Tag Archives: Atherosclerosis

New Guidelines on Cardiovascular Disease Miss Mark

Well, they’re at it again. New guidelines on reducing cardiovascular disease risk have been released. They’ve called these “much anticipated,” however, I call them “inconsistent with research” and “likely to cause more harm than good.” The guidelines, appearing in Circulation, are likely to change clinical practice, unfortunately. They are the result of collaborations among the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and other organizations.

Essentially, it makes it far easier for physicians to prescribe statins (cholesterol lowering medication). It will likely result in tens of millions more Americans begin put on these medications.

Let’s start with the things that I do agree with in the new recommendations.


There’s no single, ideal diet for weight loss. Intensive, supervised lifestyle changes for at least 6 months received strong endorsement. This is important. We offer professionally supervised weight loss programs at our office for the simple reason that it reduces the risk of many diseases and it can be very difficult to manage alone.

That’s it. That’s all I agree with. The rest of the recommendations fail to actually focus on the problem: INFLAMMATION! They focus far too much on treating cholesterol without any actual targets in mind to treat.


“The traditional view of atherosclerosis [hardening of the arteries] as a lipid storage disease [cholesterol accumulation] crumbles in the face of extensive and growing evidence that inflammation participates centrally in all stages of this disease, from the initial lesion to the end-stage thrombotic [clot forming] complications.” This quote is from a great study that reviews the mechanism behind cardiovascular disease. I added the information in the brackets to make it easier to understand.

The pharmaceutically-driven marketing and media would have you believe that high cholesterol alone will cause it simply to accumulate in your vessels eventually narrowing them so much they can no longer deliver enough blood to your brain or heart. Or alternatively, the narrowing causes a clot to form only to be dislodged and sent “downstream” where it gets caught in smaller arteries causing a heart attack or stroke.  This just isn’t true! Want to know what actually happens!!!?

How you actually get atherosclerosis:

Inflammation is central to this process. It begins with inflammatory changes in the cells that line your blood vessels. These cells are collectively called the endothelium. The cells begin to express adhesion molecules. These molecules do what they sound like – they make things stick! However, they don’t make cholesterol stick, they attract monocytes (a type of white cell), which then travel through the walls of our arteries (BAD) under the influence of various proinflammatory molecules designed to attract more white cells. Once within the arterial wall, the monocytes continue to undergo inflammatory changes, transform into another type of white cell called a macrophage, swallow up cholesterol, and they become what is called a foam cell. T lymphocytes (another type of white cell) also migrate into the arterial wall, where they release proinflammatory cytokines (messengers) that amplify the inflammatory activity. Through these inflammatory processes, the initial lesion of atherosclerosis, called the fatty streak, is formed. This continues to evolve to cause the dangerous atherosclerotic plaque, but every step along the way involves inflammation!

There you go – as you can see, it is not caused simply by the accumulation of “too much” cholesterol as it floats through your blood stream. It all starts because of inflammation. Without the inflammatory process the white cells of our body cannot penetrate the walls of our vessels. If they cannot get into the walls of our vessels, they cannot swallow up cholesterol and begin to build plaque. It really is that simple.

So what causes inflammation?

That’s a great question and very easy to answer. Poor diet and low levels of exercise cause inflammation to build leading to atherosclerosis. A diet that is high in refined sugar increases inflammation. A diet that is low in antioxidants (brightly colored fruits and vegetables) increases inflammation. And exercise is inherently anti-inflammatory; therefore, low levels of exercise drive up inflammation. Here are the basic diet and exercise recommendations everyone should follow:


Every time you eat, have a source of healthy protein (chicken, fish, grass-fed beef, bison, etc.) and a fruit or a vegetable. Make the emphasis on vegetables. Keep grain (yes, even whole grains) to a small portion of your diet (no more than once per day).


Combine resistance training with cardiovascular training. Get at least 45 minutes of moderate activity 3 times per week. High intensity interval training is very beneficial.

If you incorporate these things into your life, you’ll avoid inflammation and you’ll live a long, healthy life without statins!!!


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Filed under Big Pharma, Diet, Public Health

Mummies had heart disease

An Egyptian mummy kept in the Vatican Museums.

Image via Wikipedia

Even the ancient Egyptians had heart disease.  I’m not sure why this is such a surprise, but the researchers who conducted the study seemed to be very surprised.

Traditional medical thinking on heart disease goes like this; heart disease is caused by eating too much fat, mainly from meat, and a sedentary lifestyle.  That’s basically it.  Yes, there are other risk factors to take into consideration like smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc, but talk to your average medical doctor and they will tell you that eating high levels of animal fat coupled with too much TV is a recipe for disaster.

I couldn’t disagree more and this new study confirms my thoughts.  I agree that lack of exercise is a big issue with heart health.  That one is not debatable.  I also agree that smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes are big players.  I disagree that eating too much animal fat is a problem.

Dr. Greg Thomas is part of a team of scientists that recently discovered the earliest known case of atherosclerosis — clogged arteries — in ancient Egyptian mummies.

Dr. Thomas said, “Our hypothesis was that they wouldn’t have [heart disease], because they were active, their diet was much different, they didn’t have tobacco.”

One of the mummies the team scanned was a princess in her 40s, who presumably ate fresh food and wasn’t sedentary. “That she would have atherosclerosis,” Thomas says, “I think we’re missing a risk factor.”

According to scientists the ancient Egyptians had access to meat, but not a lot of it.  Their diet consisted mainly of fruits, vegetables and grain.

Perhaps the problem isn’t meat.  I would contend that a diet high in grains, as is the case with the pharaohs, could lead to atherosclerosis.  Grains are high in the inflammatory group of fatty acids called omega-6.  Meats are also high in omega-6s.  The difference? When grains are consumed the hormone insulin is secreted which funnels all of the omega-6s in that meal into a very potent pro-inflammatory pathway.  It is this inflammation that leads to heart disease.  When one consumes animal fat no insulin is secreted thereby allowing those omega-6s to actually be driven into a protective and anti-inflammatory pathway.

I also have a problem with the assumption that a princess in ancient Egypt was not sedentary.  If you look throughout history, the upper class has been historically, well, lazy.  They’ve had slaves, servants and serfs to do everything for them.

The combination of low activity levels and a diet high in grain leads people to be unhealthy.  A person does not need to be overweight to be unhealthy either.  There are plenty of people in this country who are considered to be ‘healthy’ in terms of body weight but are actually not very healthy at all.

In my opinion, the fact that an ancient Egyptian princess had atherosclerosis is not earth shattering.  Human physiology has not changed over the last 2,000+ years.  A diet that is high in grains, whole or otherwise, will lead to a pro-inflammatory state.  This pro-inflammatory state will lead to heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s to name a few.

If you want to avoid heart disease, or any other inflammatory disease for that matter, make sure grains are a smaller part of your diet.  Get your carbohydrates from fruits like berries and eat plenty of vegetables.  Make sure you consume plenty of protein as well.  Eat the diet of our ancestors from 10,000 years ago not 2,000.  That’s before human beings learned to cultivate grain, mill it and refine it.  Once that happened, as was the case in ancient Egypt, inflammatory diseases began to rise including atherosclerosis.


Filed under Diet, Public Health