Heart Health ImageHeart attack image                 A survivor unlocks the mystery of lower cholesterol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower cholesterol may not
save you from a heart attack.

Maybe President Clinton should have had lower cholesterol. He made headlines in September 2004 because of chest pains that signaled a possible a heart attack. At the young age of fifty-eight, four arteries to his heart were clogged. Some of them were nearly 90% blocked.

The consensus of the medical community was that high cholesterol was the villain and that it was President Bill’s love of southern fried cooking and fast food restaurants that caused his plumbing to stop up.

As the former president lay in the hospital awaiting the surgeon’s knife he commented that he was “a little scared.” I can empathize with him. A heart attack isn't much fun.

An "almost" heart attack.
My name is Gene Millen. Fourteen years ago a highly skilled heart surgeon, sawed open my chest and stitched in bypasses to six of my favorite heart arteries. A six way heart bypass isn’t a record but it’s not bad for a 59-year-old non-smoker with lower cholesterol, normal blood pressure and no weight problem.

So what caused my "heart attack in the making"? Even my favorite detectives, Hurcule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes would have an impossible task in solving this “crime”. I'll give you one clue though...it wasn't high cholesterol.

Some would say that my genes were responsible and that I would have been wise to chose healthier parents. Stanford University researcher and author, Walter Bortz, MD, disagrees.

“Heredity has little to do with how long you live,” says Bortz. Many scientific studies, including those, which study longevity records of twins, conclude that inherited genes are responsible for only about 20% of our health. It's not what’s in the genes that causes high cholesterol and a heart attack but how we wear them."

For 30 years we have been bombarded with
lower cholesterol is the answer.

"Lower cholesterol!" say the drug companies ads and everything will be just fine. Drug companies spend more than 200 million dollars annually for TV and print advertising for cholesterol lowering drugs!

They spend several times this amount for drug company representatives "visits" to doctors and advertising in medical journals. There is one pharmaceutical salesman for every 6 physicians in the United States.

Cholesterol is essential for a healthy body and our liver manufactures far more of it than we eat.

Robert Superko, MD, director of research at the Berkeley HeartLab Inc. explains,

“Cholesterol is not the problem we thought it was. Relying on cholesterol levels as a risk factor for coronary artery disease may not be wise since 80% of coronary patients have the same cholesterol as individuals who do not develop the disease.”

Certain members of the pharmaceutical industry do not look upon this finding as good news. Drugs to lower cholesterol now have total annual sales of more than $14 billion.

The conventional wisdom is that high cholesterol is the primary cause of clogging the vital arteries that deliver oxygen and nutrients to the heart which lead to a heart attack.

It's not so simple. There are a dozen or more characters who play leading roles in “The Heart Attack Melodrama.” The chief villains are inflammation, oxidation, sugar and trans fats. Not high LDL cholesterol. The hero is HDL cholesterol and a strong supporting cast  includes antioxidant vitamins, smart exercise and essential omega 3 oils.

An illustration of what high cholesterol can do.

Illustration of high cholesterol in the arteries.
What the above illustration fails to describe is what causes the "bad" LDL cholesterol to stick to the artery walls. Dr. Nicholas Perricone, author of “The Perricone Connection” explains,

“To visualize how LDL cholesterol operates, think about rust. Rust occurs when metal oxidizes. Rust corrodes and eats away the metal, ultimately destroying it.

Similarly, when LDLs are oxidized in our bodies by free radicals or sugar, the LDL molecules create an inflammatory cascade resulting in cell and artery damage, irritation of the artery walls, and fatty streaks. More oxidized LDLs start to build up at this spot, producing an artery-blocking plaque.

Left untreated, this plaque eventually closes the artery entirely, leading to a possible heart attack or stroke.”

A new clinical study known as the  INTERHEART study compared 15,000 heart attack patients with a like number of subjects who had not experienced any heart problems.

In this study neither high cholesterol nor high LDLs appeared among the top risk factors. It is rumored that makers of the statin drugs which lower cholesterol but do little to improve the necessary HDL cholesterol, "trembled in their boots" when this information was published.

HDLs also douse the fires of inflammation. It is this smoldering inflammation and oxidation that causes the cholesterol in our arteries to turn rancid and clog our arteries.

Need a solution to that will lower cholesterol?

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