Posted on January 14 2018
Healthy, Artful Living Moment #2: Beating Heart Disease
For those of you who have read my occasional blogs, you may remember that one of my life goals is to live to be 105 years old (I am 71 now). Living to be 105 may not be on everyone’s “bucket list”, but most people do want to live longer, and perhaps even more importantly, want to live with good health. Well, I decided that if I want to reach this goal, then perhaps I ought to learn more about what science can tell me about living to this ripe old age.
So, based upon a recommendation from my son Nick, I picked up Michael Greger’s new book, How Not To Die (a promising title for someone with my goal). It is Greger’s belief (rooted in his knowledge of science as a physician and his study of thousands of research reports) that people do not “die of old age” but rather most die from some disease or medical condition brought on by our lifestyle habits, especially our diet. The good news is that he focuses his attention on longevity factors over which we have substantial control, so I am going to share with you his thoughts on how best “not to die” by adopting healthier lifestyle habits. Join me, if you like, for a journey towards healthy living and long life.
Heart Disease is the #1 Killer
The number one reason why Americans die is coronary heart disease (400,000 every year). The primary cause of these deaths is fatty deposits that accumulate in the walls of our arteries (atherosclerotic plaque). The accumulation of this plaque (atherosclerosis) hardens the arteries and restricts (sometimes even blocks) blood flow to the heart, making our hearts work harder which can lead to chest pain (angina). The buildup of plaque can also rupture, causing a blood clot to form within the artery which can cause a heart attack. It is common for people to not experience any pain or discomfort from heart disease but to die suddenly with no prior symptoms. Thus, it is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly to monitor the health of your arteries (see my Healthy, "Artful Living" Moment #1 on Blood Pressure).
Even though it is called “heart disease” it is the arteries which are diseased through the build up of plaque. The heart doesn’t give out or die, it is the arteries which fail in supplying the heart with a sufficient blood flow that is the culprit. And the primary cause of this buildup of fatty plaque is cholesterol, specifically LDL cholesterol in our blood stream, which is the main facilitator by which cholesterol is deposited in our arteries. A second contributing factor of heart disease is bacterial toxins called “endotoxins” which help trigger inflammation of blood vessels, making them less flexible and healthy.
The American diet appears to be the chief contributor of cholesterol and endotoxins to our blood stream and the primary cause of heart disease, and it starts in childhood. For example, hundreds of autopsies were performed on American soldiers who died in the Korean War (average age of 22) and 77% of them already had visible evidence of coronary atherosclerosis.
Most people know that “bad” LDL cholesterol is not good for them, and some know that it is desirable to have a LDL cholesterol level of 70 mg/dL or lower (corresponding roughly to a total cholesterol level reading of 150 or less). Unfortunately, the average level of cholesterol in the blood streams of Americans is around 200. Even more unfortunately, cholesterol levels up to 200 are often considered “normal” for Americans, so people are frequently reassured that everything is OK if their cholesterol level is average, or normal. But remember, it is normal for 400,000 people per year to die from this disease. This is one case where you might want to be “below average” in order to enjoy a longer, healthier life.
The best, easiest, and least expensive way to achieve below average cholesterol and endotoxin levels is to consume less meat and other animal products, and to eat more plant-based foods. While drugs like statins can also reduce cholesterol in the blood, drugs are expensive, they have side effects, and they do not treat the underlying cause of the problem (the diet) but just the symptoms, and therefore are not going to cure anything. Recognizing the fact that heart disease is our number one killer, Lipitor has become the best-selling drug of all time. Do you know someone who takes Lipitor? If so, read on.
Here is the really important news: eating a plant-based diet can actually reverse heart disease. That’s right. Your body can actually heal itself when given a chance. All it takes is the knowledge and determination to alter the traditional American diet (meat and potatoes, fast food, bacon and eggs, etc.) and eat more like vegetarians. For example, Cleveland Clinic surgeon Caldwell Esselstyn designed a very restrictive diet (no meat, poultry, fish, dairy, or oil of any kind) for 24 patients with severe coronary artery disease and followed them for 12 years. All 18 of the patients who stayed on the diet either arrested or reversed their coronary artery disease.
If that is too much of a change to help your body begin to heal itself, then you can gain some of the advantages of a plant-based diet by taking a plant-based nutritional supplement like Juice Plus, which is whole plant food nutrition in a capsule. While it is not likely that Juice Plus by itself will reverse the effects of an American diet on your blood vessels, studies have shown that Juice Plus does decrease the levels of several key biomarkers of inflammation in the body and helps maintain normal elasticity of the arteries, healthy LDL cholesterol levels and protects lipids from oxidative damage. You can at least assure yourself of obtaining the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients of 20 to 30 different fruits and vegetables every day by taking Juice Plus capsules daily. Like I do.
So, if you want to help your loved ones to enjoy a healthier and longer life (and who doesn’t?) then encourage them to alter their diets to a more plant-based diet so their cholesterol level drops to 150 or less and their bodies can recover from the plaque buildup that all of us have suffered up to this point in our lives. Even minor changes can help. For example, a small-sample (ten subjects) research experiment in Brazil showed that a single serving of four Brazil nuts reduced overall cholesterol levels, and LDL cholesterol levels dropped by 20 points in only nine hours. Even more amazing, when tested 30 days later, their cholesterol levels were still down.
Don’t use these limited sample results to begin wolfing down Brazil nuts, which are extremely high in the mineral selenium which can be harmful in high doses. But the study does suggest that even relatively small alterations in our diets can have meaningful impacts on our health signs. So, what is stopping you? Be “artful” in your approach to good health. Read, study, do, commit. Live!