The actual cause of heart disease - Guess what, it’s not just about cholesterol.

Did you know that our hearts beat 72 times a minute, 100,000x a day, 3.6 million times a year, that’s 2.5 billion times in our lifetimes! The heart is essential for our lives yet it is the number one killer in the US. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, 715,000 people die of a heart attack each year. The kicker? Most of these deaths are completely preventable.

So what causes heart disease and what can we do to prevent it? Here’s a hint: The most infamous factor, high bad cholesterol (LDL) isn’t the only part of the equation.

A recent study, debunks this long held theory – showing that 50% of heart attacks happen to people with normal cholesterol! According to Circulation, the Journal of the American Heart Association, and The New England Journal of Medicine, atherosclerosis of the arteries is an ongoing inflammatory condition, not the accumulation of fat (cholesterol) on the arterial wall.  Atherosclerosis is a disease characterized by a thickening and hardening of the vessel wall. Eventually plaque develops within the wall, causing a narrowing of the artery and restricted blood flow. 

In order to have vessel disease you need to have THREE factors: high inflammation, endothelial disfunction and bad cholesterol. One doctor I know has a great analogy for this trifecta: vessel disease is like a fire and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) is the oxygen. In order to have the fire you still need a spark & fuel. The spark & fuel in our analogy is inflammation & endothelial dysfunction.

The first factor, high inflammation causes cholesterol to become sticky and get stuck to the vessels where the immune system attacks and eventually leads to blockages that cause vessel disease.

The Endothelium is a thin membrane that lines the inside of the heart and blood vessels, and is shown to be a significant predictor in stroke & heart attacks due to the inability of the arteries to fully dilate.

Finally, cholesterol – we want the plaque forming cholesterol, LDL to be low so that it doesn’t build up in the walls of your arteries causing them to become narrowed and blocked.

 So what can you do to improve endothelial function, inflammation & cholesterol?

Here are 7 preventable tips for a healthy heart:

1.     Drink More Water – Aim to drink ½ your body weight in fluid ounces each day to flush out harmful toxins and allow your digestive system to work effectively.

2.     Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet – we can prevent food related inflammation (and therefor heart disease) by eating organic fruits and veggies, minimizing sugars, alcohol and processed foods.

3.     Up Your Healthy Fat – monounsaturated fat like that found in avocado, almonds and olive oil reduce LDL by an average of 17%!

4.     Get Regular Physical Activity – get your booties to Studio in the Heights! Exercising 30 minutes a day, 5x a week will improve your heart health by lowering blood pressure.

5.     Sleep – people who don’t sleep enough (7.5 hours – 9 hours) are at high risk for cardiovascular disease. Make a sleep ritual to encourage your body to come down – relaxing bath, no electronics, amber lighting, deep breathing and essential oils can all be helpful.   

6.     Manage Stress – chronic stress releases adrenaline & cortisol as well as raising your blood pressure, changing the way your blood clots and perhaps leaves you turning to some unhealthy habits to relieve it (drinking, smoking, overeating) Try 5 minutes of meditation in the morning, a relaxing walk in the park or a gentle yoga class.

7.     Supplement  - Research shows that for certain people supplementation can help manage and control vessel disease. Things like Omega IIIs, Antioxidants, Curcumin, Coenzyme Q 10 are highly anti-inflammatory which reduces triglycerides, raises good HDL cholesterol, helps to normalize blood sugar, and lowers blood pressure. Talk to your doctor or a trained nutrition professional about dosing and brands.