Heart Disease: Major Causes and Natural Support Strategies
Chances are you have been taught that high cholesterol is the cause of heart disease. This has been the modern vernacular since Ancel Keys came out with his “lipid hypothesis” theories in the 1950’s. This hypothesis linked elevated dietary saturated fat and cholesterol to increased risk of heart disease. In this article, you will discover the major causes of heart disease and natural support strategies to improve heart health.
21st century science is giving us a much greater understanding of cholesterol’s role in atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. This new understanding is that cholesterol is more of an innocent victim than a harmful contributor of this disease (1, 2, 3).
Lipoproteins and Inflammation:
The lipid particles that transport cholesterol in circulation are called lipoproteins. Within this classification, you have low-density lipoproteins (LDL), high density lipoproteins (HDL) and very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL). Contained within these lipoproteins are one or more proteins, called apolipoproteins, which act as molecular “signals” to facilitate the movement of lipid-filled lipoproteins throughout the body.
Cholesterol does not cause heart disease, however, oxidized cholesterol does cause major problems within the body. When inflammatory pathways are elevated, cholesterol molecules are oxidized, triglycerides are formed & blood vessel walls damaged (4, 5).
The Truth About LDL:
LDL has always been called the ‘bad cholesterol” because it is associated with arterial plaque. But it actually performs many key features including transporting important fat soluble nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin D and coQ10 to the cells of the body. Current science is demonstrating that the demonization of all LDL particles has been a big mistake.
LDL particles help to carry fat-soluble antioxidants, like CoQ10, vitamin E, and carotenoids, which protect the transported lipids from oxidative damage. This is why vitamin E and CoQ10 have performed so well in cardiovascular studies – because they prevent the oxidative modification of LDL particles, which in turn protects the blood vessel lining from damage.
Increasing evidence has revealed that the concentration and size of the LDL particles more powerfully relates to the degree of atherosclerosis progression than the concentration contained within all the LDL particles (6, 7, 8).
Pattern A LipoProtein Profile:
Two main classifications of LDL particles exist. These are individually called Pattern A and Pattern B lipoproteins. Pattern A are classified as large and buoyant particles that contain more fat and anti-oxidants than their Pattern B counterparts. Pattern B lipoproteins are small and dense and carry less anti-oxidant protection.
Large buoyant LDL particles carry a high volume of the antioxidant Vitamin E, which helps to fend off free radicals. They pose only a very small chance of being oxidized while traveling through the circulatory system (9).
Pattern A Lab Findings:
Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL): Can be low-normal-high
High Density Lipoprotein (HDL): Normal
Triglycerides (TG): Normal
Regardless of where the LDL value is this is a very healthy blood lipid panel. The TG/HDL ratio is the key. If the TG/HDL ratio is greater than 2 than there is a strong likelihood that there is a large population of small dense LDL particles. A TG/HDL ratio closer to 1 is what typically occurs with a smaller population of small dense LDL particles.
Pattern B LipoProtein Profile:
Pattern B lipoproteins are considered small, dense LDL particles. These particles carry less fat-soluble antioxidants such as Vitamin E. This increases the likelihood of oxidation by free radicals and the development of atherosclerotic plaque (10, 11).
One of the major problems with these small dense particles has to do with their relationship with the inner lining of the blood vessels called the endothelium. Due to the small particle size, these pattern A LDL particles pose a major threat of slipping into the endothelial wall where they are trapped. This then causes oxidation and significant endothelial damage.
Pattern B Lab Findings:
LDL: Can be low-normal-high
Regardless of where the LDL value is this is a very dangerous blood lipid panel. High TG and Low LDL is the common laboratory finding on a basic lipid panel. You can map out all of your LDL and HDL variants with a Vertical Auto Profile or VAP test.
This test identifies twice as many people at risk than routine cholesterol tests, including those with inherited risk factors who often develop premature heart disease.
Like routine tests, the VAP Test measures total cholesterol, HDL (“good” cholesterol), LDL (“bad” cholesterol), and triglycerides. But the VAP Test also measures cholesterol subclasses that play important roles in the development of heart disease (12).
This additional information allows your doctor to improve the detection of heart disease risk from about 40% to 90% and provides a foundation for patient-specific treatment plans. We offer the VAP test along with our entire cardiovascular biomarker analysis in the CardioPower test.
What Causes Pattern B Findings:
From a nutritional perspective, there are several major causes:
1. Too Many Fats that Kill:
Trans-fats common to processed foods and high omega 6 fats (vegetable oils and grain-fed meat) cause a rampant increase in prostaglandin E2 and inflammatory mediators that cause massive amounts of free radicals and tissue damage (13, 14).
These vegetable oils are also easily oxidized and are often in a trans-fat form which activates inflammation throughout the body and in particular, along the endothelial lining of the blood vessels. In this chart, you will see the best fats to use and the ones to avoid.
2. Not Enough Fats that Heal:
Saturated fats common to coconut oil & grass-fed animal products have been shown to increase HDL and enhance Pattern A lipoprotein function (15, 16). Additionally, good fats such as EPA/DHA within fish/krill oil and Omega 9 fats common to olive oil, avocados, and almonds play a significant role in lipoprotein function.
These fats also help to suppress insulin and stabilize blood sugar levels. By keeping insulin down, they help to keep inflammation under control. High insulin is associated with high triglycerides, high LDL and low HDL levels.
3. Sugar, Grains & Corn Syrup:
Sugar: Causes a very quick increase in blood sugar. When blood sugar rises quickly; the pancreas pumps out massive amounts of insulin very quickly. High circulating insulin increases triglyceride and cholesterol formation, while additionally promoting inflammatory pathways (17, 18).
Grains: Cause a slower release of sugar into the blood stream. This causes a slower but more prolonged increase in insulin. The longer insulin remains elevated in our bloodstream, the longer our bodies “fat production and storage” pathways will be at work.
High Fructose Corn Syrup: (HFCS):
Immediately stimulates lipogenesis (fat generation) by turning into activated glycerol (G-3-P), which provides the backbone for Triglycerides: 1 Glycerol + 3 Free Fatty Acids.
Additionally, the fatty acids created during fructose metabolism accumulate as fat droplets in your liver and skeletal muscle tissues, causing insulin resistance and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Insulin resistance progresses to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes (19, 20, 21).
The metabolism of fructose by your liver creates a long list of waste products, toxins, and free radicals. These free radicals steal anti-oxidants from our system and damage tissues in a process called glycation.
Additionally, fructose metabolism creates large amount of uric acid, which inhibits endothelial nitric oxide synthase, inhibiting nitric oxide production and driving up blood pressure (22, 23). High uric acid is also the cause of gout.
12 Natural Support Strategies For Heart Health:
Here are the best action steps to get started with on your journey to improve your heart health. Not all of these strategies are FDA approved to prevent, mitigate, treat or cure heart disease and should not be confused as such. You should always consult with your physician before stopping or changing medications or taking on new health strategies.
Additionally, you should be working with a functional health practitioner to help guide you through these strategies. This is not an exhaustive list and there are other natural therapeutic strategies that I and functional health practitioners will utilize to help individuals with heart disease.
Follow An Anti-Inflammatory Ketogenic Diet:
It is important to follow an anti-inflammatory diet where you take out grains and sugars, processed vegetable oils and processed meat. Instead focus your meals on healthy fats such as olives, olive oil, avocados, grass-fed butter, pasture-raised eggs, coconut oil and nuts and seeds. Include organic, pasture-raised animal products and lots of non-starchy vegetables and herbs.
Eating an anti-inflammatory diet rich in nutrient-dense foods is the first best thing you can do to reduce inflammation and improve cardiovascular health. First, eliminate all inflammatory foods, including refined sugar, gluten, refined oils, deep-fried and processed foods, conventional dairy, grain-fed meat and eggs, soda and sugary drinks, and foods that you are sensitive to.
Instead, I recommend eating an anti-inflammatory diet and loading up on greens, vegetables, low glycemic index fruits, herbs, spices, healthy fats, grass-fed meat, and wild-caught fish. I also recommend a ketogenic approach for individuals with neurodegenerative conditions.
Getting into ketosis will enhance mitochondrial function in the heart. Here is a helpful article to put this into action.
Intermittent fasting is a way of eating that cycles between not-eating (fasting) and eating (feasting) within a period of time. It is a great way to reduce inflammation, increase autophagy, reduce insulin resistance, improve cellular repair, and reduce the risk of disease. One of the most popular intermittent fasting methods is the 16:8 approach, which includes a 16-hour fast (including your overnight sleep) and an 8-hour eating window with 2 or 3 meals.
However, there are several other intermittent fasting methods you can try depending on your personal health, fasting experience, and schedule. To learn more about how intermittent fasting may benefit your heart health, read this article
Reducing stress is a critical for reducing inflammation and improving heart health. I recommend that you reduce stressors from your life as much as possible. Turn off the news, and only look at it once a day or a few times a week for a specific period. Reduce your social media use and time on the internet.
Avoid people and situations that bring you down. Surround yourself with loving and uplifting people. Engage in uplifting and relaxation-promoting activities. Read, try some arts and crafts, play cards or board games, sing, and dance.
Spend time in nature and do some grounding walking barefoot on grass. Practice daily gratitude and try positive affirmations. Practice self-love and laugh with friends and family. Meditate, pray, journal, and try daily breathwork. Be grateful and smile more.
Improve Your Sleep:
Prioritizing good sleep is just as important as reducing your stress levels. Develop a regular schedule going to bed and getting up at the same time every day to support your circadian rhythms.
Avoid electronics, sugar, caffeine, heavy foods, and stress close to the bed. Engage in relaxing activities, including stretching, relaxing baths, meditation, and prayer. Make sure that you have a supporting bed, pillow, and bedding, and sleep in a dark calming room
Include Magnesium Rich Foods:
Magnesium helps to improve blood sugar signaling patterns and protect against coronary artery calcification (24). The best magnesium and B vitamin rich foods include dark green leafy veggies, avocados, grass-fed animal products, raw cacao and pumpkin seeds.
You can also do Epsom salt baths to support your magnesium levels. It would also be wise to supplement with the best forms of magnesium for cardiovascular health such as magnesium malate, glycinate, orotate and citrate.
B vitamins are important for supporting your health overall health. Foods that are rich in vitamin B, include meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, and dark leafy greens. However, in additional to a healthy diet rich in vitamin B, I recommend supplementation as well with pre-methylated forms of B vitamins. Homocysteine is an inflammatory amino acid produced as a byproduct of protein metabolism.
Elevated homocysteine leads to excessive clotting which diminishes blood flow to major regions of the body and may increase your risk of blood clotting, heart attacks, stroke, and brain problems (25).
Methylation deficiencies may also lead to low levels of B vitamins and consequent health issues. When it comes to B vitamins, it is best to look for one with pre-activated forms such as methyl-folate, methyl-cobalamin (B12), Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate form of B6, and Riboflavin-5-phosphate form of vitamin B2. The methyl groups are in the active form and will be better utilized by the body.
Supplement With Omega 3’s:
Omega 3 fatty acids and in particular the long chain variety EPA and DHA are critical for stabilizing blood sugar, lowering triglycerides and improving lipoprotein characteristics (26). Consume grass-fed meat, grass-fed butter, wild-caught fish and spirulina to get it in your diet.
Plant based omega 3’s such as flax oil only contain the small chain omega 3 called ALA and do not have any DHA. It is very hard for our body to convert ALA into DHA so it is best to get a high quality fish or krill oil that is rich in EPA and DHA. You want to find a brand that is molecularly distilled to take out any heavy metals and other unwanted contaminants.
Be sure to discuss with your physician before using as fish oils have a blood thinning affect and can be contraindicated if you are on blood thinning medications.
Focus on Deep Breathing:
Improving your posture, seeing a high quality chiropractor and optimizing your breathing patterns is highly recommended. Taking time to slow down your breathing and take long-deep breaths for a few minutes every hour will help reduce the sympathetic, fight or flight part of the nervous system.
The better we breathe, the better we will heal and the more blood flow and oxygen we will get into the tissues and the better our mitochondria will function. Follow these tips here to improve your breathing patterns.
Ground Your Body:
In our society we are surrounded by toxic electromagnetic frequency’s (EMF’s). These EMF’s increase stress within our body and alter neurotransmitter function.
By going outside daily and walking barefoot on grass, dirt or sand you absorb natural EMF’s from the ground that balance your electrical rhythms. Follow the steps in this article here.
Regular Movement & Exercise
Regular movement and exercise are essential for your cardiovascular and overall health. Regular movement may help to reduce your risk of plaque formation and clogged arteries. I recommend that you exercise at least 20 minutes, 5 times a week. This could be something as simple as taking a walk each day.
If you are healthy and able too, I recommend getting a mix of cardiovascular exercises, such as trampoline workouts, running, swimming, biking, or aerobics classes, and strength and resistance training, such as weight lifting, bodyweight workouts, TRX, or cross-fit. High-intensity interval training is a great mix of both worlds. Add some low impact workouts, such as yoga or pilates. Stay active throughout the day by stretching, walking, and taking the stairs.
Optimize Vitamin D Levels
Vitamin D is critical for your overall health and deficiency may contribute to serious health issues. Research has shown that vitamin D deficiency may increase your risk of cardiovascular problems. Now that spring is here and summer is coming, spend plenty of time outside to get some sunshine.
Make sure to protect yourself by not staying out mid-day when the sun is the strongest. Eat vitamin D-rich foods including oysters, yogurt, liver, egg yolk, and spinach. However, the sun and food alone are not enough to meet all your vitamin D needs.
I recommend supplementing with a high quality vitamin D3 supplement to get your levels between 50-100 ng/mL. Vitamin D has been shown to improve immune and circulatory health (27). Remember, this supplement is not at this time FDA approved to prevent, mitigate, treat or cure heart disease and it should not be confused as such.
Final Thoughts on Heart Disease
Your arteries are major blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from your head to toe. Heart disease is a result of chronic inflammation that creates a buildup of arterial plaque, which may decrease or block blood flow, and increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and even death. Follow my natural support strategies to improve your circulation and cardiovascular health.
If you want to work with a functional health coach, I recommend this article with tips on how to find a great coach. At my clinic, we offer long-distance functional health coaching programs. For further support with your heart health and other goals, just reach out—our fantastic coaches are here to support your journey.