Last month’s article explained how atherosclerosis is not simply a buildup of debris that can be scooped from vessel walls. Instead, it is the result of scar tissue formation within the walls of arteries stemming from damage to arterial walls from inflammation and oxidized LDL cholesterol. By living a healthy lifestyle, the adaptable body can repair the damage in two ways: by building collateral arteries to supply the same tissue, and by a long healing process similar to that of healing a deep wound. However, a poor diet and smoking will significantly disrupt this healing process.
Angioplasty with stent placement and bypass surgery has saved lives by restoring vital blood flow to the organs with damaged arterial vessels, but surgical intervention risks damaging the weakened underlying tissue and is not without risks itself for heart attack or strokes. Surgical intervention also doesn’t get to the root cause of the problem to stop the occurrence of atherosclerosis. So what can we do to promote vessel wellness before surgical intervention is warranted?
Do we lower cholesterol or inflammation? About 17 million Americans take prescription Statin drugs to lower cholesterol levels. They are the most prescribed class of drugs in America. By reducing the production of cholesterol, statins are able to slow the formation of new plaques and occasionally can reduce the size of plaques that already exist. In addition, statins may also stabilize plaques and make them less prone to rupturing and develop clots. Statins, however, can have severe side effects such as liver damage, mental confusion and memory loss, muscle damage which can progress to kidney failure, disruption of vitamin D synthesis, and increases in HbA1C and fasting serum glucose levels that are seen in diabetes. Statins also decrease inflammation, and it’s possible that the anti-inflammatory properties of the drug class alone may be protective. Red Yeast Rice, a non-regulated dietary supplement, has cholesterol lowering properties, and people unable to tolerate statins or who prefer non-traditional medicine find this effective. (As always, a conversation with your primary doctor prior to making any drug/supplement changes or additions is encouraged, and your doctor should be informed of ALL drugs and supplements you are taking).
Remember, cholesterol is a naturally occurring substance produced in the liver and is essential for many processes in the body, especially the integrity of cell walls. Cholesterol isn’t evil; it’s just a link in the chain that in the presence of inflammation and poor lifestyle choices (smoking, being sedentary, poor diet) can lead to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular problems. Three-quarters of the cholesterol produced in the liver is under the influence of insulin levels. High insulin levels lead to inflammation! Regulating insulin levels will in turn regulate cholesterol production and inflammation. A low-sugar diet and exercise have a direct influence on leveling out insulin levels.
The American Heart Association promotes the following dietary recommendations: 1) Daily intake of Soluble Fiber, 5-10mg/day will decrease LDL cholesterol levels. 2) Eat more foods that contain Omega-3 Fats as they decrease inflammation. The average American dietary intake of Omega-3 fats ratio to Omega-6 Fats should be 1:1. Even though the Omega-6 fats are essential fatty acids, they tend to increase inflammation. Omega-3’s include nuts, seeds (especially flax seed) and wild-caught fish. Omega-6’s include: soybean, sunflower, corn, peanut, safflower oils, red meat, poultry, and eggs.
Other preventative measures to decrease inflammation are to maintain good oral hygiene, keep allergens and toxins to a minimum, and be attentive to possible food allergies. With your doctor’s help, stay on top of markers of inflammation, insulin and cholesterol levels. Cook with Turmeric, as it has active anti-inflammatory agents. Decrease your intake of saturated fats and avoid processed foods.