WHAT IS ATHEROSCLEROSIS?
When I told a family member this would be the topic this month, they said who's going to be interested in
that? Perhaps that would be other's attitude as well, but we all need to be interested because it is a process
which happens to us all-to a greater or lesser degree. This insidious process accounts for more deaths than
does cancer, the diagnosis so feared. The combined number of deaths from cardiovascular & cerebrovascular
disease is staggering. Yet we often don't give it much thought until it seems to suddenly happen that there is a
stroke or heart attack, but it was developing for a long time.
Simply put, atherosclerosis is the deposition of various unwanted substances, called plaque, in the walls of the arteries which can gradually block the blood supply. Arteriosclerosis is the condition marked by a loss of elasticity , plus thickening & hardening of the arteries.
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS?
This process is increased by many of the same factors causing other kinds of illness. Genetic predisposition, lack of exercise, obesity, smoking (this is a biggie) intake of refined carbohydrates ( more than
intake of fats, & otherwise known as junk food), nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, stress, increased free radical production in the body, high blood pressure, inflammation, & possibly infectuous organisms.
WHAT ARE THE BIOCHEMICAL MEASURES FOR RISK?
Much emphasis has been placed on cholesterol (everybody knows that term).Yet cholesterol has many important essential functions. More significant is the type of cholesterol & the ratios of the kinds of cholesterol to each other...
HDL (high density lipoprotein) is a good kind of cholesterol, because it transports the bad cholesterol in the blood back to the liver to help eliminate it. HDL also promotes anticoagulant mechanisms to help prevent abnormal blood clotting. With this type of cholesterol, the higher the better. In fact, when it is high it can offset high regular cholesterol levels. This is where the cholesterol/HDL ratio comes in as important. In males the risk is low if the ratio is under 4.7, & in females it is low if the ratio is under 3.6. So you could have a cholesterol level of 250, but an HDL of 85, so only a risk of 2.94 (low risk), dividing the cholesterol number by the HDL number. Conversely you could have what is thought to be a low cholesterol of 180 & an HDL of 35 & end up with
LDL ( low density lipoprotein) is another important blood test. These tests need to be done while fasting to be accurate. A level of less than 130 is best, while 130-159 is borderline & over that is high. LDL is a nasty culprit, the most likely to contribute to plaque, but again able to be partially offset by a high HDL. When LDL combines with oxygen free radicals (as it does in the everyday process of life) it tends to more readily stick to the walls of the arteries & to pass through the artery lining to penetrate & inflame the smooth muscle cells in the artery wall. This starts a cascade of negative events. The inflamed smooth muscle cells proliferate (somewhat like the formation of excessive scar tissue). Fatty deposits accumulate, blood flow currents changes to create further irritation, inflammatory chemicals are released which contribute to the swelling accretive hyperproliferative process. And the plaque builds. This inflammation attracts blood platelets & fibrin which adhere to the plaquas vulnerable to these processes.
Triglycerides are the next important fat to measure. Calories eaten & not used are converted to triglycerides. Normal is less than 200. Triglycerides make up most of the stored fat in the body & are highly responsive to the carbohydrate content of the diet ( overconsumption of fruits, fruit juices, other sweets, pastas, & all white flour products). They may also be particularly increased with low thyroid function, diabetes, & liver problems.
Homocysteine has been in the news alot recently as being associated with atherosclerosis. It is a metabolite of the amino acid methionine which increases when there are any low levels of Vitamin B12, B6, Folic Acid or Betaine (TMG) Homocysteine acts as a molecular abrasive on the lining of the blood vessel causing the smooth muscle cell overgrowth & fibrosis Clinical studies have overwhelmingly demonstrated the association between increased homocysteine & atherosclerosis.
Fibrinogen can also be measured in the blood. It is a plasma protein which converts to fibrin in blood coagulation to create platelet aggregation & contribute to the formation of a clot. Fibrinogen increases in states of tissue injury &/or inflammation. Increased fibrinogen is associated with the early development of cardiovascular disease.Bromelain, Fish Oil, & Niacin decrease fibrinogen. Smoking increases fibrinogen
C-Reactive Protein is another useful blood test. It is a general marker for inflammation &/or infection. Increased levels may be present in those at risk for CVD.
Apolipoprotein A-1 ( ApoA-1) is the main protein in HDL. It is higher in women than men. It contributes to the formation of HDL so higher levels are preferred & low levels suggest increased CV risk.
Apolipoprotein B (ApoB) is the main protein found in LDL. Increased levels suggest "premature" risk for
Lipoprotein A Lp(A) is Apolipoprotein A complexed with LDL. It is associated with atherosclerosis in ways similar to LDL & is a particularly strong indicator for cerebrovascular disease. This can be decreased by Niacin & N-Acetyl Cysteine.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO BE SAFER?
You can eat a relatively high protein ( especially high soy protein diet). Exercise, especially pumpng iron or other resistance exercise decreases the atherosclerotic process.. Exercise also increases HDL. There are also a number of nutritional substances which are protective in the atheroclerotic process. Though certainly not exhaustive the chart below tells you some of the benefits you may achieve. All of the blood tests or processes listed are decreased by the nutrients except HDL is increased .. So the desired effect is achieved when an X is placed beside the nutrient in the approprite columns. BP stands for blood pressure.
The proper levels of Vitamins K & D are needed to keep down the calcification process. Too much or too little will cause a probelm. If the columns don't work out so well in the email version, they will be clear in the version which will be on the website in a week or two in the newsletter section.
THERE ARE A NUMBER OF OTHER SUPPLEMENTS WHICH ARE ALSO BENEFICIAL IN THIS PROCESS such as Red Yeast Rice, Chitosan, Tocotrienol, Hydroxycitric Acid (HCA), & L-Glycine to name a few more.
- THE BOTTOM LINE IS.....
WE DON'T HAVE TO BE PASSIVE VICTIMS OF THE RAVAGES OF THE AGING PROCESS!!
WE CAN INTERVENE TO IMPROVE OUR CHANCES OF A LONGER HEALTHEIR LIFE, IF WE SO CHOOSE.
"To see the world in a grain of sand
- And heaven in a Wild Flower
- Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
- And eternity in an hour ." ----William Blake
Live in Joy...
Priscilla Slagle M.D.
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