Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S. How many people do you know that have been personally affected by heart disease? I’m guessing the number is quite high. This is one of the most deadly diseases, but also one of the most preventable.
The things we associate with heart disease are hardening of arteries, plaque formation, and atherosclerosis. (You may have heard your doctor mention these terms). These can lead to a heart attack or stroke and are ultimately caused by one underlying factor – INFLAMMATION. The innermost layer of the artery wall is called the endothelium, which is a thin layer of cells. The damage to this endothelium from inflammation is what starts the process of narrowing arteries, hardening arteries, and forming plaque. So a great question to ask is, “What is causing this inflammation?” The answer to this question will give us tools and action steps to implement NOW to stop this inflammation process and prevent heart disease!
- The “Bad” Cholesterol
Now this isn’t what you think – it isn’t as simple as: don’t eat “bad cholesterol” and that will prevent heart disease. In fact, cholesterol is vital to normal functioning of your body (even the “bad” cholesterol!). Most of the cholesterol is actually produced in your liver, so it doesn’t even come from your diet.
So what is “bad” about this type of cholesterol? There are many types and subtypes of cholesterol, but a particular subtype of LDL cholesterol (known as “bad cholesterol”) can cause the most damage leading to heart disease. LDL can be damaged through a process called oxidation – this is the same process that produces rust on metal or turns apple slices brown… think “getting damaged and breaking down”. It is this oxidized or damaged LDL that infiltrates the endothelium and causes inflammation. So instead of asking how to lower LDL cholesterol, a better question would be “How do we prevent the LDL from being oxidized?”
The main oxidizers of LDL (so things to avoid) are: diet high in trans fat, diet high in sugar, exposure to toxins: smoking, heavy metals, insecticides, and radiation. Bottom line: Cut out trans fat and processed sugar in your diet, quit smoking, and purchase organic foods whenever possible!
Speaking of sugar, because it is an oxidizer of LDL is not the ONLY reason it is bad for your heart!
When you eat sugar, the hormone insulin spikes in an attempt to shuttle the sugar out of the blood stream, to be used or stored. If you are moving around and expending energy, that sugar will go to the muscles to supply energy. If you are not moving around (sitting at your computer) the sugar will go to fat cells to be stored. At a certain point, the fat cells can’t store anymore and this is called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance drastically increases the risk for coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and stroke. Because insulin increases the blood pressure, it will cause inflammation damage to the endothelium of the arteries.
Sugar is FAR more damaging to the heart than fat or cholesterol are. Bottom line: reduce sugar and get moving – exercise!
Your body responds the same to a physical threat (slamming on your brakes in traffic) as it does a perceived threat (work stress). In both situations, your body will begin releasing the stress hormones cortisol & adrenaline causing blood sugar to be released into the bloodstream, raises heart rate, raises blood pressure. This leads to hypertension, inflammation, and ultimately increased risk for heart attack and stroke.
The stress response due to slamming on your brakes will resolve in a matter of minutes. But what about the work stress, family stress, and financial stress? Does that ever go away?
Your body is constantly adapting to stress, and it is the primary job of the nervous system to effectively process and dissipate this stress. If the nervous system isn’t doing this well, your body will chronically stay in a stressed state. What does that look like? Well, it can show in a variety of forms. What we typically see are headaches/migraines, anxiety, digestive issues, trouble sleeping, lowered immune system, and fatigue. It is the role of chiropractic to help the nervous system function the way it was intended, to stay in a state of balance or homeostasis in spite of all these stresses – leading to you feeling and functioning better! Bottom line: get your nervous system checked!