Just in time for heart health month, a new article is making the rounds through the medical media. It is a big deal. Since the mid 1970s the medical establishment has assumed that dietary fat, especially saturated fat and cholesterol, were correlated with developing heart disease. This led to the development of dietary guidelines limiting consumption of cholesterol, saturated fat (below 10%) and fats in general. These became the official word in 1977.
Before I deconstruct the traditional view of saturated fat and cholesterol, I think it is only fair to acknowledge that based on the information available at the time, it was not a crazy conclusion. Plaques in the arteries of those with heart disease were found to contain cholesterol, and many of those same people were overweight. Obesity was assumed to be due to an excess of calories, and fat has more calories per gram than carbohydrates or protein, so eating fewer calories was easier if you cut fat. It was not a crazy leap to make.
Here’s the problem. The data (even in 1977) did not support this assumption. It made so much sense that the medical community assumed that more research studies would eventually validate this assumption. Forty years later, it has failed to do so. Last year a team of researchers published a large meta-analysis study that challenged these assumptions. They reviewed the data in articles from 1977 to the present and concluded, “the main findings of this systematic review and meta-analysis are that the epidemiological evidence currently available to the dietary committees provides no statistically significant retrospective support for the introduction of dietary fat guidelines.” Additionally, studies have failed to support the theory that LDL, or “bad cholesterol,” highly correlates with heart disease.
So, what does cause heart disease? The bottom line: Inflammation and oxidative stress (chemical damage to mitochondria and the lining of the arteries). Inflammation and oxidative stress are caused by:
- High insulin
- High blood sugar
- Excess alcohol
- Smoke (cigarettes, wood fires, coal, etc)
- Car exhaust
- Heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic)
- Pesticides, plastics, phthalates, parabens, dioxins, etc.
So can I just start eating fast food every day?
Well, no. Unfortunately the basic concepts of a healthy plant-heavy diet are still sound. All of the vitamins, minerals and fiber in fruits and vegetables are not only essential for our bodies to function properly, they are also high in antioxidants and essential in helping our bodies deal with the toxic chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis.
Many fats are either highly processed or full of fat-soluble toxic chemicals, or sometimes both. These fats are not good for us because of the bad chemicals they contain or because of the unnatural structure of the fats.
The good news is that we don’t need to be quite as worried about the AMOUNT of fat we eat, and most of us don’t need to continue to try to eat a “low fat” diet to be healthy. We DO still need to focus on eating healthy, unprocessed, organic fats.
Are there still supplements I can take that support a healthy cardiovascular system? Yes!
- Antioxidants: Vitamin C with Bioflavonoids, Vitamin E and Glutathione are the “power triad” for reducing oxidative stress.
- Vitamin E lowers oxidation of fats, especially cell membranes, lining of the arteries and on LDLs specifically. Mixed carotenoids are best.
- Glutathione protects the mitochondria and supports the natural elimination of heavy metals and other oxidizing toxic chemicals.
- Vitamin C is the super antioxidant that “recharges” all the other antioxidants.
- Bioflavonoids support vitamin C as well as strengthen blood vessel walls.
- Turmeric, Bromelain, Boswellia and Black Cumin seed are all powerful anti-inflammatory herbs. They also have antioxidant activity and some help maintain healthy blood sugar and blood pressure.
- Omega 3 oils found in algae, krill and fish are anti-inflammatory and also help maintain healthy, flexible cell walls.
- L Carnitine, ALA, Chromium, Cinnamon (water soluble extract is safer than powdered herb) and Berberine can all help maintain healthy blood sugar and insulin levels.
Harcombe Z, Baker JS, Davies B. Evidence from prospective cohort studies does not support current dietary fat guidelines: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 2017;51:1743-1749.
Becky Andrews, ND*, LAc received her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine and Masters in Acupuncture at Bastyr University. She specializes in complex, chronic and “difficult” cases, especially relating to digestive health, fatigue, mood and detoxification. She works extensively with MTHFr and genetic challenges. In addition to seeing patients in Austin, she is faculty at AOMA School of Integrative Medicine.
*Naturopathic doctors are not currently licensed in the state of Texas.