The shocking truth about Heart Disease…

cholesterol may not be to blame.

Most heart attack patients’ cholesterol  levels did NOT indicate cardiac risk.

Heart disease has become the leading cause of mortality in America in both men and women and is responsible for 610,000 deaths per year; In addition, 735,000 Americans have a heart attack every year (CDC 2017).  Almost every single person has been affected by heart disease in some way. It is called the silent killer because heart disease often goes unnoticed by doctors until a big event like a heart attack or stroke take place.

Though one would think that monitoring cholesterol levels would be beneficial in indicating the risks of this disease in most people, surprisingly, recent studies have shown otherwise. According to Science Daily, a new national study has indicated that the majority –almost 75%– of patients who were admitted to the hospital for a heart attack did not have cholesterol levels that would classify them as high risk for a cardiovascular event. Let me rephrase that- patients who had a heart attack had NORMAL cholesterol levels.  Their doctors gave them a “clean bill of health” but then they had a heart attack. How does this make sense? Maybe we need to start looking elsewhere for the culprit of heart attacks.

A shift in the understanding of what really causes heart disease has changed.  Researchers and many doctors are beginning to question  why does one person with an elevated cholesterol of over 400, have arteries that are as clean as a whistle yet another patient with normal levels of cholesterol can have major blockages.

Many experts now agree that one of the main culprits to heart disease is CRP  (c-reactive protein).  People with elevated levels of this markers are 3x more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke.  CRP is produced by the liver and increases in the presence of inflammation in the body while inflammation is a result of damage to our cell tissues.  For example if you get punched in the eye, your eye will swell and become inflamed. This inflammation process is a normal and necessary healing response to injuries. However it can become dangerous when people are in a chronic state of internal inflammation.   

The problem we are seeing is that diet, stress levels, hidden infections, nutritional deficiencies, autoimmune disease, to name a few, can result in this continuous damage to our cell tissues causing long term elevated C-reactive protein.  This long term elevation of CRP is said to spread throughout the body. Now your joints are achier, you have more frequent headaches, your sinuses are more swollen, and your arteries become damaged.  When your arteries are damaged they will do two things, swell up and become sticky. This is a perfect storm for a heart attack.  Think about a wall that is very smooth. If you throw a bunch of putty at the wall not much will stick, most will fall on the floor.  However, if you create cracks and crevasses in the wall you will allow for more putty to actually stick to it. This inflammation isn’t just bad for your heart, research is telling us that it’s related to depression, cancer, neurodegenerative conditions such as  Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease and many more.

Known Inflammatory Conditions & Diseases:

  • Autoimmune Disease
  • Arthritis
  • Alzheimer’s & Dementia
  • Depression
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Heart Disease

If we determine you have elevated levels of inflammation, we need to find out what is damaging the tissues of the body. Could the inflammation be coming from an infection or poor nutrition? Is it a hidden food sensitivity, an autoimmune condition, or from hormone imbalances? These areas need to be addressed if you want to lower your inflammation levels and in turn, lower your risk for heart disease.

Causes of Inflammation:

  • Food sensitivities
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Insulin resistance and diabetes
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Toxin build up and hidden infections

Functional Medicine’s main goal is to get to the root cause of your biggest health concerns because there is often something much deeper going on that needs to be addressed first.

If you have high cholesterol, or have experienced any of the above symptoms, call our office today to schedule an appointment to discuss getting your inflammation markers checked.

Inflammation and CRP are not the only things to be aware of when it comes to cholesterol. Understanding the long term effects of cholesterol medication is just as important.

There are many side effects to taking cholesterol medication such as: muscle weakness, fatigue and pain. People taking cholesterol medications don’t associate these symptoms as possible side effects because they can take years to show up. These low grade symptoms manifest over time to become something much more serious the longer you take the medication.

I once had a patient who couldn’t get out of their car because she felt so weak and fatigued. She never made the connection between these symptoms and the medication she had been taking for two years. But after only two weeks of being off her cholesterol medication her strength had almost returned to normal.  However when she returned to her doctor, they insisted it wasn’t the medication,  that it had to have been something else that was causing her extreme muscle weakness.  Her doctor insisted without the medication that her cholesterol would keep rising and her risk of death would increase. Hesitantly, she started the medication again and within a month of being back on the medication she could hardly go up a flight of stairs in her home.  She finally decided to reduce her risk for heart disease by taking a natural approach and thankfully after working with us for a few months she achieved just that! We were able to get her cholesterol levels to a range her doctor was happy with and was able to go off the cholesterol medication.     

What can you do to prevent heart disease?

GET TESTED:  Heart health is not something to take lightly especially if you have a family history of heart disease, don’t wait until something bad happens to take care of your heart.

Most primary care doctors will perform a CRP test for you but unfortunately many will not have the tools to help you reduce it.  Therefore, we recommend if your CRP levels are high seek care from a functional medicine doctor like ourselves. 

We also recommend that you get your homocysteine levels checked as well. To learn more about homocysteine and heart disease go to: https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/homocysteine-risk

GET ACTIVE: Getting at least 20 minutes of physical activity everyday has been shown to improve heart health and lower inflammation levels.

INCREASE HDL: HDL has been shown to have protective properties that can reduce the damage to your arteries.  To increase yourHDL levels make sure to get your exercise, eat your healthy fats such as olive oil and wild caught salmon.

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University of California – Los Angeles. “Most Heart Attack Patients’ Cholesterol Levels Did Not Indicate Cardiac Risk.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 January 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090112130653.htm>.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2017. Heart Disease Facts. www. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2017. LDL and HDL Cholesterol: “Bad” and “Good” Cholesterol. https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/ldl_hdl.htm

Champeau, Rachel. 2009. Most heart attack patients’ cholesterol levels did not indicate cardiac risk. UCLA Newsroom.