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Cardiovascular Health

At least 68 million people in the United States suffer from some form of heart disease, with an estimated 1.1 million Americans annually experiencing an acute myocardial infarction (MI or heart attack). According to current statistics released from the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease accounts for about 950,000 deaths annually (about 41% of total mortality from all causes); coronary heart disease accounts for 460,000 of those deaths. In fact, one person dies every 33 seconds from heart disease, culminating in about 2600 deaths every single day. Additionally, the scope of this insidious health problem is worldwide. Globally, cardiovascular disease accounts for almost 50% of all deaths (GSDL 2002).

Metabolic Energy

Cellular metabolic energy drives every action within the human body.

The heart utilizes more energy than any other muscle in the body, thus the concentration of mitochondria within heart cells is higher than any other organ. The heart is the most susceptible organ to free-radical oxidative stress, environmental toxicities, heavy metal poisoning and premature aging. Yet it's also highly responsive to the benefits of targeted nutritional supplements.

The heart needs a large amount of oxygenated blood flow to continually meet its huge energy demands. The synergistic combination of the Metabolic Optimizer protocol - coenzyme Q10, L-carnitine, and D-ribose - maximizes the amount of oxygen that the heart can extract from blood by accelerating the rate at which cells convert nutrients to energy.

Hypertension – High Blood Pressure

Hypertension, observed more in men and African Americans, is a disorder characterized by blood pressure persistently exceeding 140/90 mmHg. Current research indicates that an optimal blood pressure is below 120/80 mmHg. It is important to note that damage to the vasculature can occur when blood pressure is moderately but chronically elevated. Some individuals may not realize they are hypertensive because symptoms such as epistaxis (nosebleed), tinnitus, dizziness, headache, blurred vision, and arrhythmias are not always present.

New from Jan Mensink MD: he describes how he uses Herbal Siesta for patients' blood pressure management.

Dr. Charles DeCarli (University of Kansas) found that men who had even mildly elevated blood pressure 25 years earlier now have abnormal brain signals and suffer from vascular disease and strokes more often than men who had normal blood pressure in midlife. "Take care of risk factors when you're young or they'll come back to haunt you," warns DeCarli.

Individuals with a high-normal blood pressure had a 34% increased risk of dying from coronary heart disease and those with Stage I hypertension a 50% higher risk. Since the lifetime risk for hypertension among middle-aged and elderly individuals is 90%, corrective intervention (at an earlier age) could relieve a huge public health burden (Miura et al. 2001; Vasan et al. 2002).

Findings in the New England Journal of Medicine exploring the role of moderately elevated blood pressure as a forerunner of heart disease concurred with the results gathered from the Chicago hypertension trial (Vasan 2001). The researchers tracked 6859 participants, noting a stepwise increase in cardiovascular events among persons with higher base line blood pressure. Thus, the results of various credible studies demonstrate that high-normal blood pressure should not be taken lightly; a regime to counter even a slight rise in blood pressure (exceeding optimal-normal levels) should be regarded as essential to reducing cardiovascular risk.

Diastolic or Systolic: Which Poses the Greater Risk?

For decades it was thought that the diastolic (the lower blood pressure) was the most critical measurement when diagnosing hypertension and assessing blood pressure-induced vascular damage. The journal Hypertension renounced this theory, reporting that systolic pressure is the crucial assessment, not the diastolic, as previously considered (Izzo et al. 2000). Systolic pressure represents the maximum force exerted by the heart against the blood vessels during the heart's pumping phase. The difference between the systolic and diastolic blood pressure is referred to as pulse pressure; if the number chronically exceeds 60, advanced atherosclerosis is usually present.

Types of Hypertension

Most cases of high blood pressure are classed as essential or primary hypertension, meaning no known cause can be found for the elevation. Any sustained elevation of blood pressure can affect the intima (innermost structure) of small blood vessels, the brain, the retina, the kidneys, and the heart.

Secondary hypertension is frequently linked to primary diseases, such as renal, pulmonary, endocrine, and vascular diseases.

Malignant hypertension, the most lethal form, is characterized by severely elevated blood pressure that commonly damages major organs and the vascular system. Many patients with this condition exhibit signs of hypokalemia (inadequate levels of potassium in the bloodstream), alkalosis (blood pH >7.45), and excessive aldosterone secretion (a hormone that conserves water and sodium and increases potassium excretion).

How Does Hypertension Inflict Damage?

Hypertension increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by affecting the performance of arteries. Normally, arteries expand and contract effortlessly with each heartbeat. With sustained hypertension, the arterial walls become thickened, inelastic, and resistant to blood flow. This process injures arterial linings and accelerates plaque formation. Nonfunctional blocked vessels are unable to expand to accommodate the flow of blood, and the left ventricle is forced to pick up the slack. The endless exertion proves too much, and the ventricle may become distended and hypertrophied. In exhaustion, the pump eventually fails. The health of the left ventricle is an extremely important assessment when evaluating the worthiness of the heart.

Hypercholesterolemia and Lipid Profiles

Optimal Ranges

Too much cholesterol is not good, but too little may not be good either. The American Heart Association announced in 1999 that people with cholesterol levels less than 180 mg/dL doubled their risk of hemorrhagic stroke compared to those with cholesterol levels of 230 mg/dL; however, the risk of a stroke escalated as cholesterol levels exceeded 230 mg/dL. It is estimated that high cholesterol levels account for about 10-15% of ischemic strokes; low cholesterol may be a contributing factor in nearly 7% of hemorrhagic strokes. The National Cholesterol Education Program announced that cholesterol levels of approximately 200 mg/dL appear ideal for stroke prevention (CNN 1999; Mercola 1999).

Nonetheless, opinions are still divided as to the magnitude of the hypocholesterolemic risk. Until the quandary has been fully resolved, there are reasons to be cautious about severely reducing dietary fat and serum cholesterol. Recall that in foods, triglycerides carry the fat-soluble vitamins (including vitamin K, an extremely important nutrient in normal blood coagulation) (Whitney et al. 1998). In addition, some researchers believe that hypocholesterolemia weakens cerebral arterial walls, making breakage under pressure more likely (Hama 2001). (About 20% of all strokes result from cerebral hemorrhages.) Various studies indicate that very low levels of cholesterol may also increase the risk of death due to cancer, particularly leukemia and lung cancer (Zyada et al. 1990; Telega et al. 2000).

Cholesterol is so important that the body produces from 800-1500 mg each day to provide for the following metabolic processes:

  • Cholesterol is present in every cell in the body, strengthening cell walls and assisting in the exchange of nutrients and waste materials across membranes.
  • The central nervous system, composed of the brain and spinal cord, contains nearly one-fourth of the body's store of cholesterol. As much as 50% of myelin (the insulating sheath on many nerve fibers) is cholesterol. Cholesterol is essential for the conduction of nerve impulses.
  • Bile acids, formed from cholesterol, are vital for proper fat digestion.
  • Cholesterol is the precursor of adrenal and reproductive steroid hormones.
  • Surface cholesterol makes the skin resistant to chemicals and disease organisms, hindering entry through pores. Cholesterol stored in the skin assists in converting sunlight to vitamin D.

Optimal Ranges of Blood Lipids

When levels of HDL (high density lipoproteins, also known as good cholesterol) are elevated, cardiovascular disease is reduced. Typically, low triglyceride/LDL levels and high HDL levels place an individual in a better position cardiovascularly. HDL levels are considered desirable in a range of 50-70 mg/dL.

Total cholesterol for most individuals appears best managed between 180-200 mg/dL. The "how low can you go" logic is not wise when setting relevant cholesterol goals, considering the many functions assigned to cholesterol and the unsettled questions surrounding the safety of very low cholesterol levels.

The risk factors for heart disease are often calculated by dividing total cholesterol by HDL. Assessment of the HDL-total cholesterol ratio is not standardized, but according to Health and Wellness (Sixth Edition), a value of 4.5 places the individual at an average risk; a ratio above 4.5 indicates an increased risk; and a ratio below 4.5 means a decreased likelihood of developing heart disease (Edlin et al. 1999).

Dr. Henry Ginsberg at Columbia University estimates that reducing LDL cholesterol 7% may translate into a 15-20% reduction in risk of coronary heart disease (Ginsberg et al. 1998).

Triglyceride Levels

Triglyceride levels are usually regarded within a normal range at 30-199 mg/dL, but researchers have found that patients with clinical coronary heart disease were less likely to experience new events if tri-glyceride levels were below 101 mg/dL (Kreisberg et al. 2000). Most clinicians believe that triglycerides are best maintained below 101 mg/dL in all subsets of the population. DR. J.M. Gaziano at Harvard Medical School led the most startling study in regard to the risks imposed by deranged blood lipids. The subjects with the highest ratio of triglycerides to HDL had a 16-times greater incidence of coronary events compared to those with the lowest ratio (Gazinao et al. 1997).

Triglyceride levels rarely rise unless one has insulin resistance or hyperinsulinemia, conditions often modifiable by controlling carbohydrates in the diet. According to the data reported in Atherosclerosis, elevated triglyceride levels usually modulate when less food is consumed, particularly foods causing a rise in blood sugar levels, that is, bakery products, pastas, and foods with added sugar (Stavenow et al. 1999; Atkins 2002).

Other areas relating to hyperlipidemia are heredity, sedentary lifestyle, gum disease, hypothyroidism, hemochromatosis, fibrinogen, Lp(a), homocysteine, Syndrome X, and C-reactive protein.

Natural lipid-reducing agents include krill oil, artichoke extract, L-carnitine, chromium, conjugated linoleic acid, curcumin, DHEA, omega-3 essential fatty acids, fiber, garlic, ginger, grapefruit pectin, gugulipid, hawthorn, niacin, pantethine, policosanol, poly-enylphosphatidylcholine, and Vitamin E tocotrienols.

Glucose Levels

High levels of blood fats and high levels of blood sugar interfere with each other's proper regulation and metabolism. The presence of excess glucose in the blood interferes with the use of fat for energy and through the action of the liver, elevates the level of triglycerides and their storage as fat. On the other hand, the presence of excess fats in the blood interferes with the disposal of glucose.

To optimize the regulation of blood sugar, both blood glucose levels and blood fat levels must be taken into account.