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  • Nicole Spear, MS, CNS

The Basics of Cardiovascular Disease

The idea has long been held that most Americans are helpless victims in the hands of cardiovascular disease, which still remains the number one cause of death among individuals in developed countries. Cardiovascular disease is, in fact, a result of a myriad of lifestyle choices and not a genetic fate. High blood pressure, dyslipidemia, plaque development and hardening of arterial walls are all individual risk factors with roots in inflammation and oxidation, both factors manipulated by dietary and lifestyle choices.

Oxidation Oxidation refers to the damage imparted by an excess of free radicals in the body. Free radicals oxidize LDL cholesterol molecules, making them smaller and enhancing their ability to penetrate the walls of blood vessels, leading to plaque development. Normal sized LDL cholesterol molecules (those not oxidized by free radicals) are not risk factors for arteriosclerosis, as some believe.

Antioxidants Antioxidants are nutrients that fight free radicals and prevent oxidation. Specific antioxidants fight free radicals that damage particular parts of the body. For example, vitamin E targets the free radicals that damage LDL cholesterol, leading to heart disease. Fresh, unprocessed fruits and vegetables are among the richest sources of antioxidants in the diet. However, processing and cooking fruits and vegetables will destroy most of the antioxidants, which are sensitive to heat and pressure. Therefore, daily consumption of raw fruits and vegetables is important to fight cardiovascular disease.

Inflammation An unhealthy diet and chronic stress induces systemic inflammation – molecules produced by the immune system for the purpose of alerting the body of potential damage and danger. When these inflammatory molecules circulate through the body at low levels, they can damage and harden blood vessel walls, increasing the risk for arteriosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. Inflammation is highly manageable by a healthy diet. Inflammatory molecules are produced when we consume commercial red meat (beef, pork, lamb), sugar, refined carbohydrates, and acidic drinks such as soda. Alternatively, healthy omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and seafood, as well as deep green leafy vegetables, fight against inflammation.

Is cardiovascular disease reversible? Modern medicine tells us 'no' but perhaps that is because we are unwilling to embark on the path that will reverse this condition. Many integrative doctors and healthcare workers have discovered that the high intake of antioxidants, often found in a vegan diet, is completely adequate to reverse cardiovascular disease. If cardiovascular disease is created by free radicals, wouldn't it make sense to heal it with antioxidants? Various alternative clinics have been able to reduce plaque by consuming large quantities of vegetable juices and fresh salads. Fighting cardiovascular disease is more about willpower and determination, than fate and genes.

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