If there is one thing that began my drive, my passion, for helping others with their wellness, it would be my experience with heart disease. Not my own, but my father’s. He had a quadruple bypass surgery almost 30 years ago, and fortunately his body took well to it since he’s had no complications.
This began my interest in how to better prevent myself from going through such an extreme procedure. I’m not interested in having my chest cut open, and having arteries pulled from elsewhere in my body, and put back into my chest, only to have common complications.
The one popular bit of information that keeps emerging is that heart disease is preventable. There are understandable arguments, and worthy discussions, to have regarding what lifestyle changes are best to prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, one thing that is overwhelmingly agreed upon, is that this disease is preventable. Taking it one step further is that not only is it preventable, but reversible in many cases. As always, there are exceptions to the rule, but in general, making wise lifestyle changes will extraordinarily increase your odds of not having CVD symtoms, or even worse, an actual cardiac event. This “lifestyle medicine” can perform above and beyond by additionally giving one a host of other wellness benefits as well.
These lifestyle changes are good all around. Good for the heart, good for the brain, good for the gut, get the point? Everyone agrees that exercise is good, a good night’s sleep is great, low stress is very important, and so on. However, the subject I feel that’s most important is diet. That’s where you get the most challenging discussions, not about whether it helps or not because most everyone agrees how important it is, but about what diet is best.
This post is not about fat and cholesterol specifically, but it would be remiss of me not to mention it. There are several different views on which diet is best for cardiovascular health. Traditionally, a low fat, low cholesterol diet is what’s most often recommended for this horrible ailment that destroys so many lives. Is that still the best, or most common, recommendation? It seems to be the most common, and I believe it to still be the best. That being said, there is no doubt there is growing skepticism of the traditional low fat and low cholesterol diet and it’s level of positive impact on heart disease, as well as overall health. I believe this skepticism is due in part to a misunderstanding of what a healthy low fat, higher carb, diet entails.
One of the most popular new(ish) diets out there is the ketogenic (keto) diet. This involves a very high fat, moderate protein and low carb diet. Many people can identify with a low fat diet, but it’s important to keep in mind, that a low fat diet is often a high carb diet, and yet those same people don’t think of it that way. The keto diet has successfully lowered certain lipid numbers, but I believe that's due more to weight loss, along with confounding factors, NOT the keto diet itself.
One important fact to walk away with after reading this, is the importance of getting the correct blood tests done, while understanding also that they are not the holy grail. There is also a coronary calcium scan you can get which can give you a lot of information about the amount of calcified plaque in your arteries, and give you more good information about your risk. But is the test worth the radiation you take on from a scan? Too many people I personally know, get the standard blood tests done and think they’re good to go if their numbers are “in the range”. This is a huge mistake. First of all, the tests typical doctors prescribe are good and worthwhile, but there are other tests, possibly more telling, that I would also recommend. Reach out to me through my website or facebook page if you’re looking for more recommendations to discuss with your doctor. I believe, what matters most, is what’s going in your mouth.
I posted recently about nutritional bias and this is a good example of where it happens. Those who feel a keto diet works for them, and have had cholesterol drops, will say their blood work improvements are due to keto. This concept applies to paleo, vegan, whole food plant based, mediterranean, etc. Make sure who you may be listening to is a nutritionally experienced doctor, or a surgeon, or a scientist, and if possible is not terribly bias. Again, this is hard to find. But there’s so much misleading information out there, on social media especially, from non qualified, uneducated, inexperienced “bloggers”.
There is always a genetic component to health, but the science is showing that only 20% or so is uncontrollable or genetic. The other 80% is preventable through lifestyle medicine. Think about that for a moment. Leading researchers are saying 80% of all disease and illness is preventable. That’s an amazing and at the same time, exciting statistic! So what if you do have that genetic component? I believe I do. I follow all the same, what I believe to be, healthy protocols, for wellness. Also, it would be irresponsible for me to have this discussion without the mention of statin drugs as an option to talk to your doctor about.
I have mixed feelings on statins. I believe they are WAY overprescribed, overutilized, and overrated. However, I also feel for certain people, in certain situations, they can be part of a responsible health action plan. Answers like that are often frustrating since it’s such a wishy washy comment. Either way, it’s a discussion to have with your doctor.
We need to take care of our vascular health, and that involves our endothelial cells and nitric oxide production. Those topics are too much to discuss here,
but I believe a whole foods plant based diet is best for my heart health. It’s very different from a vegan diet and that’s extremely important to understand. This may not be best for everyone but I do believe everyone should increase they intake of healthy plants. Whether animal products are part of that plan or not is up to the individual and their health care provider. My plan also includes a low dose statin, which can be important for others to consider. I have a genetic component so it’s harder for me to get my numbers to a healthy range. I always take genetics into consideration when making my health action plan, so it’s also something I recommend to others.
As always, reach out to me for more information and recommendations. Please comment or pose questions here or my facebook page. Most important,