Tag Archives: how to prevent stroke

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

5 Natural Ways to Lower Cholesterol

In my clinic people come to see me for all kinds of reasons.  One of the reasons people often see me is because they have high cholesterol.  High cholesterol has been linked to heart disease and is seen as one of the main causes of preventable death in this country.

This theory that high cholesterol actually causes heart disease by itself has many holes in it.  However, the pharmaceutical companies would like you to believe that if you lower your cholesterol you will significantly reduce your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke.  The evidence does not support this statement.

Cholesterol is not an independent risk factor for heart disease.  So what does that mean?  It means that high cholesterol alone is not enough to cause heart disease.  There are many other factors that must be present in order for heart disease to occur.  The main risk factor is inflammation.  This inflammation can be measured in a simple blood test.  The tests you should request from your doctor are called hs-CRP and homocysteine.  Both of these are inflammatory markers and they give a good indication of your risk factor for a future cardiovascular event or heart attack/stroke.

The theory that high cholesterol alone causes heart disease is flawed.  For example, there are large populations of people that have very high cholesterol and heart disease is almost nonexistent in their culture.  The Eskimo tribes of the Arctic are great examples of this.  Also, research shows that 50% of people that have heart attacks have cholesterol that is considered too high (>200 mg/dl).  That means that the other 50% have cholesterol numbers that are within the normal ranges!

With that said, cholesterol does increase your risk for heart disease in the presence of other risk factors like inflammation.  It does not make sense to lower cholesterol alone and expect to be protected from heart disease.  It does make sense, however, to work on those levels in conjunction with reducing your other risk factors.  Today I will tell you of the best natural ways that you can lower your cholesterol.

For a quick reference here are the current medical guidelines for cholesterol.

  • Total cholesterol: Less than 200 milligrams per deciliter
  • LDL (“bad”) cholesterol: Less than 100 milligrams per deciliter
  • HDL (“good”) cholesterol: 40 milligrams per deciliter or higher (the higher the better!)
  • Triglycerides: Less than 150 milligrams per deciliter

The Best Natural Ways to Lower Cholesterol

1. Low Carbohydrate Diet

In my opinion everything should start with diet.  Study after study has confirmed that eating a low carbohydrate diet is much more effective in the short term and long term in managing cholesterol levels.  It sounds counter intuitive that eating a diet that is higher in fat reduces cholesterol levels but the data is there.  The mantra that eating fat raises cholesterol levels does not hold true.  It is actually the sugar (carbohydrate) that causes cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels to sky rocket.  I routinely put my patients on low carbohydrate diets to reduce cholesterol and have yet to see it fail.  The only problem is that sometimes their cholesterol levels become too low!  Low cholesterol is just as problematic as high cholesterol.

2. Exercise

This one might be a no-brainer, but it must be incorporated.  Exercise has many benefits, but specifically it is known to raise the HDLs and lower the LDLs.  It also improves heart muscle function, mood, cognitive performance, bone strength and many other factors associated with overall wellness.  I can’t stress exercise enough.

3. Plant Sterols

Also known as phytosterols, these naturally occurring substances are found in high amounts in vegetable oils.  They are mostly undigested and act by inhibiting your absorption of cholesterol in the following way – they prevent cholesterol from being emulsified in the gastrointestinal track.  When fats, like cholesterol, are not emulsified the body cannot absorb them.  Because plant sterols are not absorbed, they have very little, if any, side effect.  They work wonders for people with high cholesterol.  My advice would be not to purchase these over the counter.  In speaking with some nutrition companies I have found that these are rather difficult to put into supplement form so buying them over the counter from a discount brand is unlikely to produce the results you are looking for.  Purchase them from a doctor trained in functional medicine and who works with a reputable nutrition company.  They may be slightly more expensive, but you get what you pay for.  Here is a link to my website and the companies that I use.

4. Niacin

Niacin, or vitamin B3, is another great natural way to lower cholesterol numbers.  It is found in red meat, chicken, turkey and beans among other things.  It is extremely safe with the only side effect being a temporary flushing effect in the skin shortly after taking it.  This can be avoided by purchasing a non-flush niacin.  It has been shown to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase the HDL (good) cholesterol.  Doses are different for everyone and can range from 500 to 5,000 mg per day taken one to two times per day.  It has been shown to reduce heart attacks by 27% and stroke by 26%.

5. Fish Oil

Fish oil is great for a lot of things.  While it does not directly impact total cholesterol levels, it does reduce triglyceride levels in the blood and raise the HDL level.  Triglyceride is a measure fat in the blood.  It usually has implications on total cholesterol levels.  Fish oil is so effective it has been made into a drug by GlaxoSmithKline called Lovaza.  It is ridiculously expensive at $175 for a one month supply.  (Read my blog about it here.)  The dose offered from Lovaza is also much too low at 1 gram per day.  An effective dose is about 4-6 grams per day.  You should also buy this through a reputable nutrition company as many cheap brands contain mercury, PCBs and other toxins.  (Read my blog about that here.) A one month supply of a quality fish oil will probably cost between $25-$35 depending on how much you need to take.  Much better than $175!

Lowering cholesterol by itself is not a full proof plan for protection against heart disease.  It must be part of a total approach because high cholesterol by itself is not dangerous.  However, it is useful if you lower your other risk factors. My advice to my patients is not to rely solely on a pill if you want to reach your goal.  You must change your diet as well.  Low carb, as mentioned above, is the way to go.  If you combine the best of these two approaches you should be able to hit your target cholesterol in no time.


Filed under Diet, Public Health