What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word “cholesterol?”
Does it have a negative connotation?
For many of us, heart disease is one of the first things that come to mind. However, cholesterol is just a small factor, and isn’t truly the root cause of heart disease.
Cholesterol gets a bad rep, when in fact, it is vital for a healthy functioning body. This fatty substance circulates in the blood stream, and is found in every cell. Every single hormone in your body is made from cholesterol, and it is necessary for digestion, brain function, and immune health. Infact, if you don’t consume enough cholesterol in your diet, your liver will compensate and make it. In short, we honestly could not live without it.
Cholesterol takes the blame for issues with heart health, when in fact, 75% of heart attacks happen to people with normal cholesterol levels. With all the focus on cholesterol, and knowing that there is medication readily available for lowering cholesterol, we’ve overlooked the root cause of the heart disease: inflammation. Under the umbrella of inflammation are other major causes: sugar, oxidation, and stress. There may not be a cure-all heart disease medication that will treat all these contributors, but you can equip yourself with the knowledge and power to reduce the risk of heart disease by adjusting your diet and lifestyle.
ROOT CAUSES OF HEART DISEASE:
I hesitate to say sugar, because the harm really comes from insulin and leptin resistance, the result of blood sugar imbalance. However, according to the American Heart Association the average American adult consumes more than double the recommended LIMIT of sugar, which undoubtedly can cause blood sugar imbalance. Should insulin and leptin resistance occur, the amount of high density lipoproteins (HDLs), which help recycle excess cholesterol, decrease and triglycerides increase. Low density lipoproteins (LDLs) increase in amount and take a small, dense form, rather than the ideal big and fluffy particle. Overconsumption of sugar causes a chain reaction resulting in the small, damaging cholesterol particles known to contribute to heart disease.
Combating inflammation is the biggest step you can take towards reducing your risk of not only heart disease, but many other medical issues. Inflammation, both acute in chronic, virtually wherever it is in your body, contributes to heart disease, as well as your overall health. The inflammatory response related to insulin and leptin resistance (sugar), oxidation, and stress is one of the reasons these are all contributing factors to heart disease.
Here’s an example of inflammation in the arteries and how it affects heart disease:
Imagine the small, dense LDL particles getting stuck in your blood stream and damaging your arteries. The body responds just as it does to external cuts or lesions – redness, swelling, inflammation, blood clotting, and typically, scarring. When the arteries become inflamed, the blood flow is jeopardized. The same goes for the jammed LDL particles. These particles contribute to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, constricting the blood flow, and potentially blocking it completely or rupturing, resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
Inflammation in other parts of the body, as mentioned, can also affect heart health. For example, we know that when cells become inflamed they produce free radicals, which increase the chance of oxidative stress or damage.
Oxidative stress refers to the LDLs turning rancid. This happens when the body is unable to detoxify the damaging effects of free radicals, due to lack of antioxidants in the diet. When the LDLs become rancid, or oxidized, they contribute to inflammation and the formation of the build-up of plaque in the arteries, and as discussed above, these are major contributors to heart disease.
Stress has been linked to a multitude of health issues – heart disease being one of them. Researchers have found that white blood cells increase as stress levels do, and the increased levels of white blood cells may contribute to plaque buildup and rupture, as well as weakening the heart muscle.
The hormones released during stress have also been linked to plaque rupture and chronic inflammation, while stress itself can increase in blood pressure and change in the way blood clots – all contributors of heart disease.
WHAT ABOUT EGGS?
I love busting this myth to clients! Eat the WHOLE egg. Eggs are one of natures most perfect foods, and the yolk in particular is packed with vital nutrients. So, in other words, eating cholesterol (and eggs) isn’t going to give you a heart attack. You can ditch the egg-white omelettes and start eating yolks again. Egg yolks are an especially good source of choline, a B-vitamin that plays important roles in everything from neurotransmitter production to detoxification to maintenance of healthy cells.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Genetics plays a role in heart disease, but so does your diet and lifestyle. There are things you can do to combat inflammation, stabilize your blood sugar, avoid oxidation, and reduce stress levels. Exercise and stress management are important lifestyle factors. As far as diet, I have compiled a list of things to avoid, and things to add, to promote your overall wellbeing and lower your risk of heart disease.
Trans-fats and hydrogenated oils –butter, margarine, anything with “hydrogenated” on the label
High sugar content – soda, sports drinks, candy, cake, etc.
Gluten/wheat/simple carbohydrates – bread, bagels, pasta, etc.
GMOs – common ones are soy, corn, canola oil, and (beet) sugar
Foods rich in soluble fiber: legumes, beans, lentils and oats.
Gluten-free grains: quinoa, millet, amaranth, brown rice, buckwheat, etc.
Nuts: walnuts, almonds and cashews
Dark leafy greens and other organic veggies
Low glycemic, organic fruits – berries, citrus, green apples
Spices: cinnamon, turmeric
Wild-caught, cold water fish: salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines, etc.
Grass fed, organic meats
Omega 3s and monounsaturated fats – avocado, raw nuts and seeds, ghee, grass-fed butter, duck fat, and coconut oil
Red yeast rice
fish oil capsules
greens complex capsules