Preventing Heart Disease
by Randy S. Baker, MD
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. Like most illness, it is
strongly related to diet and lifestyle and is highly preventable.
Everybody knows that cholesterol is related to heart disease, but the
connection is complex. While high cholesterol increases heart disease risk, many who die from it have normal cholesterol, and many with high cholesterol don't get heart disease. Cholesterol can deposit on artery walls to cause blockage, but in order for this to occur,
there needs to be inflammation of the artery wall and the cholesterol must be oxidized.
Lowering cholesterol reduces coronary risk. Doctors are increasingly relying on
prescription drugs to lower cholesterol. The most popular drugs to lower cholesterol are
the statins, but they can cause many side effects including fatal muscle inflammation and liver damage. They interfere with the bodyís production of coenzyme Q10, which is essential for good cardiac and overall health. Animal studies show statins can increase cancer risk, and there is evidence that they increase breast cancer risk in humans. While these drugs have been shown to reduce the risk of a heart attack, there is no evidence that people who take them extend their lifespan.
A good diet and exercise can significantly lower cholesterol and improve the ratio
of good HDL to damaging LDL forms of cholesterol. A variety of herbs and nutritional
supplements such as policosanol, plant sterols, garlic, niacin and essential fatty acids can improve cholesterol levels. Antioxidants such as vitamin E and selenium prevent cholesterol from being oxidized.
There are many other risk factors for heart disease besides high cholesterol,including family history, obesity, lack of exercise, smoking, stress and high blood pressure. Doctors usually assess all of these factors but often end their evaluations there. However,there are other tests that can give a more thorough assessment of cardiac risk such as homocysteine, lipoprotein (a), fibrinogen, C-reactive protein, and apolipoprotein A-1 and B. Many people have difficulty breaking down homocysteine, a toxic metabolite of the amino acid methionine. Elevated homocysteine levels cause damage to the arterial walls, leading to atherosclerosis even in people with normal cholesterol. Nutritional supplements can effectively lower homocysteine levels. C-reactive protein is a marker for systemic inflammation, with elevated levels associated with increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Fibrinogen assesses our tendency for blood to clot and platelets to aggregate and is associated with atherosclerosis and stroke. Lipoprotein (a) and the ratio of apolipoprotein B to A-1 are considered excellent predictors of risk of coronary artery disease and may reveal risks not found with standard cholesterol tests. While heredity plays a large role in these levels, diet and
lifestyle modification as well as supplements can help modify these risk factors.
While heart disease is easier to prevent than to treat, there are many effective
options. Western medicine focuses on medication and surgery. While these are effective options for many, complementary approaches ranging from supplements to mind-body techniques to chelation therapy can be effective alternatives.
Intestinal Imbalances - A Common Cause of Illness
by Randy S. Baker, MD
A common cause of symptoms ranging from headaches to arthritis, gastrointestinal distress, fatigue and depression is food allergies, as discussed in a recent column. In this column I will explore the underlying cause of food allergies, which is increased intestinal permeability, also known as "leaky gut syndrome (LGS)."
Food must cross through the intestinal lining (which has a surface area the size of a tennis court!) to enter our bloodstreams. Normally, food has to be broken down into tiny molecules in order to cross this barrier. When the intestinal lining is inflamed and more permeable, relatively large fragments of food which have not been fully digested can enter our bloodstream. This elicits a response from our immune system which forms antibodies to the food particles, resulting in allergic reactions.
When our intestines are more permeable, all sorts of toxins, including toxins produced by bacteria and fungi in our intestines, also enter the bloodstream. Many of these toxins also trigger immune responses. Some of the toxins have a similar shape as proteins on our own cells, and thus the antibodies that form to these bacterial toxins can attack our own cells, causing autoimmune disease.
Blood vessels from the intestines go to the liver, which acts as a filter. However, the liverís capacity to detoxify these toxins can be overloaded, allowing toxins to flood our systems. When the liver is stressed from handling these internal toxins, it has difficulty coping with external toxins, leading to the development of chemical sensitivities.
Most doctors don't acknowledge or treat LGS, despite the fact that research published in mainstream despite the fact that research published in mainstream medical journals have found that increased intestinal permeability is associated with many common ailments including arthritis, eczema, migraine headaches, and chronic fatigue.
One reason few doctors acknowledge LGS is that one of its main causes is side effects of pharmaceuticals. Our intestines are populated by trillions of bacteria, most of which are friendly or symbiotic. When we take antibiotics much of this friendly flora is destroyed. We all have small amounts of yeasts and unfriendly bacteria in our system. When antibiotics destroy our friendly flora, yeasts and bacteria resistant to antibiotics can take over the territory, causing whatís known as dysbiosis, or an unhealthy imbalance of flora, leading to LGS. Many women experience vaginal yeast infections after taking antibiotics. The same conditions that lead to vaginal yeast overgrowth can cause intestinal yeast overgrowth. Other drugs such as birth control pills and steroid hormones like prednisone can aggravate this condition, as does a diet rich in sugars and starches.
Anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen also cause LGS. Other causative factors include alcohol, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and parasites. Food allergy reactions increase intestinal permeability.
LGS places stress on the immune system, contributing to more infections, which are often treated with antibiotics. LGS causes symptoms like headaches and joint pain, but treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs worsen the underlying cause. Thus, patients with these problems often get caught in a vicious cycle which worsens their health.
Test are available to measure intestinal permeability, identify parasites, and culture yeasts and unfriendly bacteria. Treatment involves removing unfriendly flora, replenishing friendly flora, and providing nutrients to help the intestines to heal.
Randy S. Baker MD
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