February is the month of the heart.
Sure, some may argue that St. Valentine’s Day is a made up holiday manufactured by the greeting card companies (and an excuse to indulge in a little extra dark chocolate- gotta get those flavone antioxidants!). Still, the celebration on February 14th serves as a convenient and poignant selling point of the importance of heart health to the medical community. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion):
American Heart Month is a time to battle cardiovascular disease and educate Americans on what we can do to live heart-healthy lives.
Heart disease, including stroke, is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States.
You are at higher risk of heart disease if you are:
• A woman age 55 or older
• A man age 45 or older
• Or a person with a family history of early heart disease
Heart disease can be prevented. To keep your heart healthy:
• Watch your weight.
• Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke.
• Control your cholesterol and blood pressure.
• If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.
• Get active and eat healthy.
• Talk to your doctor about taking aspirin every day if you are a man over the age of 45 or a woman over 55.
• Manage stress.
The healthy lifestyle shifts mentioned above are important to modulate chronic disease patterns. Yet, I find above guidelines lacking in giving a complete picture of what is truly important for overall heart health. For example, let’s look at the controversial topic between integrative and conventional medicine- cholesterol.
As the above quote shows, medical experts are touting that an important way to prevent cardiovascular disease is to take medications that stop the formation of this critical steroid manufactured in our liver. In a previous blog, I spoke about the many benefits of cholesterol, including its role in the formation of hormones, Vitamin D, and brain support.
Now, from a common sense point of view, think of the implications of taking a medicine which stops the precursor to hormones and a vitamin, which in itself is being touted for overall heart benefits. Besides the side effects of this biochemical manipulation, studies are lacking in the benefits of suppressing cholesterol in most cases. The fact is, most drug companies share only the favorable results in their trials. Bio-individuality and dosage is usually not taken into account in most studies, creating clinical judgment of what to use and when hard to determine for most physicians. An excerpt from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explains this issue in relation to Vitamin D:
Vitamin D is unique in the field of nutrition because of the range of its pleiotropic effects. CHF is a chronic disease involving many body systems and is the long-term consequence of several major risk factors, most of which may be moderated with improved vitamin D nutrition (3, 6-10). To expect a therapeutic response to a modest dose of this one nutrient in patients with CHF is surely too much to ask. The more realistic question raised by Schleithoff et al (3) and Witte and Clark (2) is whether the use of an appropriate dose of vitamin D, as one part of a nutritional strategy, could help in the primary prevention or treatment of CHF.
What about for gender differences? Most trials use men and may be why women aren’t showing the benefit men are with statins. A recent article by Dr. Hyman discusses the implications of taking a medication based on misguided medical theory and lab numbers, vs. on biochemistry and individualized health.
Women with No Heart Disease shouldn’t be on Statins
In this new study researchers reviewed the effect of statin prescriptions in a group of 153,840 women without diabetes and with an average age of 63.2 years. About 7 percent of women reported taking statin medication between 1993 and 1996. Today there are many, many more women taking statin medications, thus many more are at risk from harm from statins.
During the 3-year period of the study, 10,242 new cases were reported – a whopping 71 percent increase in risk from women who didn’t take statins. This association stayed strong at a 48 percent increased risk of getting diabetes, even after taking into account age, race/ethnicity, and weight or body mass index. These increases in disease risk were consistent for all statins on the market.
This effect also occurred in those with and without heart disease. Surprisingly disease risk was worse in thin women. Minority women were also disproportionately affected. The risk of diabetes was 49 percent for white women, 57 percent for Hispanic women, and 78 percent for Asian women.
But in a typical “my mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with the facts” statement by the medical establishment, the researchers said we should not change our guidelines for statin use for the primary prevention of heart disease.
In a large meta-analysis published in the Lancet last year, scientists found that statins increased the risk of diabetes by 9 percent. If current guidelines were followed for those who should take statins, and people actually took them (thank God only 50 percent of prescriptions are ever filled by patients), there would be 3 million more diabetics in America. Oops.
Other studies have recently called into question the belief that high cholesterol levels increase your risk of heart disease as you get older. For those over 85 it turns out having high cholesterol will protect you from dying from a heart attack, and, in fact, from death from any cause.
The problem with generalized recommendations is that the focus is too narrow. I encourage you to read the rest of the article that discusses the risks associated with statins. It highlights research that disputes poorly designed studies on the connection of a lowered risk of heart disease and lowering cholesterol and discusses articles that demonstrate how low cholesterol does not necessarily decrease mortality from heart events. In fact, too low cholesterol can INCREASE arterial plaques, and have other other serious heart effects.
Still, let’s remember the individual. These drugs aren’t all bad. New studies are showing they may provide an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect that is effective in preventing secondary heart attacks for those MEN who have a history of a heart attack.
There’s More to Heart Health than Numbers!
The heart itself has a “brain” and contains hormonal and healing effects to the whole body. Beyond numbers and weight, it’s the sense of isolation that is the primary predictor if one will die or live in all cause mortality. It isn’t just a cliche, emotions play a big part in heart health! Studies show that you can literally have a heart attack from a broken heart. According to a study in Circulation:
Acute psychological stress is associated with an abrupt increase in the risk of cardiovascular events. Intense grief in the days after the death of a significant person may trigger the onset of acute myocardial infarction (MI), but this relationship has not been systematically studied.
Dr. Mercola offered some more insight on the mechanism behind this grief and heart health:
It’s well known that psychological stress exacts a great physical toll on your health, but new research reveals just how extreme that toll can be.
In comparing how grief affects your heart disease risk within a period of time, researchers found that losing a significant person in your life raises your risk of having a heart attack the next day by 21 times, and in the following week by 6 times. The risk of heart attacks began to decline after about a month had passed, perhaps as levels of stress hormones begin to level out.
The study did not get into the causes of the abrupt increase in risk of cardiovascular events like heart attack, but it’s likely related to the flood of stress hormones your body is exposed to following extreme stress.
For instance, adrenaline increases your blood pressure and your heart rate, and it’s been suggested it may lead to narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to your heart, or even bind directly to heart cells allowing large amounts of calcium to enter and render the cells temporarily unable to function properly.
Interestingly, while your risk of heart attack increases following severe stress, so does your risk of what’s known as stress cardiomyopathy — or “broken heart syndrome” — which is basically a “temporary” heart attack that occurs due to stress.
An Emotional Tip for Heart Health
Therefore, think of ways to handle stress, emotions, and isolation for heart healthy tips that goes beyond a statin deficiency. Dr. Northrup reminds us of the emotional component of heart health,
But it’s also important to find out what your heart is yearning for. One of my patients with heart palpitations found that they stopped soon after she asked for a promotion at work, something she hadn’t had the courage to do before. She got the promotion and finds her work more fulfilling than ever. Her heart no longer has to speak so loudly.
In fact, the American Heart Association recently reported how Yoga is connected to heart health:
Thinking prevention? As part of an overall healthy lifestyle, Cunningham said yoga can help lower blood pressure, increase lung capacity, improve respiratory function and heart rate, and boost circulation and muscle tone. It can also improve your overall well-being while offering strength-building benefits.
Yoga also has proven benefits for those who have faced cardiac arrest, heart attack or other heart event, according to Cunningham. “The acute emotional stress of such an event certainly has a significant and adverse effect on the heart,” she said. “That’s where yoga can be a tremendous benefit to manage the stress.” For example, Cunningham said that half of bypass surgery patients go through depression, facing emotions ranging from anxiety to grieving. “All these things come into play when you’ve got a potentially chronic disease to manage for the rest of your life.”
The calming benefits of yoga may help with that — and you may see benefits right away. After your first yoga class, your blood pressure will likely be lower, you’ll be relaxed and you’ll feel better, Cunningham said. Long-term, sustained yoga may play a role in improving overall health, according to Cunningham.
“The more energy you put into it, the more you’re going to get out of it,” she said. “After 12 weeks, you may see a dramatic increase in exercise functionality, and blood pressure and cholesterol levels may decrease.”
If you have heart disease, diabetes or are obese, check with your doctor before starting a yoga program. “I highly recommend going to a qualified and trained cardiac medical yoga instructor,” Cunningham said. To find an instructor in your area, check with your local cardiac rehab center or visit cardiacyoga.com.
The Physical Approach to Heart Health: An Inclusive Approach
A good physician will look at the whole picture of heart health. Dr. Hyman summarizes the action steps and nutritional support to keep in check for the heart.
Measuring Your Risk Factors:
- Get the right cholesterol tests. Check NMR particle sizes for cholesterol by asking your doctor for this test at Labcorp or LipoScience. You want to know if you have safe light and fluffy cholesterol particles, or small dense, artery damaging cholesterol particles. A regular cholesterol test won’t tell you this.
- Check for metabolic syndrome. Do you have a fat belly? Measure you waist at the belly button and your hips at the widest point—if your waist/hip is greater than 0.8 if you are a woman or 0.9 if you are man, then you have a problem. If you have small LDL and HDL particles, you have metabolic syndrome. If your triglycerides are greater than 100 and your HDL is less than 50, or the ratio of triglycerides to HDL is greater than 4, then you have metabolic syndrome.
- Do a glucose insulin challenge test. This is very important and most physicians do not test for insulin and glucose.
- Check your hemoglobin A1c, which measures blood sugar over the last 6 weeks. If it is greater than 5.5, you may have metabolic syndrome
- Eat a healthy diet. Eat a diet with a low glycemic load, high in fiber, and phytonutrient and omega-3 rich. It should be plant based, and you should consume plenty of good quality protein such as beans, nuts, seeds, and lean animal protein (ideally organic or grass fed). I have described specific diets that abide by these parameters in my book UltraMetabolism.
- Exercise. Enough said.
- Get good quality sleep. Sleep is essential for healing your body, maintaining balanced blood sugar, and your overall health.
- Use supplements to support healthy cholesterol particle size. These include:
- A multivitamin including at least 500 mcg of chromium, 2 mg of biotin and 400 mg of lipoic acid. For most you will take 3 capsules twice a day.
- 1000 mg of omega-3 fats (EPA/DHA) twice a day.
- 2000 IU of vitamin D3 2000 a day.
- 1200 mg of red rice yeast twice a day.
- 2-4 capsules of glucomannan 15 minutes before meals with a glass of water.
- Broad-range, balanced concentration of plant sterols. You will usually take 1 capsule with each meal.
5. Consider using high dose niacin or vitamin B3. This can only be done with a doctor’s prescription. It is useful to help raise HDL cholesterol, lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and increase particle size..
6. Use low-dose statins ONLY if you have had heart disease or are a male with multiple risk factors, while carefully monitoring for muscle and liver damage.
US Department of Health and Human Services. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. February 2012 Toolkit. American Heart Month. http://healthfinder.gov/nho/PDFs/FebruaryNHOtoolkit.pdf
American Heart Association. Yoga and Heart Health. February 2012. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/StartWalking/Yoga-and-Heart-Health_UCM_434966_Article.jsp#.TzBaXOQ7_IU
Hyman, M. Why Women Should Stop Their Cholesterol Lowering Medication. January 21, 2012. http://drhyman.com/why-women-should-stop-their-cholesterol-lowering-medication-8209/?utm_source=Publicaster&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=drhyman%20newsletter%20issue%20#51&utm_content=Get+the+story.
Barter P, Gotto AM, LaRosa JC, Maroni J, Szarek M, Grundy SM, Kastelein JJ, Bittner V, Fruchart JC; Treating to New Targets Investigators. HDL cholesterol, very low levels of LDL cholesterol, and cardiovascular events. N Engl J Med. 2007 Sep 27;357(13):1301-10.
Hansson GK Inflammation, Atherosclerosis, and Coronary Artery Disease N Engl J Med 352:1685, April 21, 2005
Schatz IJ, Masaki K, Yano K, Chen R, Rodriguez BL, Curb JD. Cholesterol and all-cause mortality in elderly people from the Honolulu Heart Program: a cohort study. Lancet. 2001 Aug 4;358(9279):351-5.
Mercola, J. How Grief Can Break Your Heart. February 3, 2012. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/02/03/how-grief-can-break-your-heart.aspx?e_cid=20120203_FNL_art_2
Mostofsky E, Maclure M, Sherwood JB, Tofler GH, Muller JE, Mittleman MA. Circulation. Risk of Acute Myocardial Infarction After the Death of a Significant Person in One’s Life: The Determinants of Myocardial Infarction Onset Study. 2012 Jan 24;125(3):491-6. Epub 2012 Jan 9.
Source: Hyman, M. Seven Tips To Fix Your Cholesterol without Medication. January 21, 2012. http://drhyman.com/seven-tips-to-fix-your-cholesterol-without-medication-3997/?utm_source=Publicaster&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=drhyman%20newsletter%20issue%20#51&utm_content=Read+more
Northrup, C. Palpitations: A Message From Your Heart at Midlife. February 1, 2012. http://www.drnorthrup.com/blog/2012/02/palpitations-a-message-from-your-midlife-heart
Reinhold Vieth and Samantha Kimball. Vitamin D in congestive heart failure (editorial)1,2. Am J Clin Nutr April 2006 vol. 83 no. 4 731-732. http://www.ajcn.org/content/83/4/731.full
Be sure to check out my informational blog on Saratoga.com which includes:
Naturopathic Philosophy Highlight… Fun Facts:
- An Unexpected Solution to Rising Health Costs
- Statins and Nerve damage
- Should Pediatricians Fire Patients- The Unvaccinated Controversy
- OSHA’s statement on Mandatory Health Care Vaccinations
Upcoming Essential Oils Workshops with Terry Quigley at the Healing Garden.
Contact Terry at 518-831-9469
Next Health Forum is February 9th at 6:15pm. Learn more about future events.
New Office Manager
It is with a sad heart that we will be saying farewell to my wonderful office manager, Emma Rombach, LAc. She has been a wonderful addition and help to us all. Within the next few weeks, I will be interviewing prospects and training her replacement. I ask you all for your patience during this transition. Please be reminded that email and phone calls will continue to be filtered and won’t be only viewed by me.
Next week, starting February 15th, I will begin a trial with Holistic Answering Services who will be receiving forwarded emails and tasks. Please provide feedback if necessary.
Congratulations to Emma’s success and best wishes to her moving forward with her practice and other career endeavors.
PATIENTS: Please review follow ups and cancellation policy on my website.
- This Weeks Radio Show Highlight: Happiness: How to Bring More of it Into Your Life Right Now!!
For decades psychologists have focused mostly on negative moods such as depression and anxiety. But what about happiness? Is it possible to measure and increase your happiness set point? Join Dr. Northrup and Roko Belic, the director of the phenomenal new film Happy, to find out exactly how you can set the stage for more happiness in your life– and help spread it to the rest of the world!
- The Rest of Fun Facts on my Saratoga.com blog.
- Listen to my colleagues and other experts as they discuss solutions to menopausal issues on a show dedicated just for women in mid-life! Here is a link from my interview on 360menopause Radio Show on Panic Attacks and Menopause and a list of archived shows.
- Check out my latest answer on Dr. Oz’s Sharecare:The link of emotions on the heart
- View the Updated Link Resources on my homepage