In my previous article on Women and Heart Disease, I highlighted the significant differences between men and women and why women are often underdiagnosed and undertreated because of the significant difference in the disease process. However, regardless of gender, prevention is clearly the best option to ensure a healthy cardiovascular system for years to come. Anything you do to help your heart, your endothelium, and your cardiovascular system to prevent a heart attack can also help to prevent a brain attack or stroke. This article offers many healthy tips that will benefit your heart and your brain.

Know your numbers

PULS – In another previous article, I highlighted a cutting edge test for detecting your risk of a heart attack in the next five years by measuring specific cardiac inflammatory markers. This new test has won international medical innovation awards. I think the PULS test offers the most important information you can have to track your lifestyle changes.

Cholesterol – Yes cholesterol is important, but for years we’ve known that just measuring cholesterol is not enough. Cholesterol is actually very important to many different metabolic processes in our bodies. Hormone production is one of them. When our cholesterol levels are too low, then it can hinder some healthy bodily functions. A cholesterol over 200 is NOT as risky as high inflammation.  If you don’t get a PULS test, then I’d recommend checking Oxidized LDL & Lipoprotein(a). These are much better indicators of your cholesterol profile. Keeping your HDL (healthy) cholesterol high and your Triglycerides (terrible) low are even more important than LDL, especially for women.

CRP – C-reactive Protein is another marker of inflammation. If you’re unable to get a PULS test, I’d recommend this.

Blood Pressure– Your heart works hard, every second of every day, and the demands of high blood pressure not only require more oxygen, but eventually will also cause a thick heart wall and even heart failure. Therefore, an optimal blood pressure is 100-120 / 60-80.

Body Fat Percentage ─ Here’s a simple body fat calculator to give you an idea of what your current levels are. This is a better indicator of heart risk than BMI (body mass index). For women, body fat percentage less than 20 is “athletic,” 20 to 24 is “healthy,” 25 to 31 is “acceptable,” and 32 or greater is considered obese.

Waist Circumference ─ A study that looked at data from 650,000 adults found an estimated decrease in life expectancy of approximately three years for men and five years for women for the highest versus lowest waist circumference. This effect was independent of other risk factors, such as age, body mass index (BMI), physical activity, smoking history, and alcohol use. An ‘acceptable’ waist circumference is 25 to 31.5 inches.1

Reduce your inflammatory triggers

Again, new science reveals that inflammation is a much bigger risk for heart disease than cholesterol levels. When it comes to reducing insidious inflammation, small and simple things do bring about great results if they are done together and consistently.

  • Dramatically reduce the toxins you are exposed to:
    • Sugar
    • Trans and Saturated fats 
    • Heavy Metals
    • Cigarette Smoke, even secondhand smoke
    • Environmental Toxins
    • Pesticides and other fake estrogens
    • WIFI
  • Increase your glutathione
  • Control your weight
  • MOVE more
  • Improve your microbiome (gut health)
  • Balance your hormones
  • Add supplements if needed
  • Reduce your stress
  • Safeguard your sleep

Now, while I could write an article on each one of these inflammation-reducing strategies, I’m going to focus on Sugar, Glutathione, and Fats in this article.

Eliminate or Greatly Reduce Your Sugar Intake

Much to my surprise, as I was checking out at the grocery store last week, there was a special edition of Time Magazine entitled “Sugar.” I encourage you to get it and read the entire magazine. It will shock you!

To reinforce my point that sugar is indeed a toxin and is very bad for our hearts and our entire endothelium (the lining of our vessels from head to toe), Robert Lustig, professor emeritus of pediatrics and endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco, designed a study to prove it.  The study, printed in the journal of Obesity2, examined 43 Hispanic and African American children ages 8 to18. They collected food diaries beforehand, then changed their diets to restrict sugar to under 10% of their total calories. Now, they did not substitute sugar for organic fruits and veggies, but instead for other carbs and processed foods that had lower sugar content. 

The results were staggering! “Everything got better.”  Some kids went from being insulin resistant to having healthy insulin levels in NINE days! Fasting blood sugars dropped by 53%. Their Triglyceride and LDL levels also dropped significantly, and they showed less fat in their livers. Lustig says, “Up until now, there has been a lot of correlation studies linking sugar to metabolic syndrome…this is Causation”!2

Hyperglycemia (or high blood sugar) can increase markers of chronic inflammation and contribute to increased reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation, which ultimately causes vascular dysfunction.3 My dear friends, this vascular dysfunction goes all the way to the brain, too, thus the reason Alzheimer’s has been dubbed “Type 3 diabetes” for over a decade. Reducing our sugar will dramatically enhance our health!

I began practicing in cardiology in the early ‘80s. I’ve lived through margarine and the whole “low fat” craze. If you track back, you can see that the obesity epidemic and surge in heart disease and cancer (sugar is the perfect growth medium for cancer, too) all started with these dietary changes. Food manufacturers removed fat and replaced it with sugars. Sugars of all kinds of names are hiding in just about everything that is processed. In fact, the Time magazine listed at least 26.

Be mindful and read labels. Once we rid ourselves of the sugar, we begin to experience the joy of tasting real food. This is hard, but not impossible. One of my dearest friends made a powerful choice for herself over a decade ago: to eliminate sugar and soft drinks. In one year, she lost 65 lbs. She has never looked back. Not only has she maintained incredible health and vitality, but this dietary shift transformed everything about her. She said, “My joint aches went away, my ongoing backaches stopped, and my migraines stopped. I had newfound energy to exercise, and my taste buds completely changed. Soon, I savored the taste of fresh organic fruits and vegetables. I’ll never go back to sugar and sodas.”

Increase Your Glutathione

In my previous article, I discussed the importance of glutathione (GSH) on every single cell in the body. In particular, in the article about COVID, I focused on glutathione’s amazing role in boosting the immune system. Today, I’m focusing on its major antioxidant role. GSH is THE master antioxidant, even more powerful than Vitamin C. In fact, it even recycles itself once it has done its magic. GSH’s critical role in the health of the endothelium is how it deals with Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) or Oxidative Stress—caused by the list of inflammatory triggers above.

Oxidative stress is the imbalance between the body’s production of free radicals and the body’s antioxidant capacity to neutralize their harmful effects. Oxidative stress damages cells, and DNA contributes to aging and plays a role in the development of numerous health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases. In a study from 2019, researchers looked at the role of oxidative stress in the development of atherosclerosis. The study concluded: “Serum Glutathione (GSH) levels and Catalase (CAT) and Glutathione Peroxidase (GPX) activities were significantly greater in healthy controls than in CHD patients.”4 What this study reaffirms is that Endogenous (made inside your own cells) glutathione deficiency is a risk for Coronary Artery Disease. Supporting your GSH levels, especially if you have a family history, is very prudent. The best glutathione support I have found was detailed here.  

Reduce Trans and Saturated Fats

Are you totally confused about fats? I know I was until I had a Genomics Wellness Test to learn what works best for me and for my body. Bobbi Horne, a DNA genomic specialist and expert in fats, shared her insights about fats and the risk associated with various genotypes.

First, dietary fats are an essential food source. According to the American Heart Association: “Dietary fats are essential to give your body energy and to support cell growth. They also help protect your organs and help keep your body warm. Fats help your body absorb some nutrients and produce important hormones, too. Your body definitely needs fat.”

We are not, however, created equally in our ability to process fat. Think of the old nursery rhyme, “Jack Sprat could eat no fat, His wife could eat no lean.”

Your “lipid panel” is the main hub for a heart-based diet. It begins with a particular genotype called Apolipoprotein E (Apo-lipo-protein E). All of us have a genotype based on how our body processes dietary fats. Knowing your APOE will give you the roadmap for what fats are best for you.

We all have genetic variants that negatively impact the concentration of lipids in our blood in response to the amount and type of fat we eat. Think about how this shows up in your bloodwork—Total Cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and Triglyceride levels.

What about your family history? It is one of the key indicators of your risk for cardiovascular disease. Answering the following question is a good start:

Have any of your close family members experienced a heart attack or stroke prior to age 65?

If your answer is YES, you are likely at higher risk of cardiovascular disease. However, the good news is that your family history and your genetics do not have to determine your ultimate roadmap. The choice is yours! Selecting the right sources of fat for you, combined with exercise and lifestyle changes, can determine your future health.

Know the Types of Dietary Fat

Let’s take a closer look at the different fats so you’ll know the good from the bad.

Mono-Unsaturated Fats – These “good” fats are sometimes called MUFAs and are your best sources of dietary fat. Think of avocados, olives, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, nuts, and seeds. According to Molecular Geneticist, Dr. Margaret Smith, “MUFAs can reduce LDL cholesterol in the blood which reduces cardiovascular disease risk.”

Poly-Unsaturated Fats (Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids) – We have all heard that Omega 3 fatty acids from fish oil (i.e. salmon, krill, and sardines) are good for us, but what are the benefits?  Omega 3 fatty acids help to lower blood pressure, reduce triglycerides, slow the development of plaque in the arteries, reduce the risk of abnormal heart rhythm, reduce the likelihood of heart attack and stroke, and reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death in people with heart disease.  

Omega 6 fats, which we get mainly from vegetable oils (i.e. safflower, sunflower, soybean, corn oil) are beneficial as they can help to lower harmful LDL cholesterol, increase protective HDL, and help to improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin. The perfect ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids is 1:1. Unfortunately, high consumption of processed foods in the Western diet have resulted in ratios as high as 17:1. Consuming too many Omega 6 fats may raise your blood pressure, cause your body to retain fluids, and lead to blood clots that can cause heart attack and stroke.

Saturated Fats – These are tasty, but not your best choice.  Found mostly in animal products, saturated fats are the least healthy form of fat. You may have heard that we should cut back on red meat, dairy, dark poultry meat, pork, butter, and cheeses. Too much saturated fat can cause cholesterol to build up in your arteries, raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol, and increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. So, choose your saturated fats wisely and limit consumption.

Trans or Hydrogenated Fats – These fats are the really bad stuff. The primary source for Trans Fats is partially hydrogenated oils. These “Frankenfats,” as they have been called, pose a higher danger for both cardiovascular disease—think heart attack and brain attack (stroke)—and certain cancers. They are commonly found in commercial baked goods, (i.e. donuts, cookies, crackers, and pizza dough) and also in fried and processed foods (i.e. microwave popcorn, non-dairy creamers, margarine, and shortening).  In the process of hydrogenation, food manufacturers chemically alter the structure of vegetable oil; partial hydrogenation results in trans fats. The purpose for this is to create a longer shelf life. Years ago, I did an experiment with the hamburger buns that someone brought to our home. I left them in our pantry for 4 months, and they still did not grow mold!!! Four months! That’s the power of trans fats and other fake ingredients in our processed foods.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires all food companies to phase out artificial trans fats (or partially hydrogenated oils), many products containing trans fats still sit on store shelves and may do so for years, as the distribution process cycles through. So, watch out for trans fats in the products you buy. They are typically on the inside shelves of the grocery store where the more processed foods are stocked.

And finally…Know Your DNA – Genetically, some of us can handle higher levels of fat in our diet than others. If you have a family history of heart disease, look at switching away from processed foods and vegetable oils. Switch to olive and avocado oils for cooking. Reduce consumption of red meat to no more than once a week. Increase your consumption of lean poultry, fish, and eggs. Making small changes in your fat intake can have a significant effect on your bloodwork—total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and Triglycerides.

The best diet is based on your DNA. There is no magic bullet and your dietary plans should be customized to support your DNA. However, as you address these factors discussed today, you will be surprised to see the results on your weight, your numbers, and your total inflammatory scores.

In Summary

During this Coronavirus pandemic we realize that most are focused on their immune health, not to mention mental and emotional health. However, with the significant risk that cardiovascular disease has on risk and outcomes with the Coronavirus, we encourage you to take inventory of your health habits and see how you can improve your cardiovascular health. Again, remember, anything you do to improve your heart health will improve your brain health, too.