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Valentine's Day Special Heart-Healthy Issue


This Week In HealthBeat News:

  • February is American Heart Month: Let's Love Our Hearts!
  • Heart-Healthy Protocol Rejuvenates Youthful Function
  • Inflamed Over Cholesterol
  • The "Forgotten" Heart Risk Factor
  • Creating Love That Lasts a Lifetime
  • Laughter is Good Medicine: "Expensive Urine"

February is American Heart Month: Let's Love Our Hearts!

Heart disease still outpaces cancer as the nation's #1 killer. Since 1963, the US Government has proclaimed February as "American Heart Month." You might spend time remembering those "near and dear to your heart" on Valentine's Day, but do you ever think about your own amazing ticker (other than just worry about it)?

Contrary to what many people believe, a weak and failing heart is not an inevitable part of aging. With proper care, the human heart is good for 100+ years of service. This issue of HealthBeat News is devoted to heart-loving strategies. Maybe you'll decide it's time to stop worrying about your heart and make some heart-healthy lifestyle changes instead.

Happy Valentine's Day to you and your amazing heart!

Heart-Healthy Protocol Rejuvenates Youthful Function

Do you recall a time when you were younger and had absolutely no worries about your
heart? After all, it's not nearly so common for a person in their 20's or 30's to suffer from heart disease, and you probably knew that. Your life wasn't focused around living close to a hospital, curtailing physical activity because of fear, or even thinking at all about your heart, which just ticked along perfectly from day to day, week to week, and year to year.

Would you like to return to that liberated, confident feeling, knowing that your heart is healthy and immune to problems, and enjoying the physical and emotional freedom that dependable heart function brings? Why not give yourself the Valentine's Day gift of heart-confidence by following these simple, proven, protective measures that can lower your risk of heart disease to that of a 20-year-old? Your heart is a very forgiving organ and can be rejuvenated. Here's how:

1.) Stop smoking. Smoking is one of the single biggest causes of heart disease. If you
need a good reason to quit, dramatically lowering your risk of heart disease might be the
impetus you need.

2.) Eat a heart-healthy diet. High carbohydrate diets lead to overweight and high blood sugar levels, and very often, to diabetes. As you continue to read this list, you'll see that these factors are each independent risk factors for heart disease. A VLC diet (very low carbohydrate diet), high in Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids, is the fastest, surest way to lower insulin and blood sugar levels, lose weight, decrease inflammation and slash heart disease risk at least four-fold. Diets higher in "good fats" (NOT low-fat diets!) and low in carbs have proven to be the heart-healthiest.

3.) Get optimal doses of heart-healthy nutrients. Certain nutrients are essential to healthy heart function and are often missing in the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.). Nutrients needed by the heart include:
  • B complex vitamins, needed for normal nerve function and homocysteine levels.
  • magnesium, the relaxing, anti-arrhythmic mineral that is absolutely necessary for normal heart function. Unfortunately, magnesium is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the SAD diet.
  • antioxidant nutrients (especially vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene). Studies have shown that people with higher blood levels of antioxidants have a lower incidence of heart disease. Among people who have a heart attack, higher levels of  antioxidants decrease free radical formation and reduce heart damage.
  • chromium helps stabilize and lower blood sugar levels, thereby lowering sugar-associated heart disease risk.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oils) are so well-known to decrease inflammation and heart arrhythmias that the FDA now allows label claims for fish oil. We now also have an over-the-top expensive prescription fish oil for heart patients (many of whom would have less stress on their hearts if they bought fish oil for $20 instead of $200!).
  • soluble fiber helps keep blood fats, including cholesterol, at a happy level, although high cholesterol is not the big heart disease risk factor it has been portrayed as.

4.) Increase physical activity. If you don't use it, you lose it. Make your heart work harder than getting up from your easy chair and going to the refrigerator once in a while. This doesn't mean you need to train for a marathon. As little as ten minutes of brisk walking per day, especially if this is more than you currently do, will improve heart function.

5.) Lower body-wide inflammation (see "Inflamed Over Cholesterol," below). Subtle inflammation, as measured by an hs-CRP test ("highly sensitive C-Reactive Protein", a simple blood test), is a more sensitive measure of heart disease risk than cholesterol or other elevated blood fats. This type of inflammation, which is often so minor that you may not feel it but which irritates the blood vessel lining and sets the atherosclerotic process in motion, can be corrected by simple diet changes, nutritional supplements and anti-inflammatory herbs. Decreasing inflammation also lowers your risk of cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer's and other "age related" diseases.

6.) Lower your blood pressure naturally. There's a lot of evidence that higher blood pressures (especially systolic B.P.'s consistently over 140) are associated with higher risk of heart disease. Interestingly (at least to this physician!), there are a number of big, long-range studies which show NO BENEFIT to lowering B.P. with drugs. People with "normal" blood pressures who were only "normal" because of medications are still at significantly higher risk of heart disease. As naturopathic as this conclusion sounds, these studies point to the fact that lowering blood pressure naturally, by correcting the cause of the elevation, is life-saving where chemical control is not.

7.) Curb depression, anxiety and stress. The emotional factor doesn't get much "press" or discussion in the cardiologists office, but there are numerous studies showing that negative emotional states increase subtle inflammation. Possibly because depression and stress (or more accurately described as our reaction to stress) increase inflammation, these emotional states are associated with higher risk of heart disease and poorer prognosis in people with already-existing heart disease or who are recovering from heart surgery. If you suffer from depression, be sure to get help. One common source of stress is marriage and close personal relationship difficulties. Be sure to read Jean's article below, "Creating Love That Lasts," for some timely tips on building strong relationships. And remember that depression isn't caused by a Prozac deficiency!

8.) Lower high blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels, high insulin levels or outright
type II diabetes are major risk factors for heart disease. The pitiful part of this connection is that type II diabetes is completely curable through diet alone, usually in under three months. Sadly, I find that many diabetics would rather live with the risk (and worry about their risks), rather than make a few healthy diet changes that would erase this major danger. Go figure.

9.) Achieve and maintain a normal weight. Overweight increases subtle inflammation, which as you should know by now (if you've been paying attention!) is an important risk factor for not only heart disease but also cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer's and more. When an overweight person loses weight, their hs-CRP (inflammatory marker) also comes down, corresponding to a lower heart disease risk. Of course, the low-carb, high Omega-3 fat diet that lowers blood sugar and corrects diabetes also leads to weight loss, making it easy to correct several problems at once through diet changes alone.

These same measures that dramatically lower your risk of heart disease also increase natural immunity, slash your risk of cancer, diabetes, arthritis, depression, Alzheimer's and senile dementia and a host of other diseases that we fall prey to with age. Even at advanced age or stages of disease, much improvement and protection is possible (in other words, you can reclaim a lot of healthy ground), by turning a few habits around in a healthier direction.

Obviously, a full in-depth examination of each of these factors far is too large for a single newsletter. If you'd like to know more about exactly how to implement these heart-healthy changes, please watch for our upcoming White Paper, "The Medical Insider's Guide to a Strong, Healthy Heart."

Inflamed Over Cholesterol

by Dr. Doug Nichols

With cholesterol-lowering statin drugs being some of the all-time biggest sellers, it's easy to get the idea that conventional medicine has a grudge against this amazing molecule. But as we have long recognized in holistic medicine, cholesterol is a friendly thing. It comprises 80% of the material in our body's cell walls, so we can't live without it. The body obviously thinks cholesterol is pretty important, too, because the liver manufactures cholesterol even if we don't eat any (in fact, especially if we don't eat any).

Scientific studies have shown that high cholesterol is not the smoking gun for heart disease risk that it's been claimed to be. Over 50% of people who have heart attacks have never had a cholesterol level above 200 (the "normal" upper limit). Clearly, then, other risk factors besides cholesterol play a role in the formation of atherosclerosis and heart disease. The biggest of these known risk factors appears to be subtle inflammation.

An eight-year study following nearly 28,000 women demonstrated that those with high levels of inflammation, shown by the inflammatory marker hs-CRP (highly sensitive C-Reactive Protein), were twice as likely to die from heart attack or stroke as those with high cholesterol levels. Half of the heart attacks and strokes occurred in women with "safe" levels of LDL (the so-called “bad” cholesterol). Some researchers believe that testing inflammatory markers may predict cardiovascular risk 15 to 25 years in the future.

The real question should probably be, if someone is experiencing high cholesterol, what is the underlying reason that the body is producing higher levels? Is inflammation the main culprit, and if it is, what is the underlying cause of the inflammation? Ah ha!  This looks to me like a question all doctors should be asking.

C-Reactive Protein: The "Forgotten" Heart Risk Factor

Highly sensitive C-Reactive Protein (hs-CRP) is a protein found in the blood that indicates inflammation. A growing body of evidence shows that low-level inflammation is a far bigger risk factor (or at least a marker) for heart disease than cholesterol or any other blood fat.

The level of inflammation measured by hs-CRP is so small that it doesn't cause pain like typical inflammation (Ordinarily, inflammation makes itself known by pain, swelling, or redness of an area). Older C-RP tests are used to monitor certain autoimmune diseases, but these  tests aren't sensitive enough to detect small elevations of inflammation that lead to heart disease and stroke. As you can see from the chart below, hs-CRP is more predictive of heart attack and stroke than any other blood risk factor commonly evaluated. Because of this, it may be more useful to look at hs-CRP (also called cardiac CRP) than cholesterol or any other blood fat.

Heart Disease Risk Factors "By the Numbers"

Blood Test:

Amount of increased risk above normal
if elevated:

hs-C-Reactive Protein   (hs-CRP) 4.4
Cholesterol: HDL ratio    3.4
Total cholesterol  2.4
LDL Cholesterol 2.4 

If hs-CRP is an important marker for heart disease risk, how come it isn't a standard medical test and how come we don't treat for it? Six years ago in HealthBeat, I predicted that hs-CRP would become a standard part of our cardiac risk evaluation. In many facilities, this has become the norm. Remember, however, that Big Pharma doesn't have a safe anti-inflammatory drug yet. (Can you say "Vioxx" and "over 50,000 deaths"?). Once Big Pharma has a new anti-inflammatory drug approved, and assuming it isn't found to be lethal a year or two after FDA approval, I predict that you'll see a big "push" for hs-CRP testing. It is often Big Pharma that drives new disease diagnoses and related medical testing, but only after they have a drug to sell for same.

Until then, I wouldn't wait to have this inexpensive blood test included in your annual chemistry screen, even if you have to pay the $20-$30 dollars out of pocket. If your level is high, there are plenty of safe ways to lower inflammation.

Creating Love That Lasts a Lifetime

by Jean McKenzie

Valentine's Day is just around the corner and stores are brimming with all kinds of truffles and trinkets and cards and confections, but even the most heartfelt Valentine's Day gift will not create a lasting relationship. It's the sweet little things done on a daily basis that help nurture lasting, loving relationships.

Most people enjoy the special attention associated with a well thought out display of affection. A fabulous dinner and your favorite box of chocolates on Valentine's Day, a surprise party on your birthday, a bouquet of flowers and a lovely card on your anniversary can all make you feel special. Sweet as they are, none of these things will make up for a lack of affection in your day to day life.

It is easy to take your close personal relationship for granted and forget to do the small things that show your partner you care. However, if you start now to make a daily effort to show your partner love and appreciation, the extra effort you put in on the "special" days will mean a whole lot more.

Here are 5 simple ways to rekindle the romance in your relationship:

1. Use post it notes to strategically place exclamations of your love in places where your partner is sure to find them. My favorite is placing a note on the bathroom mirror for my husband to find when he gets up in the morning. We have a secret code word we use that makes it kind of fun.

2. Make an effort to greet your spouse with a kiss when you reunite at the end of the day. It's so easy to get caught up in what you are doing, whatever you have to do next, or the daily frustrations that you can't wait to tell your partner. Don't forget to let your spouse know that you love them and missed them. Kiss first, vent later.

3. Pick up something special for your spouse. You don't have to wait for a special occasion to buy chocolate, flowers, or whatever it is that will let your mate know you were thinking of them. My husband knows what my favorite chocolate bar is and he makes sure he picks one up for me every once and a while, for no special reason.

4. Give your partner a compliment. Don't assume that your wife knows you think she has the most beautiful eyes just because you told her once before. Remember to remind your husband that you think his big muscular arms are sexy. Nothing says “I love you” like a heart-felt compliment.

5. Find something you can do to make your spouse's life easier. Is there some little chore that your spouse always ends up doing? Does your wife always clean up the dinner dishes? Does your husband always take out the garbage? Since you're on your way out the door, perhaps you could take the garbage out even if that's not your usual job, or put dishes in the dishwasher even if that not your usual role. Surprising your partner occasionally and doing a task for them that they usually do shows that you appreciate what they do and don't take their efforts for granted.

There are dozens of little things you can do to show your love for your partner; I've merely listed a few to get you started thinking. Be creative and put a conscious effort into showing your special someone that you love and care about them every day of the year, not just on special occasions. In fact, I challenge you to come up with as many imaginative ways to show your love as possible. If you come up with something especially unique, please write and tell me about it. Your idea might just be the inspiration for my next article!

Don't get me wrong, I think it's great to give something special on Valentine's Day. But when you make the effort to do sweet little things on a daily basis, your Valentine's Day gift will mean a lot more to your partner, and help create a love that lasts.

Laughter is Good Medicine

Have you ever had a doctor tell you that taking vitamin supplements did nothing more than produce "expensive urine"? If so (or even if not!), you'll chuckle at this week's cartoon. Check out "Expensive Urine" here >>>


Heart-Healthy Protocol Rejuvenates Youthful Function
1.) Smoking cessation normalizes coronary endothelial vasomotor response assessed with 15O-water and PET in healthy young smokers. J Nucl Med. 2006 Dec;47(12):1914-20. Summary: some negative cardiac effects of smoking, such as inflammation of blood vessels and abnormal contraction of blood vessels, returns to near-normal after one month of non-smoking in otherwise healthy individuals.
2.) Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease: Cost-effectiveness comparison. Int J Technol Assess Health Care. 2007 Winter;23(1):71-9. Summary: Quitting smoking is the most cost-effective heart disease prevention measure; statin drugs are the least cost effective measure.
3.) Cardiovascular risks associated with smoking: a review for clinicians. Eur J Cardiovasc Prev Rehabil. 2006 Aug;13(4):507-14. Summary: Smoking results in sudden death, myocardial infarction, coronary heart disease, worsened outcomes after angioplasty or bypass surgery, cerebrovascular disease, aortic aneurysm, peripheral
vascular disease, increased risk of complications of hypertension and impotence.
4.) Smoking and cardiovascular disease. Am J Med. 1992 Jul 15;93(1A):8S-12S. Summary: Cigarette smoking is the most preventable cause of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Smoking has been associated with a two-to fourfold increased risk of coronary heart disease, a greater than 70% excess rate of death from coronary heart disease, and an elevated risk of sudden death. Smoking cessation results in a dramatic
reduction in the risk of mortality from both coronary heart disease and stroke.
5.) Effects of moderate-fat (from monounsaturated fat) and low-fat weight-loss diets on the serum lipid profile in overweight and obese men and women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 79, No. 2, 204-212, February 2004. Summary: a moderate fat diet was more beneficial in lowering heart disease risk than a low-fat diet.
6.) Preventive nutrition: disease-specific dietary interventions for older adults.Geriatrics. 1992 Nov;47(11):39-40, 45-9. Conclusion: Fats, cholesterol, soluble fiber, and the trace elements copper and chromium affect the morbidity and mortality of CHD. Decreasing sodium and increasing potassium intake improves control of
hypertension. Calcium and magnesium may also have a role in controlling hypertension. A decrease in simple carbohydrates and an increase in soluble dietary fiber may normalize moderately elevated blood glucose levels.
7.) Antioxidant treatment prevents cardiac protein oxidation after ischemia-reperfusion and improves myocardial function and coronary perfusion in senescent hearts. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2006 Dec;57(4):541-52. Summary: In conclusion, antioxidant treatment fully protects the senescent heart against ischaemia/reperfusion but not against prolonged ischaemia injury, indicating that oxidative stress plays a central role in the age-associated vulnerability to ischaemia-reperfusion.
8.) Relationship between low cardiorespiratory fitness and mortality in normal-weight, overweight, and obese men. JAMA. 1999 Oct 27;282(16):1547-53.CONCLUSIONS: In this analysis, low cardiorespiratory fitness was a strong and independent predictor of CVD and all-cause mortality and of comparable importance with that of diabetes mellitus and other CVD risk factors.
9.) Inflammatory biomarkers, hormone replacement therapy, and incident coronary heart disease: prospective analysis from the Women's Health Initiative observational study.JAMA. 2002 Aug 28;288(8):980-7. Summary: Increased hs-CRP and IL-6 (another marker of subtle inflammation) independently predict vascular events among apparently healthy postmenopausal women.
10.) C-Reactive Protein Distribution and Correlates among Men and Women with Chronic Coronary Heart Disease. Cardiology. 2007 Feb 1;107(4):345-353 [Epub ahead of print]. Summary: Elevated C-reactive protein is associated with atherosclerotic disease. BMI (body mass index) is positively associated with CRP: the higher the BMI, the higher the CRP.
11.) Blood pressure, low-density lipoprotein and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, glucose intolerance, and smoking: Relative importance of borderline and elevated levels of coronary heart disease risk factors. Ann Intern Med. 2005 Mar 15;142(6):393-402.
12.) Stroke and coronary heart disease in treated hypertension -- a prospective cohort study over three decades. J Intern Med. 2005 Jun;257(6):496-502. There was no relationship observed between achieved systolic or diastolic blood pressure and the risk of stroke or MI nor was there any relationship between the change in blood pressure and such cardiovascular complications. CONCLUSION: In spite of a substantial reduction of their blood pressure, treated hypertensive middle-aged men had a highly increased risk of stroke, MI and mortality from coronary heart disease compared with nonhypertensive men of similar age. The increased risk of cardiovascular complications escalated during the latter course of the study.
13.) Survival in treated hypertension: follow up study after two decades. BMJ. 1998 Jul 18;317(7152):167-71. Summary: Hypertensive men treated with drugs to attain normal B.P.'s did NOT have lower risks of heart disease.
14.) Sadness and broken hearts: neurohumoral mechanisms and co-morbidity of ischemic heart disease and psychological depression. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2006 Nov;57 Suppl 11:5-29.Summary: Inflammation is associated with heart disease and is also seen in sadness and depression. It appears that sadness and depression may be risk factors for heart disease.
15.) Biological mechanisms in the relationship between depression and heart disease. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2002 Dec;26(8):941-62. Summary: Psychological depression is shown to be associated with several aspects of coronary artery disease (CAD), including arrhythmias, myocardial infarction, heart failure and sudden death.
16.)Negative impact of depression on outcomes in patients with coronary artery disease: mechanisms, treatment considerations, and future directions. J Thromb Haemost. 2005 May;3(5):897-908. Summary: Depressive symptoms are common in coronary artery disease (CAD) patients, and are associated with increased cardiac risk.
17.) Impact of metabolic syndrome criteria on cardiovascular disease risk in people with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes. Diabetologia. 2006 Jan;49(1):49-55. Epub 2005 Dec 10.Summary: High blood sugar and type II diabetes can increase heart disease risk up to FIVE-FOLD. DR. Myatts note: Type II diabetes is completely curable through diet alone.
18.) Insulin resistance, the metabolic syndrome, and incident cardiovascular events in the Framingham Offspring Study. Diabetes. 2005 Nov;54(11):3252-7. Summary: Metabolic syndrome (fancy name for high blood sugar, high insulin levels) is an independent risk factor for heart disease. DR. Myatts note: Metabolic syndrome, like Type II diabetes, is completely curable through diet alone.
19.) Glycemic control and coronary heart disease risk in persons with and without diabetes: the atherosclerosis risk in communities study. Arch Intern Med. 2005 Sep 12;165(16):1910-6.
20.) Metabolic syndrome and mitochondrial function: Molecular replacement and antioxidant supplements to prevent membrane peroxidation and restore mitochondrial function. J Cell Biochem. 2007 Jan 22; [Epub ahead of print]. Summary: Antioxidant therapy restored mitochondrial function in people with metabolic syndrome.
21.) Insulin resistance and endothelial dysfunction: the road map to cardiovascular diseases. Diabetes Metab Res Rev. 2006 Nov-Dec;22(6):423-36.
22.) Midlife body mass index and hospitalization and mortality in older age. JAMA. 2006 Jan 11;295(2):190-8. Conclusion: "For individuals with no cardiovascular risk factors as well as for those with 1 or more risk factors, those who are obese in middle age have a higher risk of hospitalization and mortality from CHD, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes in older age than those who are normal weight."

Inflamed Over Cholesterol /
C-Reactive Protein: The "Forgotten" Heart-Risk Factor / Heart Disease Risk Factors "By The Numbers"

23.) C-reactive protein and other markers of inflammation in the prediction of cardiovascular disease in women. New Engl. J. Med, 342(12): 836-43, 2000.
24.) Comparison of C-reactive protein and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels in the prediction of first cardiovascular event. New Engl. J. Med., 347: 1557-65, 2002.


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