What causes heart disease?
Perhaps you thought you knew. The government has been feeding us their politically correct, pet theories for decades. But one by one, they are being shot down by real science. From cholesterol, eggs, meat, and saturated fats, to salt.
The government has certainly been happy to spend your tax dollars handing out all kinds of mythological recommendations about diet and heart disease over the years. But it looks like they’ve been wrong on all counts.
There is no connection between cholesterol in the diet and cholesterol in the blood. And the connection between blood cholesterol levels and heart disease looks weaker all the time. (Although low cholesterol does appear to be associated with higher overall mortality in studies around the world!)
And the smoking/heart disease link appears so flimsy that the government seems to have given up on it altogether. (Instead, getting ever more disgustingly and unrealistically graphic in depicting connections between smoking and cancer.)
The fact is, none of the modern diet and lifestyle issues can really explain heart disease. (Except stress, which can cause high blood pressure. And high blood pressure is—and always has been—the No. 1 known risk factor for heart disease and stroke.)
But now we have new information from the oldest of sources that sheds some more light on this medical mystery.
Science finally begins to connect the dots
Of course, if the results aren’t from the latest laboratory using the newest technology from the hottest universities, they’re not considered important, and never make the major media outlets. Most of today’s idiot-savant medical “super-sub-specialists” know more and more about less and less. And understanding the past is not even on their radar screen.
But as an Insider, you’re well aware of the important clues we learn by remembering our medical and health history.
Paleo-pathologists have documented heart disease going back to the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt. (It may not have been just a figure of speech when the Pharaoh of the Exodus “hardened his heart.”) And archaeologists have found evidence of inflammation going back to prehistoric dinosaurs.
What has been hiding in plain sight is the line connecting these dots. Linking the occurrence of inflammation with the development of heart disease.
When it comes to inflammation, you probably think of its visible effects—pain, redness, heat, swelling. All of these occur as a result of an acute injury. And, indeed, the inflammatory process is the first step toward self-healing whenever you’re injured. But there are many causes, types, and effects of inflammation. And not all of the effects are good.
In fact, some doctors believe inflammation may be at the root of all diseases. And the No. 1 killer, heart disease, is no exception. And we now have thousands of years’ worth of proof.
Mummies bust long-held heart disease myths
The last week of October 2012, I sent out a Daily Dispatch e-letter about some interesting research being conducted on mummies from around the world. Ancient mummies dating from as far back as 4,000 years ago were examined from four different geographic areas: Egypt, Peru, Native Americans of the southwest Pueblo civilization, and hunter-gatherers from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.
The environmental conditions in these areas allowed preservation of soft tissues (like the heart and blood vessels) and not just the bones. So researchers were able to thoroughly examine their cardiovascular systems.
All of these populations had evidence of strong physical activity. They all ate animal protein of some sort. None of them had high cholesterol, or obesity, or cigarettes. But what they did have was high rates of atherosclerosis (heart disease).
In fact, despite an average age of only 43 years, a third of all the mummies had heart disease.
Researches did note several important differences in diet and lifestyle amongst them. But across this wide range of time and dietary patterns, they found that heart disease was not associated with any specific diet or lifestyle. However, infections were a common occurrence. And in the April 6th issue of the medical journal Lancet, researchers finally connected the dots.
They determined that the high level of chronic infection—and the inflammation that accompanies it— may have promoted heart disease.1
They also pointed out that patients with chronic inflammatory, “autoimmune” conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis (as we discussed in last month’s issue), have higher rates of heart disease. This strengthens the case for the link to inflammation.
The good news is, you can control inflammation using safe, natural remedies.
The best way to control inflammation naturally
Of course, there is also a lot of old folklore and new hype about foods that can fight inflammation. But real scientific research on the anti- inflammatory properties of food is still in its infancy. So there’s simply not enough proof to support the claims. At least not yet.
However, there is ample proof that omega-3 fatty acids have significant anti-inflammatory benefits.
For instance, a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that older adults with higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acid have a significantly lower risk of dying from heart disease than those with lower levels.2
One type of omega-3 in particular— docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)— lowered the risk of fatal heart disease by up to 45 percent. Researchers also measured two other fatty acids— eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA).
DPA was most strongly associated with lower risk of stroke death, and EPA most strongly linked with lower risk of having a non-fatal heart attack.
Overall, study participants with the highest levels of all three types of fatty acids had a 27 percent lower risk of total mortality due to all causes.
Fish like salmon and mackerel are among the best sources of these fatty acids. Two servings a week is a good general “dose.” You can also get some omega-3s from certain vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and avocado. And, of course, olive oil is another good source.
But this is one example of an essential nutrient that’s almost impossible to get enough of from diet alone. So it’s also a good idea to take a fish oil supplement to make sure—at least 1 or 2 grams per day.
The OTHER cause of heart disease
As I mentioned earlier, there is no question that high blood pressure also causes heart disease.
The increased pressure in your arteries causes simple wear and tear to the linings of the arteries and creates damage—which the body then has to repair. This eventually results in occlusion, atherosclerosis and obstruction of the damaged blood vessels, and contributes to the formation of clots in the blood vessels that cause sudden heart attacks and strokes.
The reasons for high blood pressure itself, however, have been elusive to modern medicine. They refer to the vast majority of cases as “essential hypertension”—as if your blood pressure just goes up for reasons of its own as you age. But as you know, stress is a major cause of high blood pressure. And many mind-body therapies that relieve stress also lower blood pressure and keep it low.
There are also very effective blood pressure drugs that have been around long enough to pass the safety test of “post-marketing surveillance” by the drug companies. (For more on this topic, refer to my article, “Survival guide to blood pressure medications.”
While there are good drug and non-drug therapies to control blood pressure, unfortunately, studies show that up to half of all people who should be treated for hypertension aren’t actually being treated. Mainly because they’re not even being diagnosed. Despite the NIH and CDC multi-decade, multi-million dollar campaigns to control the epidemic of hypertension in America.
So let me tell you how to get it right…
The American Heart Association recommends taking two measurements while standing, two while sitting, and then taking the averages.
Has any doctor or nurse ever done this with you?
Not likely. But don’t be afraid to ask. This is your health at stake. And you’re entitled to a few extra minutes of time to get it right.
And to rule out “white coat syndrome,” (that is, the stress of just going to the doctor) it’s a good idea to take a few blood pressure readings at home or away from the doctor’s office for comparison.
Also, keep in mind that blood pressure naturally varies over the course of the day and night (something called “diurnal variations”). Try taking measurements at different times of day to find out when your own blood pressure tends to be highest and lowest.
And avoid stimulants (caffeine, tobacco, exercise, and stress) before taking your blood pressure. A fever or sudden changes in body temperature can also affect your blood pressure, so avoid taking your readings while sick, after strenuous activity, or after being in the heat or cold.
Remember our ability to raise blood pressure when warranted (increased physical demand, high altitude, etc.) is critical for effective performance and good health. You just don’t want it to stay high all the time.
After all of that…if it turns out you DO have high blood pressure, don’t hesitate to get it under control immediately.
Balance your immune system, prevent heart disease
In the 1990s, Dr. Bennett Lorber, my colleague and author and editor of a leading textbook on the immune system, presented a “textbook” catalogue of all the modern chronic diseases that appear to have inflammation at their base—from A to Z.
And the onset of the inflammation that later results in full-blown disease is often a short-term infection.
So one of the first steps in preventing heart disease is to keep your immune system balanced and in good working order (“modulated”), so it can effectively fight off infections—but also to know when to stop fighting. (Just like blood pressure needs to know when to come down again). And one of nature’s best balanced immune modulators is garlic
In a recent study published in the Clinical Journal of Nutrition, men and women who ate 2.56 grams of garlic daily (essentially the amount you’d get in a serving of homemade pasta sauce) showed significant increases in the production of immune cells, compared to the placebo group.
Of course, garlic is also widely proven and used for the treatment and prevention of heart disease. Given this newfound connection between infection, inflammation/immune modulation, and heart disease, chances are good those two benefits are related.
1. “Atherosclerosis across 4,000 years of human history: the Horus study of four ancient populations.” Lancet 2013; 381(9,873): 1,211-1,222
2. “Plasma Phospholipid Long-Chain ω-3 Fatty Acids and Total and Cause-Specific Mortality in Older Adults: A Cohort Study,” Annals of Internal Medicine 2013; 158(7):515-525
3. “Supplementation with aged garlic extract improves both NK and γδ-T cell function and reduces the severity of cold and flu symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled nutrition intervention,” Am J Clin Nutr 2012; 31(3):337-44