When it comes to your health, there are heroes and villains – substances or lifestyle habits that can make you stronger or break you down.
In our new book, The Great Cholesterol Myth, Dr. Johnny Bowden and I explain why cholesterol is not the real villain conventional medical dogma has made it out to be. That is, while elevated cholesterol may be present at the scene of the crime, the real culprit of heart disease is chronic inflammation.
Inflammation Is the Real Villain when It Comes to Heart Disease
Inflammation is a normal physiological process - it indicates that the immune system is at work at injury or infection sites, helping the body heal. However, too much inflammation can cause more damage than good. We now understand that chronic inflammation can cause heart disease, and is also linked to Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer.
Sometimes inflammation is obvious - as swelling or redness on our skin or arthritic pain in our joints. But inflammation also manifests itself silently within us… for example in the lining of our arteries. This undetected inflammation can be deadly; about half of all heart attacks happen in people with no other symptoms of cardiovascular disease, such as hypertension. This is why adopting an anti-inflammatory lifestyle is crucial for health.
How Do Arteries Become Inflamed?
There are so many reasons why our arteries become inflamed... I call these reasons or factors, “The Villains in Your Body”™ How and what we eat, substances in the environment we are exposed to, and even how we manage stress are among the many factors that contribute to chronic inflammation; these “villains” can create, among other problems, free radical, or oxidative, stress in the body – a primary cause of inflammation.
In my eyes, the 4 most wicked villains of them all are:
1. Sugar: It seems that most of us have a sweet tooth, and some people’s teeth are sweeter than others. Problem is, excess sugar on a regular basis can lead to too much insulin circulating through blood vessels. Over time, excess insulin causes insulin resistance and damages blood vessels. The immune system continually responds to repair the damage, and inflammation becomes the norm. You get the gist…
Over time, soaring insulin levels can ultimately cause diabetes, obesity, and a host of other degenerative conditions, including heart disease. Sticking to an anti-inflammatory diet can help improve blood sugar levels. To learn more about why and how to avoid sugar, read:
2. Bad Fats: Many doctors still believe that eating saturated fat will give people heart disease because most saturated fats contain cholesterol…. But I don’t. Dr. Bowden and I think that saturated fats have gotten a bad rap, and that the real villains in the fat world are trans-fats (in any amount) and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats (in excess amounts).
Found in many processed foods, trans-fats have been chemically altered with an extra hydrogen molecule. Though they’ll make food last longer on market shelves, trans-fats can reduce your shelf life by causing free-radical damage to the lining of your arteries.
Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils like safflower and soybean oils. While we need some omega-6 fats in our diet (they are “essential” fatty acids); eating too much of them (and not enough omega-3 fats) can lead to arterial inflammation. Read Fats 101 to learn more about “good” fats and “bad” fats.
3. Toxins: Environmental toxins seem to be everywhere… there are pesticide residues in the foods we eat, chemicals in the air we breathe and the products we put on our skin, pollutants in the water we drink… you get the idea. As they accumulate in our bodies and cause free radical damage, our immune systems work continuously to keep us healthy. Eventually our bodies become chronically inflamed. This is why disease prevention involves not only limiting our exposure to toxins, but detoxifying our bodies on a regular basis.
4. Emotional Stress: When we get fired up emotionally, we essentially put a torch to our arteries. Our bodies release stress hormones in response to chronic anger, depression and other negative emotional states such as heartbreak. These hormones not only prepare us to fight or flee; they also promote high blood pressure and constricted arteries, and can cause blood to clot more easily – a prescription for an eventual heart attack or stroke.
Managing emotional stress is a key element of health maintenance. To learn more about how stress can affect you and how you can best deal with it, read up on mind-body therapies such as meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, and deep breathing, as well as alternative healing therapies like grounding, massage and acupuncture.
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