I recently had the privilege of attending a Cardiovascular Health seminar with Dr Ross Walker. Dr Ross Walker gave a dynamic presentation presenting some fascinating data on cardiovascular health. About the same time I had a friend forward a story on how pork fat might just be the most nutritious food on earth! On the other hand a fellow naturopath said recently that she supported evidence for a vegan diet for reducing the risk of heart disease. For anyone who is actually trying to reduce the risk of heart disease, this conflicting advice can be confusing.
We are constantly bombarded with conflicting information about cardiovascular health. One study will tell you that being vegan is the only way to reduce the risk. Other articles will claim that Paleo is the way to go. Heart disease is without a doubt one of our biggest killers, it is really important to understand the risks and also not fall into the trap of becoming unnecessarily medicated.
THE CHOLESTEROL MYTH
Statin medication is the most prescribed medication in Australia. It also is one of the most loathed, due to its side effects. Statin medication is the standard prescription for patients that are presenting with high LDL’s (low density lipoproteins). Statins cause a number of side effects, usually associated with fatigue and muscle pain.
Cholesterol has long been considered the red flag of heart disease. However, there is sound evidence that this may not be entirely true. According to Dr Walker you can have high LDL’s and have no risk of having a heart attack. So, does that mean that you can have a bit more crackle on your pork belly? For some people, maybe they can. What ultimately determines your risk is the level of calcification in your arteries. This can be determined by Coronary Artery Calcium Testing. For those people with healthy calcium scores, statins are not necessary.
Furthermore, LDL’s are actually protective to the aging body. Studies show that higher levels of LDL’s protect against bowel, intestinal and other endothelial cancers. It is also positively associated with better aging cognitive function and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.
THE REAL RISKS
Before you start thinking that you can ditch your fish and salad for pulled pork sliders it really is important to have a good look at all your risks.
Obesity or Diabesity: if you are overweight your risks are always going to be higher.
Genetics: Dr Ross Walker’s motto is “Our genes load the gun, and our environment pulls the trigger”. Many of us may have deep resent for the genes that determine our health. We can however give ourselves an environment where your dud genes don’t necessarily need to have the chance to be expressed.
Smoking: is still on the rise in many cultural, occupational and socio-economic parts of Australia. Smoking cessation is an obvious goal for anyone who is concerned about their risks of cardiovascular disease.
High blood pressure: is a condition not to be ignored. High cholesterol may not be the grim reaper that it may appear to be but hypertension increases the risk of heart attack and stroke without any argument.
Stress: is for most of us an unavoidable part of modern life. Managing our stress with good diet, exercise and adequate sleep may reduce the chances of stress induced hypertension.
LIVER HEALTH AND CHOLESTEROL
Exceptional liver function and flawless DNA may be the secret behind why some people can smoke, drink and eat king size burritos without worrying if they are going to have a stroke. The liver has a vital role in cholesterol metabolism. The liver uses the enzyme lipase to break down fats so the body can excrete them. The liver has the role of directing LDL’s away from the arteries. For the liver to do this effectively it needs adequate HDL’s (the good cholesterol) to transport them to the liver. Additionally, the liver needs to be in good condition to preform this vital function.
In order to effectively manage cholesterol, supporting liver function is vital. However, this is not generally the role of the cardiologist. This is more the treatment philosophy of naturopathic and nutritional medicine.
SUPPLEMENTATION IN CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE
Diet and lifestyle interventions are always the primary advice to all clients who present with cardiovascular conditions. Whether they are on medication or trying to prevent the need for medication, supplementation can improve results measurably. They are also vital for many clients in reducing the side effects of medications such as statins and beta-blockers.
There is a plethora of supplements that can be recommended for cardiovascular health. The most researched supplements are the following:
B Complex or Multivitamin: vitamin B6, folate and B12 reduce homocysteine levels reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Long-term studies into multivitamin supplementation show decreased incidences of cardiovascular disease and associated mortality.
Ubiquinol: is the active form of Co-enzyme Q10. Ubiquinol may help lower LDL’s and reduce cholesterol oxidation. Ubiquinol has a protective role in cardiovascular health, it has been proven to reduce mortality in cardiovascular patients. Ubiquinol is also effective in reducing myalgia in patients prescribed statin medications.
Fish Oil: intake of omega-3 fatty acids are shown to reduce cardiac mortality. Supports healthy HDL/LDL profile, anti-thrombotic, reduces atherosclerosis and improves overall cardiovascular function.
Magnesium: deficiencies in magnesium are associated with cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension and atherosclerosis. Magnesium supports the smooth muscle contraction of the heart muscles. Magnesium may also improve blood glucose control.
Vitamin K2: is shown in studies to reduce atherosclerosis in individuals.
Bergamot: works on reducing cholesterol by improving metabolic disorders. It has been shown to be effective in reducing LDL’s and improving insulin resistance.
BE PROACTIVE, SEE A NUTRITIONIST!
If you have all the warning signs of heart disease, my best advice is to be proactive. Don’t wait until the cardiologist gives you the hard word, start now. Our health is a long journey and we need to be always making sure that we are taking positive steps to reduce our risk of disease. If we intervene sooner it will make the future of your health more positive and in control.
Seeing a nutritionist takes the guess work out of diet plans and supplementation. Many people end up taking the wrong supplements and end up on salad diets in an attempt to manage their cardiovascular health.
Seeking nutritional medicine gives you an opportunity to consider all aspects of your health and wellbeing. Individual treatment plans are tailored to consider the clients symptoms, lifestyle and family history. Such treatment plans are effective in reducing risk of cardiovascular events and engaging individuals to take positive steps to improve your overall long term health.
The health benefits of vitamin K Open Heart 2015;2:e000300. doi: 10.1136/openhrt-2015-000300
S. Muscoli, D. Della Rocca, M. Macrini, V. Cammalleri, A. Viele, G.A. Volpe, D. Sergi, G.P. Ussia, F. Romeo; Use of a novel and natural antioxidant compound in the management of statine intollerance, European Heart Journal, Volume 34, Issue suppl_1, 1 August 2013, P2539, https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/eht308.P2539
Ravnskov U, Diamond DM, Hama R, et al
Lack of an association or an inverse association between low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol and mortality in the elderly: a systematic review
BMJ Open 2016;6:e010401. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2015-010401
Alehagen U, Aaseth J, Johansson P (2015) Reduced Cardiovascular Mortality 10 Years after Supplementation with Selenium and Coenzyme Q10 for Four Years: Follow-Up Results of a Prospective Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial in Elderly Citizens. PLoS ONE 10(12): e0141641. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0141641