabetes.

A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that a high serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration is associated with a significant increase in HDL cholesterol, and significant decreases in LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

Cholesterol is necessary and healthy because it is involved in cellular repair and reducing inflammation. It is the oxidized cholesterol that is unhealthy. Elevated triglycerides, in conjunction with a low HDL, versus a high total cholesterol number, are risk factors for disease.

The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that a normal cholesterol level used to be around 200. Today, normal is considered 160. Individuals with cholesterol <160 cannot manufacture sex hormones.

So much has been written concerning the evils of increased cholesterol; however, very little has been reported concerning decreased cholesterol. Decreased cholesterol can be normal for a vegetarian and some people with a genetic predisposition. However, cholesterol levels <160 are associated with a compromised immune system, an increased risk of depression, anxiety, respiratory illness, and stroke and brain-related deaths such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. A total cholesterol <140 is one of the red flags of cancer (JAMA, Dec 1980).

Sources: “High serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations are associated with a favorable serum lipid profile,” Jorde R, Figenschau Y, et al, Eur J Clin Nutr, 2010 Dec; 64(12): 1457-64.


Paula Owens, M.S., is a nutritionist, strength and fitness expert, and holistic health practitioner with more than 25 years of experience. She is the author of The Power of 4.

 AzNetNews, April 2011.

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