It was on a flight from Medford, Oregon to New Haven, CT last month when a strong desire hit me to write about the possibilities of preventing heart problems. I was thinking about a few friends of mine from different parts of the country that experienced a heart attack and yet they appeared quite healthy when I last saw them.
For many years, medical thinking about heart disease was primarily based on their “lipid hypothesis.” This theory proposes that foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol leads to blockages to the heart. Cholesterol gets into the arteries in the form of plaque, which over time causes blockage that starves the heart of vital oxygenated blood that leads to a heart attack. I know I have been out of school (BS in Human Biology and Doctorate in Chiropractic) for some time now so I had to do some digging around to bring me up to speed on preventative measures and the latest thinking regarding heart diseases.
Research and data (CDC/NCHS National Health Survey, 2009) indicate that native Hawaiians suffer some of the worst health inequities in the State of Hawaii and perhaps the continental U.S. I feel this is equally true for Polynesians in general. They have one of the highest risk factors for coronary heart disease (CHD).
Some researchers are now questioning the theory and finding serious flaws that “foods rich in saturated fats and cholesterol eventually lead to heart attacks.” Heart disease in the U.S. increased during the period when the use of saturated fats decreased. There is evidence showing that children who were on low fat diets and adults who were on cholesterol-lowering drugs, CHD still rose.
If not cholesterol then what’s causing heart disease? It’s a question that cannot be entirely solved in scientific labs, but perhaps on the front lines working directly with people may help find some clues. The clues are all there and you don’t have to be a “rocket” scientist to figure it out. It is not that complex that the general public cannot make reasonable life-style adjustments based on some common sense clues.
CHD is not from one cause or a single element, but from multiple etiologies. Some of the elements that can contribute to heart disease include damage to heart muscles or valves (congenital defects); inflammation and damage associated with various viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitic diseases. Rheumatic fever can lead to heart disease, as can genetic or autoimmune disorders.
According to CDC statistics, heart disease was relatively rare in 1900, accounting for approximately 9% of all deaths in the U.S. (www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/dvs/lead1900_98.pdf). By 1950, CHD was the leading cause of deaths in the U.S. (48% of all deaths)! It went down to about 38% by 1998, but that could be due to improved surgical procedures (angioplasty, by-pass, etc.).
Some risk factors for heart disease as cited by medical viewpoints include high blood cholesterol, smoking, lack of exercise, stress and overweight. There are of course the obvious chemical imbalances and nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin A and D that is not high on their radar screen. Heart researchers for the most part have ignored the possible role that vitamins, minerals and natural foods have in protecting the heart.
Vitamin A and D for example, act as catalysts for protein and mineral assimilation. They support endocrine function and protect against inflammation. Vitamin A is needed to convert cholesterol into steroid hormones, but is depleted by stress. Of course stress contributes to a lot health problems. Cholesterol lowering drugs increases the body’s need for vitamin A. Vitamin D helps prevent high blood pressure and protects against spasms. It is needed for calcium absorption, assist in the body’s nervous system and helps prevent arrhythmias.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that prevents free radicals from causing damage to cells and it plays an essential role in cellular respiration especially in cardiac muscles. It helps in the dilation of blood vessels and inhibits coagulation of the blood by preventing clots from forming.
Vitamin C is also an antioxidant and prevents against free radicals and it helps support the integrity of the artery walls. Stress diminishes vitamin C, however. Many other minerals such as magnesium, copper, selenium and zinc play some role in cardiovascular health.
It is the opinion of this writer that the actual nutrient content of our foods has declined during the last 60 years or more due mostly to intensive farming practices including genetically modified organism.
The challenge in all of this is that it is difficult to turn clues found in fieldwork into solid scientific research. For example, vitamins and minerals work in synergy therefore impossible to accurately assess their effects as separate elements. Vitamin A and D are needed for magnesium and calcium absorption, vitamin C works with vitamin E and vitamin E works with selenium.
There is also the physical insufficiency that more and more people are exhibiting such as the digestive and endocrine system, which may inhibit nutrient absorption even if the food is high in nutritive value. Furthermore, the vitamin and nutrient content of our foods varies tremendously so we cannot rely on nutrient tables to determine the quantities of vitamin and mineral we are consuming.
Synthetic supplementation is not the answer and wouldn’t be my choice of therapy as it can often times be counter productive. For example, vitamin D2 was added to milk in the past, which was causing decalcification of the hard tissues and calcification of the soft tissues such as the artery. For this reason, D2 was quietly dropped as an additive and replaced with D3. Synthetic D3 however, is showing that it has poor absorption qualities. In general, vitamins from food work more efficiently and are needed in smaller quantities than synthetic vitamins.
We also have to look at the role that fats have in our diet. The Masai in Africa for example, get 60 percent of their calories from fat and are free of heart disease. The original diet of the Eskimo and North American Indians contained up to 80 percent of calories from fat and there is no evidence that they suffered from heart disease. We now know that too much of omega-6 fatty acids and not enough omega-3 fatty acid may lead to blood clots, which can lead to heart attacks.
What I have observed in the field is that those that are trying to avoid eating to much fat often replace their calories with carbohydrate calories, which usually is in the form of refined flour or sugar. Yet several researchers have published studies that show a link in refined carbohydrates, especially sugar, with increased heart disease. Of course excess sugar consumption is also associated with increased incidence of diabetes, and diabetes can be prone to heart disease. Butter fat and coconut oil contain fatty acids that protect against viruses and pathogenic bacteria and enhance the immune system. Polynesians of not to distant past consumed coconut milk on a daily basis, but had no or low levels of heart disease.
Studies on the effects of vitamins and minerals with cardiovascular health must continue to be conducted with great care. Experts in the biochemistry of human nutrition should be involved in designing the studies, something that rarely occurs. The studies should be designed to include built-in protection against bias outcomes – from those that are strongly against the view that nutrition plays a role in heart disease. Of course there has to be a protection mechanism from those that want to capitalize on the supplement industry.
From a Hawaiian healing perspective, to maintain a healthy body is to build it from the bottom up. The foundation to health is to start with an appropriate colon cleansing program or supervised fast to suit your condition and needs. It is from this point that we can rapidly restore healing or to break the blueprint from disease including coronary heart disease. I have seen high blood pressure normalize after a period of fasting and a committed lifestyle change. High blood pressure is a tell tale sign that may eventually lead to heart disease. Dr. Al Wolfsen, a chiropractor/naturopath and friend of Auntie Margaret’s (one of my Hawaiian teachers) told me of how he was able to immediately help a person who was having a heart attack using aggressive amounts of cayenne pepper. So small amounts of cayenne may prevent clogging of the arteries.
Another aspect to consider is the prolonged emotions of being lonely, which may lead to heart problems. We have to look into our societal separation mentality and stress factors and how it might be contributing to heart conditions. There are so many things to observe and to consider, but we should look into all possibilities.
So what can we do to protect ourselves against heart disease? Most of the guidelines out there today are pretty straightforward although when considering these guidelines take into account your individual makeup. Whatever you decide, if you are still afraid of saturated fats and cholesterol, you will find yourself on a continual struggle to dietary health. Avoiding foods with saturated fat and cholesterol will not only deprive your body of essential nutrients, but the substituted foods you use will contain elements (polyunsaturated oils, trans fatty acids, refined flour and sugar) that may be associated with higher risks of heart disease.
Something to think about:
- Don’t smoke
- Exercise to your abilities and capabilities
- Eat nutrient rich foods (live foods!) – organic fruits and vegetables
- Don’t overwork (find equal play time)
- Get out of a polluted environment
- Eat high quality meats (wild fish, grass fed animals, fats)
- Supplement diet with foods rich in protective factors (cod liver oil, brewers yeast, flax oil, coconut oil [raw], kelp, supplements made from fruits or vegetables, etc.)
- Do periodic supervised colon cleansing or supervised fasting programs
- Live in a sustainable, supportive community
- Educate yourself and take responsibility
Mahalo (thank you)
Mahalo nui loa, Maka’ala
Your guidelines make so much sense. I will share this with my haumana and ohana.
Thanks for writing this article. It think it is important to follow sensible guidelines in order to be healthy. I can’t speak for everyone, but I have found myself not feeling adequately nourished if I stay away from fats – especially during our long winters here in Canada.
I think one of the major reasons for diseases of the heart becoming the leading cause of death since 1900 is that the average life expectancy then in the USA was 46.3 for men and 48.3 for females. http://demog.berkeley.edu/~andrew/1918/figure2.html. It seems to me that Americans were dying of tuberculosis and pneumonia before their arteries had a chance to clog. According to the CDC the average life expectancy for Americans in 2007 was 77.9 years. We are fortunate to live in an era where we have a better chance of enjoying a longer life. This makes it even more important to take good care of ourselves.
I found all of this very interesting and had fun looking at the numbers (you made me use my brain!). Thanks again.