Cardiovascular Health, Naturopathic Strategies
It was thought that since fatty cholesterol containing streaks were first found in arteries that fat and cholesterol must be the cause of arterial disease (leading to heart attacks and strokes), however, research is proving that these streaks are more of a sign of a problem, but not being the actual original problem, or its cause. Coronary artery streaks, or ‘plaques,’ are really the result of several different types of damage. The most common types of arterial damage is due to excess free radicals and excess inflammation. So, cholesterol buildup is more of a bystander and is more recently being seen as a healing response by the body (except in genetic causes of extremely high cholesterol and LDL) to try and heal damaged arteries; cholesterol buildup may also result from hormonal imbalances, particularly from excess insulin and cortisol (more below). LDL, HDL, cholesterol…what are these? Cholesterol is a waxy compound that the liver makes (generating 80% of your total blood cholesterol) which all of your cells must have to function normally.
Functions of Cholesterol:
- vital for normal functioning of all cell membranes, allowing receptors and transporters of substances in and out of the cells
- required for your body to make several hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, cortisol and more
- used by your liver to make bile (stored in your gall bladder), which allows your body to properly digest fats and fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin A, D, E, K); bile also allows you to absorb omega-3 fats
- cholesterol is required by your skin to make vitamin D (with some ultraviolet light exposure)
Cholesterol is transported in what are called lipoprotein particles (two types are ‘HDL’ and ‘LDL’). These lipoproteins actually deliver fats and fat-soluble vitamins (eg: vitamin A, E, D, K) to your body’s trillions of cells and is vital for them to function normally. LDL sends such ingredients towards your cells from your liver and HDL transports substances from your cells back to your liver for reprocessing.
What causes high cholesterol?
Elevated cholesterol is primarily due to liver dysfunctions, excess insulin, excess cortisol, excess free radical damage (‘oxidative stress’), excess inflammation, sedentary lifestyle, excess consumption of starches and sugars (processed foods), hypothyroidism and inadequate exercise. Some nutritional deficiencies are also associated with elevated cholesterol such as with low chromium. Some medications are also associated with elevating cholesterol. Toxicity can also cause elevated cholesterol, such as through smoking and other forms of toxic chemical exposure.
Atherosclerosis – a metabolic disease
Treating cholesterol alone is a down-stream way to address what are really deeper issues that actually cause cholesterol elevations – this avoids addressing the ‘upstream’ true problem. A very common issue that is not being regularly tested or screened is elevated insulin and cortisol. Both of these hormones promote dysfunction in your metabolism which leads to more inflammation, more free radical (oxidative) stress (which damage your arteries)…which leads to elevated cholesterol (including oxidized cholesterol) and atherosclerotic plaques. Essentially, these hormones force your glucose levels to be normalized, so that even when you do a standard fasting blood glucose test, it is very often showing normal, though it is in many cases being artificially normalized through the action of excess insulin and cortisol. So, ideally, you should also be testing your insulin and cortisol as well as several other nutrients and toxins in your deeper evaluation of your cardiovascular health (including those with diabetes).
Naturopathic solutions for cardiovascular disease
Controlling cholesterol does not address the underlying issues, so the best naturopathic approach is to address these underlying causes. Customized strategies involve optimizing your diet, exercise, overall lifestyle and using herbs and other supplements as necessary. Sauna’s can also be of benefit to shift your metabolism. See some cardiovascular-related case studies here. To book your naturopathic assessment, contact the clinic at 905-597-7201.