“I’ll have a large fries and a heart stent, please…”

 

My, how time flies. It seemed just a few decades ago – it was 1986, to be exact – when the first human heart stent was put in place. A revolution in cardiovascular medicine ensued. With coronary arteries closing down faster than record stores these days, stents are the prop that allows these clogged and clogging vessels a handful of additional years of breathing room.

Ex-President George W. Bush – you remember, the one who loved to bike and hike and work out and all that -is the latest star to have a stent put in place. He joins an illustrious crowd, including Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney and about a million other people who get a stent every year in the United States. The cost of placing a stent in a patient ranges from $30,000 to $48,000. Multiply that by a million people and it works out to be exactly a lot of money.

So what advice do doctors typically give in order to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, the very kind that leads toward stents being needed? Stay active, get lots of exercise, and eat a healthy diet. But wait, didn’t George W Bush do all of that? Well, not exactly. We know that he hiked and biked and worked on his ranch. But his diet? Here’s what the White House chef had to say about adjusting his cooking to the Bush food preferences:

Hummus was definitely out. Tex-Mex and beef tenderloin was in. Like his father (and president) before him, George W. didn’t care much for green foods.

Arteries don’t clog up randomly. They clog because the factors that cause clogging are present. And those factors are the mainstays of the All American Way of Life: carbohydrates, stress and fried foods. The way they work their plaque-building magic is a bit roundabout, but not by much.

Plaque in arteries forms primarily in response to insulin. Insulin causes both direct and indirect damage, ultimately leading to cholesterol production in the liver and in the lining of arteries. Other research has shows, as long ago as 1961(!), that slow infusion of insulin into the vein of a dog will cause an increase in cholesterol and fatty acid content of the arteries. What is striking is that the insulin-exposed arteries exhibited thickening after just 26 weeks of exposure.

So how do we mimic a slow insulin infusion into the vein of a dog? Easy: eat a diet that is heavy in carbs. They turn into sugar in your blood in a matter of minutes or, at most, an hour or so, and arterial walls thicken within a few weeks. Give it a few decades in a large population and, well, about a million people a year will need their arteries propped open. Exercise alone might stall things by even some years, but it is no “get out of atherosclerosis free” card.

Now, what do stress and fried foods have to do with it all? They, too, are indirect, but no less integral. Oxidative stress is the sine que non of disease. The balance of our lives tips either toward excess of the oxidants or toward the antioxidants, with the oxidants working to tear things down and the antioxidants working to stop their onslaught. If, like ex-President Bush, vegetables are eschewed, it removes one of the only sources of antioxidants from life. Then, to dump enormous amounts of oxidants into the body there are lots of options, but two that are very effective are stress and oxidized oils, aka fried foods.

Could Bush have saved himself a stent if he had liked broccoli? We don’t know. Nothing about health is a guarantee, but we can certainly hedge our bets. You are more likely holding a full house if you are dealt 6 cards vs 5 cards, and 7 cards vs 6. If you want to avoid your day at the hospital getting some scaffolding inserted into your arteries, hedge your bets. Eat vegetables, and don’t fry them first. What else can you do?

  • Reduce the amount of carbs you eat, ideally down to 20% of your daily calories or less
  • Reduce your stress (I’ll tell you how to do this soon. Stay tuned.)
  • Don’t eat foods containing fried plant oils (canola, soybean, corn, cottonseed, etc.)
  • Make an appointment to see a doctor who can run labs and interpret them in a way that is relevant to your ongoing wellness. The value of blood work is not simply to tell you which of your values is “high” or “low.” The value is in seeing patterns of numbers and how they shift, even within their reference ranges. Physicians should use labs to prevent disease, not to diagnose them.
  • Finally, if you don’t have a naturopathic physician as your primary care physician, seek one out. Make it happen. It just might change your life, and you can donate your unused stent to someone less fortunate.

 

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 7th, 2013 at 9:14 pm and is filed under Articles by our Doctors, Atherosclerosis, Cardiovascular disease, Cholesterol, Dr. Greg Nigh, Exercise, General, Healthy lifestyle, Nutrition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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