HEART diseases are a major cause of death today. This week, we look at some of the symptomatic signs of heart diseases. ► Inflammation Chronic low-grade inflammation damages the arterial wall leading to lesions, which then attract oxidised and/or glycated cholesterol and dietary fats to help form plaques. The presence of arterial plaques is a sign of heart disease. Damaged cholesterol molecules and dietary fats are treated by our immune system as antibodies, hence, promoting inflammation. Any inflammatory condition can promote hypertension and slow wound healing as well. The blood marker hs-CRP and IL-6 are widely used to measure cardiovascular inflammation and even mortality. Inflammatory foods abound such as farmed animal, livestock, fish, and excessive use of omega-6 vegetable cooking oils. A high-inflammatory diet carries higher risk of arterial plaque rupture. And recently-formed plaques are much more likely to rupture than stable calcified ones, which will increase the risk of fatal heart attack. Chronic inflammation easily destabilises soft arterial plaques, especially in the presence of uncontrolled hypertension. Vascular inflammation may be lowered by nutrients such as DHA/EPA (both being omega-3 fatty acids), trans-resveratrol, quercetin, soy genistein, tea polyphenols, curcumin, gingerol, grape seed extract (OPC), vitamins A, C and, D, magnesium citrate, as well as Malaysian cocoa, dark chocolate, and rosemary. Genistein strengthens arterial wall which helps explain why soy (rather than animal) protein lowers risk of heart attack. Regular exercises also lower overall inflammation. ► Hypertension High blood pressure is one of the top risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease. Dr Mark C. Houston, in What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Heart Disease, stresses that hypertension isn’t a disease but rather a marker for vascular (blood vessels) and endothelial (artery wall) dysfunction promoted by our environment interacting with our genes. This means that if you’ve a genetic predisposition to high blood pressure but don’t have the bad environment, lifestyle and/or dietary habits stimuli to trigger hypertension, you don’t generally develop this silent killer. Vascular ageing may be evidenced by progressive arterial stiffness or hardening, loss of arterial elasticity, and pulse pressure. Salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and caffeinated drinks have been implicated in causing arterial stiffness, whereas soy protein isolate, omega-3 fish oil, dark green leafy vegetables, and garlic can reduce artery hardening. Widely-used nutrient L-arginine for complementary treatment of hypertension is generally effective since it raises nitric oxide, which dilates arteries. DHA, NAC (N-acetyl cysteine), gamma tocopherol (vitamin E) and resveratrol also can lower blood pressure besides reducing oxidation of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol. ► Diabetes Endothelial dysfunction, which precedes hypertension, can cause insulin resistance which then promotes diabetes. Refined sugars including sorbitol, mannitol, erythritol, tagatose, and steviol-glycosides can cause insulin spikes, stimulate the ageing gene, TOR, and suppress the longevity gene, SIRT. Additionally, a diet high in refined starches can raise levels of homocysteine and toxic free radicals. Diabetic people, on the whole, produce lower levels of endothelial progenitor cells for arterial repair and renewal. Nutritional therapist reduces the negative effects of diabetes by designing a protocol containing nutraceutical such as alpha lipoic acid, trans-resveratrol, charantin, cinnamon, hydroxycitric acid, EPA/DHA, calorie restriction, adequate sleep, as well as by raising the patient’s metabolism through regular exercise and lifestyle modifications. Poor dietary and/or lifestyle habits can adversely affect immune vascular function, which will lead to vascular heart disease. ► Autoimmunity Any form of autoimmune disorders (immune system gone haywire) – such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, eczema, psoriasis, and asthma – promotes inflammatory diseases including atherosclerosis. This is also true with chronic infections such as those inflicted by common H. Pylori and viruses. ► Oxidative stress High blood sugar or triglyceride levels induce oxidative stress. Only oxidised cholesterol and/or fats are known to form part of the vulnerable arterial plaques. Tea polyphenols, resveratrol, and monounsaturated fatty acids can reduce oxidation of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol. Resveratrol can be found in cocoa and peanut. Systemic (whole body) oxidative stress can even affect our brain cells triggering inflammatory response and hypertension. For men and menopausal women, elevated blood ferritin (iron store) from the consumption of excess red meat, organ meat and eel also enhances oxidation. ► Mental conditions Unresolved anger or anxiety disorder can severely damage heart health. For heart patients, it significantly raises their risk of a second heart attack. Sleeping very late and for less than six hours a night elevates physical and mental stress while doubling the risk of developing diabetes type 2. ► Mitochondria Unhealthy cellular mitochondria strongly promote oxidative stress. L-carnitine is needed to transport long-chain fatty acids to the mitochondria, which are energy-generating components of our heart cell inherited only from our mother. Co-enzyme Q10 can energise the heart muscles while lowering systolic blood pressure. Calorie restriction can improve mitochondrial function and activate their biogenesis (regeneration). ► Telomere Shorter telomeres in our cell chromosomes have been linked to increased coronary artery calcification, chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, arterial stiffness, and even higher mortality rate. Its length is determined partly by nutritional status and levels of physical activity. A high vegetable diet, regular exercises, stress reduction, and intake of omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, vitamins C and E are known to increase enzyme telomerase activity in preventing early telomere shortening. Views expressed are those of the author, who’s president of the Federation of Complementary & Natural Medical Associations, and not necessarily those of the professional bodies and government committees of which he’s a member. Dato’ Steve Yap can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.