Nutritional Medicine to Protect Against Heart Attack & StrokeDr. Elie Klein, B.Sc., ND February 1, 2016
Cardiovascular events (heart attack and stroke) are highly preventable, and yet they constitute the most common cause of death. So it follows that the ultimate goal of cardiovascular therapy, whether natural or pharmaceutical, is to prevent death or injury from a cardiovascular event.
In the conventional medical model, the most commonly prescribed cardiovascular medications are those for the treatment of elevated cholesterol and blood pressure levels. While the goal is noble, the relationship between elevated cholesterol and cardiovascular disease is highly questionable.
Studies reveal that between 50% and 75% of all heart attack sufferers have normal or low cholesterol levels. Other studies suggest that after 60 years of age higher cholesterol levels are associated with overall increased life expectancy and low cholesterol levels are associated with increased mortality.
As well, long-term use of cholesterol medications can cause a variety of potential adverse effects including fatigue, muscle pain and weakness, short term memory loss, liver and kidney damage, and increased risk for developing diabetes. Some of the adverse effects are associated with the medications’ interference with the production of a very important molecule called Co-enzyme Q10. This nutrient is necessary for energy production in the body and is particularly abundant in muscles. Since the heart is your most important muscle, lower levels of Co-Q10 are associated with increased weakness of the heart, and therefore, with higher incidence of congestive heart failure.
While elevated blood pressure is a risk factor for stroke and kidney disease, it is important to be mindful of the potential adverse effects of blood pressure medications, especially, since studies have shown that dietary and life-style modifications can be as effective as medications, and are safer. There are a large variety of potential adverse effects among the different types of hypotensive medications. These may range from benign symptoms such as fatigue, edema, chronic cough, and insomnia to more serious concerns, including increased risk for diabetes, kidney damage and heart failure. At least in part, some of the adverse effects of blood pressure-lowering medications are associated with depletion of important nutrients including Co- enzyme Q10, magnesium, potassium, folate and others. Paradoxically, these nutrients play important roles in regulating blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
In fact, studies have confirmed that oral administration of magnesium (starting at 240mg), Coenzyme-Q10 (starting at 100mg), and potassium, work to decrease elevated blood pressure. (I am not specifying a dosage of potassium since I advise against taking potassium pills without speaking to a primary health practitioner if you are on heart medications.)
Dietary Causes of Heart Disease
If most heart attack sufferers have normal cholesterol levels then cholesterol is likely not a primary cause of plaque build-up in the arteries. In that case, what are the causes of plaque build-up blockages in the arteries?
Glycation and oxidation are two processes that are central to atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries) as well as plaque build-up.
Glycation – refers to the sticking of sugar and its byproducts to protein and fat, including to the collagen protein fibres that make up a significant part of the arterial wall. While excessive sugar may contribute to glycation, certain vegetable oils high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) – such as corn, canola, soybean, sunflower and safflower – increase the rate and extent of glycation by a factor of more than 20 times. PUFA derived from vegetable oil, along with trans-fats, and, to some extent the presence of excessive blood sugar levels, contribute to oxidation. Oxidation causes free radical damage, which disrupts the artery wall and harms cholesterol. Oxidation of cholesterol, not the amount of circulating cholesterol, is implicated in plaque development.
It is important to note that sugar isn’t inherently “bad”. Glucose is a primary source of energy for the cells of the body. Sugar becomes problematic when it is not absorbed efficiently by the cells and lingers in the blood vessels longer than it should. That’s when it can stick to the artery wall and other material, contributing to glycation and plaque. The inefficient absorption of sugar by the cells may be driven by overconsumption of PUFA, smoking, deficiency of micronutrients such as magnesium, potassium and chromium, as well as stress (elevated cortisol levels), and inactivity.
How to “Fix” the Arteries
The solution to preventing and perhaps reversing arterial plaque comes from the work of two-time Nobel prize winner Dr. Linus Pauling, and his colleague Dr. Mathias Rath, who in 1994 registered a patent for a medicinal formulation consisting in part of vitamins and amino acids for “the treatment of occlusive heart disease.” This means the treatment of plaque build-up in the arteries. It is a genius yet very simple approach which is based on the body’s own way of healing itself. Whenever the body is injured it instinctively strives to heal itself.
More specifically, with respect to the arteries the body attempts to replace damaged plaque-laden tissue, namely collagen and elastin, with new healthy collagen and elastin. When the rate of damage happens faster than the rate of repair, or if the body doesn’t have enough of the raw material needed for repair, atherosclerosis continues to set in. To produce new collagen the body requires specifically adequate supply of two types of amino acid – lysine and proline along with vitamin C.
Just like the way a scab on healing patch of skin sloughs off when the skin heals (as new tissue replaces old damaged tissue), plaque too, ought to gradually and gently slough off as new artery tissue replaces old damaged tissue.
Pauling published case studies of individuals whose angina pain disappeared a few weeks after starting on a regimen consisting of consumption of 5 grams of lysine and vitamin C in divided doses. In a 1996 double blind placebo trial, Dr. Rath tested the effect of a nutritional formula consisting of vitamin C, lysine, proline, as well as vitamin E, certain B vitamins, and other nutrients, on plaques of 150 people. Within a year, a re-assessment revealed results varying from complete halt of plaque progression to complete reversal of plaque in the study’s subjects. This approach may constitute, to one degree or another, an insurance plan against a heart attack or a stroke.
There are currently several over-the-counter natural health products formulas on the market that offer various combinations of some of the micronutrients and amino acids I mentioned in this article. These include brands such as Medi-C, TLC and my own Dr. Klein’s Healthy Heart Plus. (It offers high doses of vitamin C, lysine and proline, along with significant doses of Co- enzyme Q10, magnesium, chromium, various B vitamins, and other relevant anti-oxidants and minerals.)
A lot more can be said about treating cardiovascular disease and its risk factors naturally, as other risk factors do exist. If you have high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes or other risk factors related to cardiovascular disease, a naturopathic doctor can help you assess and address the underlying causes of your condition naturally.