Last week we discussed how atherosclerosis results in organ damage or death. This is something we all want to avoid. Unfortunately, the medical profession is guilty of putting forth inaccurate information regarding our diet. One evidence that this has been done is the fact that heart disease, secondary to atherosclerosis, is still the number one killer in the US, just as it was when I was doing my Vascular Fellowship in 1979.
The Cholesterol Myth
Most people don’t realize that cholesterol is a very important and necessary element of life. It makes up a good portion of ALL our cell walls. The brain is 40% cholesterol. Cholesterol is the basic chemical configuration of our hormones. We need cholesterol!
Too low cholesterol levels can lead to brain dysfunction, dementia, and poor hormone production – to name just a few. No one ever asked the doctors who were promoting low cholesterol diets [no eggs] and low fat diets why the American Eskimo tribes who had high fat diets and blood cholesterol readings averaging about 350 had a ZERO incidence of heart disease.
When these same Eskimos were brought down to Anchorage and exposed to a “healthy” American diet they suddenly got atherosclerosis like everybody else. Thus, cholesterol is not the whole story. Furthermore, almost all cholesterol found in the body is manufactured by the body and is not a result of dietary cholesterol.
Some doctors now are even admitting that eggs are, in fact, good for you, in spite of the high amount of cholesterol present in them.
Cholesterol is a necessary fat element and does not cause atherosclerosis.
The Fat Myth
Since fatty elements are found in the atherosclerotic plaques in arteries, it was just assumed that we all should avoid fat. Tell that to our cave man ancestors who would often starve for days with no food. Finally he would kill an animal and he and his hungry family would gorge themselves on the meat and the fat. The fat was prized, as this contained the most energy. This is how our genome developed over millions of years—not shunning fat, but craving fat as a prized food source.
Today’s fats are not our grandparent’s fats. Back in the day, fat consumption and cooking with fat was confined to tallow, lard, and butter—things that are solid at room temperature. Modern man has created all kinds of oils with fancy names that our genome has never heard of.
For example, a quick trip to the local fast food stop reveals things like the fact that “our French Fries are cooked in real, natural, vegetable oil. Further investigation reveals that the vegetable oil is, in fact, cotton seed oil [do humans eat cotton??].
Even further investigation reveals that 93% of the cotton seed oil in the USA is genetically modified. Furthermore, if cottonseed oil [as well as most oils that are available in the market] is heated enough to produce nice tasting French Fries, the results begin to get ugly. Aldehydes and oxidized cholesterol are produced. These are bad guys. Oxidized cholesterol is a direct pipeline to forming atherosclerosis in your arteries.
1) Cook with refined coconut oil, butter, lard, or tallow-these will not form oxidized cholesterol.
2) Do not be afraid of eating these same fats; avoid foods that have been cooked with liquid fats other than coconut oil.
Processed Carbohydrates and Sugar
These are the real bad guys. Avoid and minimize. The biochemistry is best discussed at another time. Obesity is an epidemic and these bad guys are at the root of the problem.
1) Minimize all forms of real sugar intake
2) Do not use artificial sweeteners [Stevia is ok as far as we know]
3) Eliminate high fructose corn syrup and other forms of processed sugar
4) Minimize processed carbohydrates; e.g. bread, pasta, rolls, etc.
5) Eat vegetables liberally
6) Limit fructose to 25 grams/d max—this means cut down on your fruit intake
Hypertension means high blood pressure in the arteries. If your blood pressure is high, it is constantly wearing on the walls of your arteries. This sets the stage for inflammation and damage. Such areas are focal points for the development of atherosclerosis. The vast majority of people I’ve operated upon over the last 30 years had high blood pressure.
Work with your family doctor to get the lower number of your blood pressure to about 80.
The use of nicotine promotes atherosclerosis and cancer. As with hypertension, the majority of the people I operated on over the last 30 years used nicotine.
Eliminate all forms of nicotine—smoking, dipping, chewing, gum. This will save you money as well as improve your health.
Excercise has been shown to have a salutary effect on health.
Try to do some form of exercise. Even walking 3 times a week is better than nothing.
The Three Square Meals a Day Myth
Starvation is an activity based on how the human genome evolved. There were not many overweight cavemen. Their food source was not consistent. They could not go the local supermarket to pick up food whenever they were hungry. Those who could not survive with periods of fasting with no food were eliminated from the gene pool.
I’m guessing that most likely there were very, very, few cavemen who lived on 3 square meals a day. Fasting for over 12 hours a day has many benefits. Perhaps the most significant one being that it lowers one’s insulin levels and allows the body to burn its fat stores.
Try to eliminate breakfast. Only drink non-sugar liquids until lunch or dinner. As long as your insulin levels are low, your body will burn your fat stores.
Follow the above guidelines, do some extra reading, and you will be well on the way to minimizing the development of atherosclerosis in your body.
Robert W. Ruess, M.D.
Certified, American Board of Venous and Lymphatic Disease
Certified, American Board of Thoracic, Cardiovascular Surgery