Healing Heart DiseaseDr. Elie Klein, B.Sc., ND February 1, 2013
The Real Cause and the Best Nutritional Medicine
Huge resources are continuously spent on researching, developing, and marketing drugs for the treatment of heart disease. Sometimes these drugs pose greater risk than benefits. Yet atherosclerosis (plaque build-up and hardening of the arteries), the most common and fatal form of heart disease, is readily preventable and even treatable with basic nutrients.
Most of us are led to believe that we need to watch our cholesterol in order to prevent a heart attack or a stroke. Yet numerous studies, including one published in the American Heart Journal (January 2009), have shown that in 75% of all heart attack patients, cholesterol levels were actually normal.
Cholesterol doesn’t cause heart attacks. However, the oxidized form of cholesterol is one significant component of the substances that make up arterial plaque. Merely reducing the amount of cholesterol circulating in your blood has no relationship to the oxidation of cholesterol, nor to laying down of plaque in the arteries.
In fact, studies show that people with low cholesterol levels, particularly the elderly, can just as likely form arterial plaque and suffer heart attacks as those with high cholesterol.
Long-term use of cholesterol medications can cause certain health risks which outweigh their benefit. Cholesterol lowering medications (statin drugs) interfere with the body’s production of a very important molecule called Coenzyme 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 Coenzyme Q10 are associated with increased weakness of the heart and therefore higher incidence of congestive heart failure, which can be fatal.
Most of the cholesterol circulating in the body is made within the body; it does not come from the food you eat. The body makes cholesterol because it is needed for many things. The cholesterol molecule is utilized in the production of many hormones including testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, and vitamin D. It is needed for keeping the cells healthy and for assisting the body in digesting other forms of fat.
Consequently, when drugs are used to reduce cholesterol, which in turn causes Coenzyme Q10 levels to decline, many people start feeling poorly. Muscles start aching unbearably, mood and memory decline, fatigue sets in. Vital organs such as the liver and kidneys may also suffer.
Another commonly held belief regarding heart disease is that high blood pressure is one of the factors that damages the arteries and contributes to atherosclerosis and plaque. I believe that this is true only to some extent. After all, in at least half of all heart attack cases, blood pressure is normal.
It is my understanding that the opposite is more common. Specifically, it is the development of atherosclerosis and the subsequent narrowing and stiffening of the arteries that leads to an increase in pressure within the arteries (hypertension). High blood pressure is a symptom, not a cause of heart disease, and yes it does need to be treated.
DIETARY CAUSES OF HEART DISEASE
The good news is that if you know what causes plaque to build up in the arteries (and no, it is not animal fat), and you know how to prevent it or reverse it, you’d be more likely to avoid a heart attack or a stroke altogether.
According to a recent systemic review (1) – a study that looks at all the relevant research on any given topic – the main dietary causes of heart disease are not salt, or fat. The main culprits are sugars (including refined carbohydrates) and trans fats.
Plaque happens because of injury to the artery wall. The injury is caused by glycation – sugar sticking to the protein fibres that make up the artery. The resulting effect is also known as AGE products, or Advanced Glycation End products. The artery is also injured by oxidation; sugar is responsible for this too, as are trans fats. Both these processes contribute to inflammation, which is also responsible for continued laying down of plaque.
In regards to trans fats, Health Canada states: “Until recently, most of the trans fat found in a typical Canadian diet came from margarines (especially hard margarines), commercially fried foods, and bakery products made with shortening, margarine or oils containing partially hydrogenated oils and fats. These products included crackers, cookies, donuts, cakes, pastries, muffins, croissants, snack foods, and fried foods, such as French fries and breaded foods. However, the food supply is rapidly changing and the trans fat content of many of these products has now been reduced. Trans fatty acids are also present at low levels (2 to 6% of the fat) in such foods as dairy products, beef, and lamb. Some refined liquid oils may contain small amounts of trans fatty acids (0.5 to 2.5% of the oil).”
On the other hand, nutritional researcher Alice Luxton writes on suite101.com: “Margarine and shortening are some of the worst offenders. Most commercial margarines contain partially hydrogenated oil: eating butter is actually far better for health. The same is true of many kinds of shortening. Shortenings such as Crisco were created to replace lard, but these fats are actually worse. A few brands, like Earth Balance, are free of trans fat ingredients. Always check labels…
“Zero trans fat” labels are misleading: the [U.S.] FDA guidelines only specify that these foods must have less than half a gram of trans fat per serving – and sometimes that serving is much smaller than the amount the average person would usually eat. The only true trans fat-free food is the food where hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils do not appear anywhere in the ingredients.”
According to the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Ontario: “Some food companies have taken strides in eliminating artificial trans fats – while others have not. Unfortunately, there remain too many products that continue to contain disturbingly high amounts of these fats. This includes many foods often consumed by children such as cakes, donuts and brownies. The bakery sector in particular, including between 33% and 75% of some of these products, continues to be riddled with unnecessarily high levels of trans fats.”
THE NUTRITIONAL SOLUTION
In 1994, two-time Nobel prize winner Dr. Linus Pauling, and his colleague Dr. Mathias Rath, 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 prevention and removal of arterial plaque. What follows is an explanation of their theory.
It is a genius yet very simple approach based on the body’s own way of healing itself. Whenever the body is injured it instinctively strives to heal itself. Just like when you cut your finger, certain processes are initiated to heal it.
The types of foods that injure the arteries, in essence, damage the stuff the arteries are made of. This is, for the most part, long protein fibres in the form of collagen and elastin. The body goes ahead and lays down new collagen and elastin to replace the damaged old sticky and hard stuff. If damage happens faster than repair, or if the body doesn’t have enough of the raw material needed for repair, atherosclerosis continues to set in. To make new collagen the body needs to join two different amino acids called lysine and proline. The joining is done by vitamin C. You need two lysine units to come together to form elastin.
Pauling and Rath explained that by supplementing with a sufficient dose of these ingredients you can bring about the necessary repair. Plaque can’t stick to the newly formed (repaired) structural proteins in the arteries. So plaque gradually comes off the artery walls. In their formulation, Pauling and Rath also included antioxidants, vitamin E, and beta-Carotenes, which support the repair process and keep inflammation down.
As well, there were a few synthetic ingredients in this formulation known as “lysine analogues,” which were meant to prevent the adhesion of a very sticky substance called lipo-protein A to the sides of the arteries.
Some of Dr. Pauling’s colleagues from the American National Academy of Science, who suffered from angina (chest pain due to advanced plaque in coronary arteries), asked him for help. Within a few weeks of starting on 3 to 6 grams daily of vitamin C and lysine, they had experienced complete alleviation of angina pain. As a result, he published a few case studies outlining their response to his therapy. (5,6,7)
NUTRIENTS FOR A HEALTHY HEART
Although Pauling and Rath’s formula was never commercialized, there are currently two versions on the Canadian market which fairly closely match the ingredients in the original formula. These are TLC by Advanced Orthomolecular Research, and Cardioflex by Innotech Nutrition. These modern formulas also contain magnesium, which has been shown repeatedly to be vital for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels and for maintaining a normal heart beat (used in cases of arrythmia).
As well, omega-3 fatty acids play a role in reducing inflammation, normalizing triglycerides, and are important for healthy blood pressure.
Incidentally, magnesium and vitamin C play a role in normalizing cholesterol levels (3,4).
In my private practice, I have had many clients respond very well to this approach. People who had chest pain or leg pain due to extensive blockages experienced alleviation of pain within two to four weeks when they ingested at least 6 grams of vitamin C and lysine daily. Blood pressure often improved (the arteries regained elasticity), as well as cholesterol levels (although cholesterol doesn’t concern me much and has to be considered as a part of a bigger picture). Other benefits included improved blood sugar levels, energy levels, and stabilized heart beat.
Also, most people can easily purchase many of these nutrients individually in order to create a regimen of heart healthy nutritional medicine for prevention of heart disease.
One note of caution is for people who have a tendency for elevated iron levels. High doses of vitamin C (with this therapy 3,000-6,000mg or more daily) can increase the absorption of iron. So consult a health professional.
This approach doesn’t make billions for big pharma companies so it had not been researched extensively and marketed aggressively and most of you haven’t heard of it. It is, however, fairly safe and worth the try.
(This article first appeared in Vitality’s February 2010 issue, and has since been updated and expanded for re-release this month.)
(1) Andrew Mente, PhD; Lawrence de Koning, MSc; Harry S. Shannon, PhD; Sonia S. Anand, MD, PhD, FRCPC: Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(7):659-669
(2) Rath/Pauling U.S. patent# 5278189
(3) Gatto LM, Hallen GK, Brown AJ, Samman S. Ascorbic acid induces a favourable lipoprotein profile in women. J Am Coll Nutr 1996;15;154–8
(4) Mg Davis WH, Leary WP, Reyes AJ, Olhaberry JV. Monotherapy with magnesium increases abnormally low high density lipoprotein cholesterol: a clinical assay. Curr Ther Res 1984;36:341–6.
(5) Pauling L: Case report: Lysine/ ascorbate-related amelioration of angina pectoris. Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine 1991; 6: 144-146
(6) McBeath M and Pauling L: A Case History: Lysine / Ascorbate Related Amelioration of Angina Pectoris. J Orthomolecular Med. 8: 1-2, 1993
(7) Pauling L: Third case Report on Lysine / Ascorbate Amelioration of Angina Pectoris. J. Orthomolecular Med. 1993; (8)3: 137-138