Who is the Culprit?
Believe it or not, cardiovascular disease is not only about cholesterol. It is actually about INFLAMMATION in the setting of cholesterol.
Cholesterol is not water soluble and can’t move around the body freely, so it needs to be carried by proteins called lipoproteins. Low density lipoproteins (LDLs) carry cholesterol from your liver, where it’s made, to the parts of your body where it’s needed to do its work. High density lipoproteins (HDLs) carry cholesterol from cells and blood vessels that have used it in the periphery of your body, back to the liver for disposal.
LDL cholesterol has gotten a bad rap, but actually LDL cholesterol itself is not always the problem. The real problem is what happens along with it: inflammation.
LDL cholesterol has an affinity for inflammation. If the endothelial (inner) lining of the blood vessel in any part of your body is inflamed, LDL cholesterol may attach to the inflamed blood vessel, enter under the lining, and begin to collect. When this happens, your immune system recognizes the cholesterol as a foreigner and launches an inflammatory response, sending immune cells to “eat” the cholesterol, leading to an even bigger inflammatory response. The cycle persists. Though this starts at a microscopic level, as plaque continues to grow, it may push into the blood vessel wall and may occlude blood flow. When this happens in the blood vessels that feed the heart, you start to experience coronary heart disease and the arteries of the heart cannot deliver enough oxygen-rich blood to the heart. If the plaque becomes dislodged or ruptures, it can cause a blood clot which can cause blockage and even heart attack.
The Functional Approach
Cardiovascular diseases are the #1 cause of death in the United States. We are losing hundreds of thousands of people a year to a preventable threat. The functional approach to cardiovascular health doesn’t aim at treating the symptoms, but strives to fix the problem at its root – inflammation.
Some inflammation is great. Acute inflammation is necessary for many functions in the body, including immune responses. But when inflammation gets out of control and becomes chronic, it becomes a problem that can lead to heart disease (as well as arthritis, autoimmune diseases, and many other conditions). Uncontrolled, chronic inflammation can be caused by an infinite number of insults to the body, such as:
- High blood sugar
- Stress (emotional or physical)
- Poor sleep
- A viral infection
- Mycotoxin, mold
- Immune dysfunction
- Heavy metals, chemicals, toxins
- Pro-inflammatory foods like simple sugars, enriched white flours, and fast foods
To think we can treat heart disease by lowering cholesterol or blood pressure with medication alone is a little like using only a bucket to bail water out of a sinking boat. You have to fix the hole in the boat! Taking a statin or blood pressure pill won’t change the reason you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
At Functional Medicine of Idaho, we consider ourselves “inflam-ologists.” Our job is to get to the root of the inflammation. High blood pressure and high cholesterol don’t just happen out of the blue. They are signs of imbalance and underlying dysfunction that can often be fixed.
How Can I Prevent or Reverse Cardiovascular Disease?
While genetics do contribute to coronary heart disease, there are many other factors completely within our control that can influence the risk of heart disease. Research shows lifestyle changes can be a more powerful intervention to prevent heart disease than medication.
Addressing and fixing the root causes of disease will benefit most chronic disease. These modifications will help you become more heart-healthy:
- Eat a healthy, plant-rich diet. Eat 8 – 10 servings of colorful fruits and vegetables every day. Colorful produce contains disease-fighting vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, fiber, and anti-inflammatory molecules.
- Eat clean protein and eat healthy fats (avocados or extra virgin olive oil).
- Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Eliminate hydrogenated oils and trans fats. Avoid all processed junk foods, process sugars, and sugary drinks, including diet sodas.
- Avoid or reduce alcohol.
- Move your body for 30 – 45 minutes, 6 days a week. Cardio and weight training exercises both have cardiac benefits.
- Manage your stress by using active relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, breathing, or whatever you enjoy doing. Using active relaxation techniques activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar, lower inflammation, and boost metabolism.
- Sleep well.
FMI is here to partner with you to get to the root cause of what is causing your inflammation. Click below to start the new patient process.