Cholesterol, Heart Disease, and What You Should Do

Coronary Heart Disease is our single most common cause of death and it is caused by something called atherosclerosis.  Atherosclerosis is a fancy term for “your vessels get more narrow due to plaques and that reduces the blood flow to whichever organ that vessel is going to.”  IF you have atherosclerosis of the coronary artery, then you have obstruction of blood flow to the heart…..hello, coronary heart disease: the number one killer.  Most people people are familiar with the most common form of coronary heart disease known as a HEART ATTACK!

Symptoms of the early stages:

  • During physical activity, people may experience chest pain that may go into the neck and left arm.  The pain goes away after rest in the early stages.
  • Fatigue during normal activities.  This is due to the lack of blood supply to the heart, so you feel fatigued doing normal activity.

Symptoms of heart attack:

  • Severe chest pain not connected to physical activity.
  • Fear, cold sweats, nausea

Given the fact that autopsies show that by the age of 60, 100% of people have some signs of atherosclerosis, it’s not surprising that people want to know what to do when the doc starts talking about this when they go in for their exam!

What causes atherosclerosis?

People have been led to believe that cholesterol and dietary fats are the root of all this nonsense. We’ve all had someone we know quit eating meat and eggs and opted for non-fat products in attempts to correct the cholesterol issues on their labwork. This is a myth you need to get comfortable rejecting, so keep an open mind here.  Atherosclerosis is an INFLAMMATORY condition! The plaques on the wall of arteries are not cholesterol stuck; it’s actually more like a damaged portion of the artery wall that is covered with a bunch of stuff, but the main component is actually tissue trying to repair that is mostly made from collagen.  The fat part of the plaque is mostly UNSATURATED FATS. This is complex, but the gist is:

  • Something in the bloodstream attacks the artery tissue
  • Immune cells come to the rescue to destroy whatever is attacking the artery tissue
  • Those immune cells call for more help by sending out the bat signal known as inflammation
  • As the body is trying to repair the damage, it grows more collagen and creates a cap on top of the plaque
  • When the inflammation stops, it becomes hard and calcium may take up shop there.  This is like a scar. THIS WOULD BE NORMAL AND WE ALL HAVE SOME SCARS IN OUR ARTERIES.
  • In atherosclerosis, the inflammation doesn’t stop and it forms something similar to puss in a wound.
  • Inflammation is driving the production of enzymes that break down collagen and if the cap over the area gets weak? Boom. Rupture.
  • Within second, the blood tries to thicken to stop bleeding, a clot forms, and the artery is blocked or a portion of it can break off and float downstream and stuck in another location.  This is what we all really fear.

Why avoiding cholesterol isn’t helpful:

The body uses fats and cholesterol as the building blocks for creating new cells and tissues in any healing process.  This is because a huge part of a cell is the membrane and it acts sort of like your skin.  Without it, what would hold in your insides?!  Those membranes are made out of fat and cholesterol and if you want to get geeky, many cells in the body have 50% of the membrane made from cholesterol. THE REASON WE SEE CHOLESTEROL IN AREAS OF PLAQUING IS BECAUSE THAT IS YOUR BODY’S ATTEMPT TO REPAIR THE DAMAGE TO THAT TISSUE!  It’s like saying umbrellas must cause it to rain, because every time it rains, I see all these people holding umbrellas.  Cholesterol is the umbrella.  It’s there BECAUSE OF THE TISSUE DAMAGE, not causing it.

Ok, so let’s cut to the chase.  You understand what I’m saying, so now you want to know what causes that arterial damage that starts this whole thing in the first place.  Without further adieu, let’s look at a list…

  • Chemicals: chemicals in your beauty products, medications, home cleaning products, cigarettes, pesticides, water, processed food.  I bet you had no idea that even what you slather on your skin goes straight to the bloodstream and could be contributing to heart problems!  Stay woke. (If you don’t know what that means, it’s ok, just keep reading)
  • Infections: if you have issues with the barriers between the outside world and inside of your body like gum disease, leaky gut, sinus infections, etc, then you basically have a highway for pathogens to get into your bloodstream and wreak havoc wherever they see fit, which means not just your arteries.  This is also a huge problem with autoimmune diseases and cognitive issues.  I bet you didn’t have any idea your oral hygiene could be a part of your heart disease.
  • Nutrient deficiencies: in order to repair, your body needs adequate building blocks and deficiencies in things such as b-vitamins, vitamin c, vitamin D and amino acids set you up for failure.  If you have b-vitamin deficiencies, you may see elevation in markers like homocysteine on your labs.  If your doc runs complex labs, you may also see vitamin C deficiency pop up as elevated Lipoprotein A. (you have a 70% greater chance of having a heart attack if you have elevated lipoprotein a!)

So, let’s simplify this into some actionable things you could do to help yourself:

  • Eat a healthy diet including lots of plants and good sources of healthy fats
  • Stop eating processed foods and excessive amounts of sugar
  • Clean out your beauty drawer from all the chemical crap (check out this website for information)
  • Work with a physician to get off as many medications as possible.  This is ironic when it comes to statins because statins cut off your ability to produce cholesterol, ultimately lowering your cholesterol numbers.  Knowing what you know now, is cholesterol trying to help heal or trying to hurt your vessels!  Bye, Felicia.
  • Take B-Vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids (1g for prevention or 3g for someone with active conditions), CoQ10 (100mg for those taking statins and want to prevent issues or 500mg if you are experiencing issues of statin use like forgetfulness or muscle/joint pain).  (If you want specific recommendations for the products I prefer, feel free to email me at for links to those)
  • Stop smoking.
  • Start exercising.

Take away points:

  • Prevention is key, so don’t wait until you have heart disease to take your diet and lifestyle seriously.
  • You MUST be on CoQ10 if you are going to continue to take statins.
  • Cholesterol is not the enemy, so do not go low fat in attempts to correct the problem.

Believe it or not, these cases are some of the easiest patient cases I take on!  It doesn’t take much time to see drastic changes in someone’s labwork in these cases, and the solutions are pretty simple when you compare them to more complex issues like cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Oral Contraceptives: What You Need to Know

Oral Contraceptives AKA birth control.  As the name suggests, this a prescription that alters a women’s hormones in efforts to prevent pregnancy.  And let’s be real here, IT DOES A REALLY GOOD JOB!  I have no issues with anyone’s decisions about what is right for them or their young girls; however, I think knowledge is power and ignorance isn’t an excuse.  So, read forth and consider all the information before deciding what is right for you.

Why is birth control such a hot topic?  

Most people have 1 of 2 reasons why they are using birth control:

  • to prevent pregnancy
  • to balance hormones, which means they usually have a symptom of disruption such as, PCOS, heavy periods, irregular cycles, PMS, acne, mood disturbance, cramps, ovarian cysts

The reason this may be such a hot topic is because many moms don’t want to give their teen daughters birth control to control symptoms of hormonal imbalance.  OR, they feel as though preventing pregnancy through birth control is an invitation that it’s ok to have sexual intercourse.  The debate of abstinence is not what I care about, but the early use of hormones to regulate such important chemicals in a young female’s body, is.

The common story: “the pill” for period problems

Personally, this was my story, and the story of many of my friends in high school.  Heavy periods, painful periods, or irregular periods lead you to your first OB/GYN appointment, and you leave with a prescription to clear things right up.  You begin taking them, things are great, and you continue to take your magic pills for the next several years, maybe even a decade or more!  Most women don’t get off of them until they wish to start a family.  Let’s think about this, you go on them around the age of 16, and you may not go off of hormones until 10 years later!  What a crucial time in your natural hormone development.  Some women have real issues transitioning off with all the symptoms flooding back with a vengeance, and some women don’t notice a thing.

What’s the big deal with taking birth control?

Taking birth control to artificially “fix” hormone symptoms is like taking pain meds to forget something hurts.  It doesn’t address the source of the issue and it can have huge impacts on the endocrine system long term.  Synthetic hormones are the not the same as your own hormones being made inside your body, and they can have serious health repercussions such as stroke, pulmonary embolism, hormone cancers or infertility.  A side note to that is the new versions of the pill that are low dose like Yasmin, Alesse, etc, have huge increases in the risk of cardiovascular complications!  They know this, and  the FDA updated the risk level for any pills containing drospirenone. You can read more here.

The artificial supplementation of hormones doesn’t address the reason hormones were off in the first place.  Can you imagine the amount of dysfunction that could build up over the course of 10 years if left unaddressed?!  What if you had a thyroid condition that was throwing off your hormones and you were prescribed birth control without ever realizing your thyroid was in crisis?  I would call that an epic fail.  What if you were developing PCOS and had no idea that your blood sugar was such an issue?  Another birth control fail.

What do we do instead?

Regulating hormones comes down to foundations.  Stress, diet, and exercise are all part of the picture. Conventional  animal products contain unhealthy hormones and hormone disruptors.  Certain plants act like estrogens.  Dairy is a huge driver of androgens.  Stress requires cortisol production, which is a hormone.  Too much cortisol can cause someone to have major shifts in their sex hormones.  Lack of fiber means free hormones are not bound and eliminated.  Excessive exercise is notorious for altering body fat percentages that don’t support normal menstruation.  We have all heard of young gymnasts who don’t get a period until they quit training.  On the flip side, lack of movement can predispose young people to store more fat.  Fat produces estrogen!  You can see how lifestyle is so huge.

There are also options in the herbal department, too.

  • Chasteberry is an herb that has been used for many years to regulate hormones by acting on the hypothalamus and the pituitary glands.  It ends up naturally raising progesterone levels without acting as a hormone.  Low progesterone give women the blues, heavy periods, or bad PMS.
  • Maca is a root vegetable that has been used for fertility in certain cultures because it balances hormones.  It aids in estrogen balance, and supports adrenal and thyroid function.
  • Saw palmetto is an herb that balances testosterone that can cause acne.
  • Black cohosh is an herb that can naturally boost estrogen levels.

Depending on someone’s imbalance, a combination of these ingredients can be a lifesaver in the symptom department!  Hormones can really dictate how stable a young person’s emotions are, how confident they are in their body, and how healthfully they develop a fertile environment for child-bearing years.

Are there things I should do if I decide to take oral contraceptives?

Oral contraceptives deplete certain nutrients like B-vitamins, vitamin D, Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, and Folic Acid.  Yup, folic acid, that B-vitamin necessary to keep a child from having a cleft palate. They can also alter balance in the bacteria living in the gut called the microbiome.  So, if you decide to take an oral contraceptive, I would NOT take one like Yaz or Alesse because of the increased risk in clotting.  I would also supplement with the following:

  • B-complex
  • Reacted mineral
  • Vitamin D
  • Probiotics

This is just scraping the surface, but I hope it helps you make a decision that is right for you!