According to the World Health Organization, 12 million people worldwide die every year from heart attacks, strokes, and other forms of cardiovascular diseases.
Cholesterol, a lipid (fatty) component of all cellular membranes, is required to support cellular integrity and for the biosynthesis of vital hormones. 80% of our cholesterol is produced by the liver. The endogenous production of cholesterol is controlled by the rate limiting enzyme, HMG-CoA ( 3-hydroxy-3-methyglutaryl coenzyme A) reductase.
Elevated serum cholesterol levels is a recognized and well-established risk factor for developing coronary heart disease. For most people, lifestyle adjustments including dietary changes and moderate exercise are sufficient to normalize the cholesterol levels. For those who don’t respond to these methods, or for those with a genetic predisposition to hypercholesterolemia, standard medical therapy will employ drugs to bring cholesterol under control. These include bile acid sequestrants, cholestyramine, and colestipol.
A class of drugs used to aggressively treat elevated LDL levels is the synthetically derived HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor such as Iovastatin, pravastatin, and simvastatin. By inhibiting the production of HMG-CoA reductase, cholesterol production in the liver is reduced. Together, they belong to the “statin” group of drugs. These are among the most potent lipid-lowering agents available. To compensate for the resulting reduction of cholesterol production, the liver increases absorption of LDL cholesterol, further contributing to an overall reduction of LDL cholesterol levels.
While statin drugs are effective in lowering LDL cholesterol, they have serious side effects. Inhibition of HMG-CoA reductase also inhibits the intrinsic biosynthesis of Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), a central compound in the mitochondrial respiratory chain. CoQ10 is indispensable for optimum cardiac function, and reduction of CoQ10 constitutes new risk of cardiac disease, especially for those whose cardiac function is compromised, such as those with congestive heart failure or cardiomyopathy.
researchers in China have examined the use of a natural food product called red yeast rice as a more affordable alternative to controlling cholesterol levels. Red yeast flour is used extensively in Chinese cooking as a flavoring agent and food coloring for dishes such as tofu, Peking duck, and Chinese spareribs. It is manufactured by fermenting rice with a specific strain of yeast called Monascus purpureus. It has been used for health-enhancing properties for over two thousand years. Only recently it was discovered that red yeast rice contains an abundance of lovastatin, the same cholesterol-lowering ingredient found in pharmaceutical statins, such as Mevacor, that acts as HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors.
Elevated Blood Pressure
Hypertension weakens the artery wall that are already stiffened and narrowed by plaques. As the heart is overloaded, blood pressure continues to rise. This increase forces the left ventricle of the heart to work even harder, causing left ventricular hypertrophy resulting in chronic heart failure and electrical system dysfunctions, triggering arrhythmias.
Traditional treatment of hypertension varies from beta-blockers, vasodilators, diuretics, and calcium channel blockers. They are prescribed under the supervision of a physician and many have unpleasant side effects.
Alternative forms of treating hypertension through natural means have been under study in recent years, especially in relation to minerals. Epidemiological data suggest a relationship between blood pressure and calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Relatively high amount of intake of minerals can induce vascular smooth muscle relaxation and thus, peripheral resistance. These minerals are also critical in controlling conduction system and reduce the incidence of arrhythmias. Magnesium, in particular, plays a role in neuromuscular transmission activity and ion exchange. Studies have shown that patients with essential hypertension have significantly lowered blood pressure after 8 weeks on the mineral compare to control group.
Other than minerals, essential fatty acids have anti-inflammation and platelet aggregation, thereby lowering blood pressure. A high intake of 5,000 mg to 10,000 mg of essential fatty acids is needed. This often causes a harmless but unpleasant fishy “burp” which is not well tolerated. Also, the herb hawthorne has been known to cause vasodilatation that reduces peripheral resistance. It enhances cardiac ejection fraction and decreases blood pressure.
Nutritional Supplements Consideration:
- Magnesium 400 – 700 mg
- Calcium 800 – 1,000 mg
- Potassium 400 – 600 mg (from food)
- Hawthorne 160 – 250 mg (2% flavonoids and 18.75% procyanidins)
Stress is a hallmark risk factor of cardiovascular disease, mainly due to its effect on arterial blood pressure, levels of atherosclerosis promoters, and neuroendocrine reactions. Studies of psychological stress in monkeys, for example, demonstrated an increase number of injured endothelial cells in the thoracic aorta. Acute psychological stress also has been shown to induce rapid and significant elevation in plasma homocysteine level. The monkeys also suffered from exacerbated atherosclerosis via a heightened response of the sympathetic nervous system, which also exacerbates poor circulation. Studies have found that laboratory-induced stress such as anger and irritability in heart disease patients causes ischemia more than half the time.
Stress management can measurably improve performance on cardiac function tests. This is especially true of Type A personalities, whose chances of developing heart disease by the time they are 50 is four to five time greater than Type B personalities. The writing on the wall is clear — relax or else!
Certain nutrients can reduce the effects of the stress response at the physiological level. Antioxidant nutrients, such as Coenzyme Q10 (CoQIO), Vitamin E, Vitamin B complex, and Magnesium help counteract the increase in oxidative stress associated with psychological stress.
Cholesterol and Cardiovascular Disease
It is proven that single focused dietary strategy of lowering dietary cholesterol does not reduce coronary heart disease risks. To make matters worse, such “low-fat, high carbohydrate” diet is often high in the wrong type of carbohydrate. Instead of taking in complex paleo type carbohydrates such as green leafy vegetables, the ignorant consumer often ends up eating foods such as pasta, soda, processed foods, and fast foods. These types of food are rich in sugar and starch (carbohydrate). They actually lower the important “good” HDL cholesterol. A low HDL cholesterol level is inversely proportional to the cardiovascular disease risk. It should be remembered that cholesterol and fat are concentrated sources of calories and can lead to obesity if consumed too much.
In the Framingham study for example, men and women consumed an average cholesterol intake of 700 mg and 500 mg per day respectively were studied (one egg provides 200 mg). The average serum concentration of cholesterol for men and women with higher than average cholesterol intake were found to be 237 and 245 mg/dl respectively. Subjects with lower than average intakes were found to be 237 and 241 mg/dl. The difference is statistically insignificant. Statistically, studies have showed that people who consume 4 eggs per week (one egg provides 200mg cholesterol) actually have average serum cholesterol (193 mg/dl) same than those who reported consuming only 1 egg per week (197 mg/dl). Clearly dietary cholesterol in and of itself is not the critical link to heart disease risks as we once thought.