Did you know that recent research now indicates that heart disease typically starts in your late teens or early 20’s? And considering the statistics you are about to read, I am very concerned for your health and especially your children’s health. Heart attacks are the 2nd leading cause of death in Canada. There are 70,000 heart attacks every year, 16,000 of which are fatal. That is one heart attack every 7 minutes! In 2007, 1.3 million or 4.8% of Canadians reported having heart disease. This not only includes adults, but children over the age of 12.
Stroke is the 3rd leading cause of death in Canada. There are 50,000 strokes per year, 14,000 of which are fatal. That is one every 10 minutes. Strokes affect females more than males. One third of strokes and heart attacks happen silently. This means there is no apparent warning. Most fatal strokes and heart attacks happen in people with ‘partially clogged arteries’. Not fully clogged arteries. Not only is our culture and lifestyle creating heart disease, it is also creating other degenerative diseases namely arthritis, diabetes and cancer.
It is no wonder that for the first time in modern history, the life expectancy of the current generation of children is less than that of their parents.
The purpose of this article is two-fold. One, to help you identify the warning signals of heart attacks and strokes which can often times be present minutes, days or even weeks in advance. And secondly, to clearly outline what measures you can take to help reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other degenerative diseases from affecting you and your family.
The first thing you need to understand is that ‘high cholesterol’ is not the cause of strokes and heart attacks. About half of the people who die from a stroke or heart attack have cholesterol levels in the normal range. Heart disease however ( aka. coronary arterial disease or atherosclerosis ) is caused by the build-up of plaque in various arteries which restricts the flow of blood. And when the flow of blood is restricted so too is the flow of oxygen because oxygen is carried by your blood. Over the course of time, the plaque that builds up in your arteries calcifies. This is called hardening of the arteries. Hardened plaque can break loose and when a chunk of plaque breaks loose and travels to the brain, this will cause a stroke. When the chunk of plaque travels to the heart or gets lodged in a heart artery, this will cause a heart attack.
So the real question is, what causes heart disease or coronary artery disease? And the answer to this question has two parts; one cause of heart disease is too much ‘sugar’ in the bloodstream and the second cause is too much ‘bad fat’ in the bloodstream. Too much sugar and too much bad fat in your bloodstream causes the build-up of plaque in your arteries. And the typical north American diet is loaded with sugars and bad fats. Soft drinks and processed foods that come in bags and boxes have chemical additives that also make sugars and bad fats worse by increasing inflammation in the body. And too much sugar and bad fat in your bloodstream combined with inflammation in your body is the real cause of heart disease. Additional factors which can make the situation way worse are i) stress, ii) high blood pressure, iii) smoking, iv) lack of exercise, v) hormonal imbalances, vi) obesity (belly fat), vii) overproduction of insulin and viii) too much overall inflammation in the body. So our main concern should absolutely be the prevention of heart disease, not the lowering of cholesterol. Because as you will see, our bodies need cholesterol. In fact, we have been grossly misled about cholesterol.
Cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease. It is a response to it but not the cause. Cholesterol is important for several metabolic functions that take place in our body. And without it, we would get very sick and die. Cholesterol is important for making our hormones, it is essential for the digestion of our food, it helps make vitamin D which protects us from cancer and keeps our teeth and bones strong, and it is important for our immune system function. So why are we told to take cholesterol lowering drugs? Cholesterol is actually a normal part of plaque. But the big pharmaceutical companies invented the ‘statin drugs’ for the sole purpose of lowering cholesterol. Did you know that statin drugs are the #1 best seller in the history of the pharmaceutical industry? But the vast majority of people who take them do not need them. So people take them and keep taking them but keep doing all those things that really cause heart disease. That is why we have those horrifying statistics in our country.
Most of us know about good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL). But what you may not know is that there are 2 types of bad cholesterol. Pattern A which is a large molecule and Pattern B which is a small molecule. This is important for you to understand because cholesterol is only a problem when you have too much LDL (bad) in relation to HDL (good) but only if the LDL is the dangerous type Pattern B. Most doctors recommend you take a statin drug when your cholesterol number is over 180 because that is what is recommended by the pharmaceutical companies. This can often times be a blind approach because if you do have high LDLs, you need to know if it is the dangerous type Pattern B. So what you would need to do is ask your family doc for a complete lipid panel to check the count of your type Pattern B LDL because a build-up of this type of cholesterol is the beginning of heart disease. A dangerous combination of low HDL (good) and high type Pattern B (bad) occurs in diets that are high in sugar, bad fats and processed foods that contain inflammatory oils and chemicals. ( I hope that you are starting to see the light here.) And of course this is made worse if you smoke, don’t exercise, don’t manage your stress effectively etc. Remember that smoking damages your arteries and increases your blood pressure. Exercise increases your good HDL cholesterol and decreases your blood pressure.
This is how it works. Type Pattern B LDL cholesterol actually causes damage to the walls of your arteries. When these molecules get stuck into the wall of your artery, there is swelling and inflammation. Just like when you get a splinter in your finger ( a red bump). This is a normal immune system response. Some people heal just fine but other people don’t. And what I mean by this is that some people heal quickly but others do not. The repair process causes swelling. Something like a blister. The little red bump. In those people who do not repair well, this blister remains longer than it should and it actually attracts the plaque that it is in the bloodstream. The plaque builds up over the blister. The plaque scabs over and then it calcifies (hardens). Now just imagine if you have dozens or hundreds or even thousands of these hardened blisters in your arteries? Remember we are talking microscopic molecules here. This poses a big, big problem!! Why? Because arteries are not meant to be hard. They are meant to stretch and be flexible so they can accommodate increased blood flow when your body needs more oxygen such as when you exercise. When these hardened arteries stretch, a chunk of plaque can break free from the artery wall and you know the rest. If travels to your heart it will cause a heart attack. If it travels to your brain it will cause a stroke.
Not just heart disease. Too much inflammation in the body is at the root of all degenerative diseases. Degenerative diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer and even some intestinal disorders. Decreasing blood fat and sugar will help all of these. This is how: remove all sugars from your diet including fruit flavored yogurt and fruit drinks. Cut way back on refined carbohydrates because they convert quickly into sugar once in your body. Refined carbohydrates are items such as white pasta, white bread, white rice and white potatoes. Eliminate processed foods that come in bags, boxes, cartons and cans. Items such as chips, crackers and non-whole grain cereals. These items are loaded with bad fats and inflammatory oils and chemicals which create heart disease. Eliminate all inflammatory oils from your diet. The inflammatory oils are safflower oil, peanut oil, corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, margarine and anything containing partially-hydrogenated oils. There are 2 heart-healthy oils; extra-virgin olive oil and coconut oil. There should be nothing else in your cupboard. What else is good for you? Small amounts of fish, chicken, turkey, the occasional piece of lean red meat, and increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. Preferably organic and remember that you should only have at most 1 serving of fruit per day and never mix fruit with anything but fruit. Following these dietary recommendations will go a long way to help preventing heart disease, the aforementioned degenerative diseases and indigestion. People 40 years of age or older already have some degree of hardened plaque in their arteries. And by the way, ice cream is the perfect combination of sugar and fat for producing heart disease.
Here are the 4 warning signs that you may be close to or having a stroke or heart attack. These may appear weeks, days, hours or minutes before the event.
1) Chest pain, pain in the back between your shoulder blades, pain into the left arm, tightness or pressure in the chest or abdomen.
2) Shortness of breath. If you become easily winded especially with normal, regular activity, this is a major concern. People who experience shortness of breath are 3-5 times more likely to die from a heart attack and many of these experience no chest pain.
3) Indigestion or heartburn. Restricted blood flow to the heart can simulate indigestion and heartburn and if this is atypical for you, get checked by your family doc right away.
4) Nausea and sweating. These can suddenly occur along with shortness of breath and dizziness just before a heart attack or stroke.
Remember, these warning signs can be for both stroke and heart attack. The only difference is which artery is being blocked. Is it an artery in your heart (heart attack) or an artery in your neck (stroke)?
The best kept secret! In October of 2004 there was a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The objectives of this study were to determine the association between hyperkyphotic posture and the rate of death and cause-specific mortality in older persons. In other words, they studied older persons with bad posture (forward head posture and hump-back specifically) to see how this affected their life-span and cause of death. 1353 participants were followed at a retirement community in Rancho Bernardo, California for 4 years. The results of the study were shocking! People with forward head posture/hump-back died sooner than those who did not and forward head posture/humpback was specifically associated with an increased rate of death due to atherosclerosis. Recall that atherosclerosis is another name for heart disease. But how does this happen? When you look at The Chart of Effects of Spinal Misalignments found on our home page you will see that the nerve from the 2T level goes to your heart specifically and when this nerve is pressured, it can cause ‘functional heart conditions.’ Forward head posture and hump-back postures always compromise the 2T nerve. So how do you know if you have this unhealthy posture? Here are the signs; you notice or people tell you that you are getting a hump at the top of your back just below your neck. Or, you are carrying your head out in front of your shoulders. This is called forward head posture and if you sit at a desk or work at a computer, you most likely have forward head posture. The way to check for certain is look at your ear in relation to the middle of your shoulder. If your ear is not centered directly over the middle of your shoulder and is even the slightest bit in front of it, you have forward head posture. Typically, both occur together. So, what is the best kept secret? Chiropractic care is the best thing and only thing you can do to maintain proper and healthy posture. And the benefit of having proper posture and avoiding the hump-back and/or forward head posture is the 2T nerve will function at its optimum and so too will your heart. And if you are not sure, please give me call as I can help you with this. This is what I do.
So, by following these dietary recommendations, exercising 2 or 3 times a week (walking will do), avoiding cigarettes and making sure that you have good spinal hygiene/posture especially in the neck and upper back, strokes and heart attacks will be the least of your worries. Not to mention that you will also be taking significant measures towards the prevention of diabetes, arthritis and cancer. And if you are taking medication for cholesterol or high blood pressure or both, do not change anything without consulting with your family doctor first. Or the doctor who prescribed them in the first place. Always!
I would like to sincerely thank Dr Chauncey Crandall for his significant contribution to this article. And, if you have any questions on this topic or any other health concerns that you may have or your family may have, please give us a call. Remember that consultations are always free of charge. Our phone number here in Burlington is 905 335 LIFE (5433).
Life Chiropractic… helping families just like yours build vibrant, healthy, drug-free lives for over 25 years in Burlington.