Cardiovascular Diseases – America is Number 1!

By Shihan Mary Bolz
Licensed Acupuncturist
Master of Science Oriental Medicine
Master Martial Arts Instructor

The United States is the leading country for deaths due to coronary heart disease (CHD), according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This is hardly something to be proud of. In the year 2004, 36.3% of all deaths in the United States were due to cardiovascular diseases. The costs for this classification of disease are estimated at $431.8 billion for this year. Among people less than 65 years of age, men are three times more likely than women to have a problem with this disease. Among people over the age of 80, women are two times more likely to have heart problems than men. More than 1.5 million people suffer from a myocardial infarction (heart attack) every year in the U. S. and of these more than 500,000 die suddenly before reaching a hospital.

There are a variety of disorders and homeostatic imbalances involving the cardiovascular system. Some of these are coronary artery disease (CAD), of which one common condition is atherosclerosis, and another one being valvular heart disease. Other common cardiovascular diseases are arrhythmia (irregular heart beat), hypertensive vascular disease, and even obesity is classified under heart disease recently. Risk factors in heart disease are: 1. Hyperlipidemia (high blood cholesterol level). 2. Hypertension (high blood pressure). 3. Cigarette smoking. It is known that smoking causes vasoconstriction and hardened arteries. 4. Obesity. 5. Lack of regular physical exercise. 6. Diabetes mellitus. 7. Genetic predisposition (family history of heart disease at an early age). 8. Male gender if under the age of 65. What are some of the signs that something may be wrong with the heart? Syncope (fainting), edema of the extremities, breathlessness on exertion, diaphoresis (sweating easily with little or no exertion), dyspnea (shortness of breath or breathlessness, and orthopnea (shortness of breath occurring when a person lies in a horizontal position). An example of orthopnea is when people need to use more than one pillow to sleep on at night; otherwise they will get short of breath. Palpitations and chest pain may also be signs of heart problems. Neck and jaw pain may also be signs of heart problems, especially in women.

Arrhythmias are of many different types. Some are normal and some are quite serious. Arrhythmias may be caused by factors such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, anxiety, certain drugs and medications, hyperthyroidism, potassium deficiency and certain heart diseases. Serious arrhythmias can result in cardiac arrest.

There are many conditions related to the heart, including tachycardia (faster than normal heart beat) and bradycardia (slower than normal heart beat), valvular stenosis, and coronary artery spasm, etc. In fact, there are too many to write here. Let’s pick up one that is receiving constant attention in the news and in the doctor’s offices and hospitals like an epidemic all over America. That is atherosclerosis, one CAD (coronary artery disease). Arteriosclerosis is a thickening of the walls of arteries and loss of their elasticity. Atherosclerosis is a form of arteriosclerosis which is a process where smooth muscle cells proliferate and fatty substances, especially cholesterol and triglycerides (neutral fats); accumulate in the walls of medium-sized and large arteries. Within the artery wall, smooth muscle fibers proliferate and lipids build up, both within cells and in the interstitial spaces. The accumulated cholesterol, triglycerides and cells form a lesion called atherosclerotic plaque. As the plaque grows, it obstructs blood flow in the affected artery and tissues supplied by the artery suffer damage. The plaque provides a roughened surface that causes blood platelets to release PDGF, a hormone that promotes the proliferation of smooth muscle fibers. This further complicates the matter since PDGF causes the lesion of plaque to grow further. Platelets in the area of the atherosclerotic plaque also release clot-forming chemicals. Thus a thrombus or clot may form. The clot breaks off and forms an embolus (blood clot transported by blood); it may obstruct smaller arteries and capillaries downstream from the site of the original formation, as well. Sometimes, the plaque likes to migrate into the arterial wall. The inner lining of the artery will seal around it and it cannot be removed, neither mechanically nor with drugs. Atherosclerosis interferes with the production of nitric oxide and this imbalance causes smooth muscle fibers to constrict, or go into spasm. These spasms not only cause pain but can also lead to transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), stroke, hypertension and heart disease. In allopathic medicine, treatment options are various, including drug therapy and various surgical and noninvasive procedures. But even such seemingly amazing and effective procedures such as balloon angiography with or without stents installed are not permanent nor guaranteed procedures. Trying to remove plaque from the arterial wall and around the stent later is not very safe. This procedure definitely saves many lives and extends lives for a limited period of time. But after these life-saving procedures, the person should make lifestyle and dietary changes, otherwise a lot of havoc will occur all over again, and the second time or third, may not do the trick.

Allopathic medicine’s main preventative of heart disease is through the administration of drugs which lower the blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. However, cholesterol is not all bad. It is the amount that is important. Cholesterol is a component of hormones, including estrogen and testosterone, vitamin D., fatty acids, sebum and brain nerve cells. It is necessary that is why our liver produces it. It aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A., D., E, and K. It is a source of body heat and helps maintain body temperature. Cholesterol provides support and protection to the body organs. Too much of a good thing, though, is just that, too much which causes other problems in the body. A person can use the Framingham Risk Prediction Score to count the major risk factors and predict the possibility of getting coronary heart disease with 10 years. This may be obtained with a search on the internet from various sources.

By far the best thing to prevent heart diseases such as these is through diet. The typical American diet is the most unbalanced and disease-producing diet in the world. Other countries who have and are following the American path of economics and politics and thus adopting a richer and similar diet as the United States, are experiencing higher rates of heart disease and other diet related diseases such as diabetes and cancer, all of which are our main killers.

Among the most popular conventional therapy for atherosclerosis and prevention of it are keeping the blood lipid levels low through drug therapy. What “they” do not advertise or promote as actively are the severe short and long-term negative side effects. By far, the most prescribed and used drugs for this condition are the statin drugs. These drugs may be just as dangerous as the high lipid levels in the blood themselves. There are enough clinical research studies and trials that have proven that the statin drugs can deplete the stores of Co-Q-10 enzymes in the body. This enzyme is very important in the function of all muscle tissue. This includes skeletal muscle, smooth muscle, and cardiac muscle. The known side effect of muscle aches occurs precisely because that enzyme is depleted. The effects will be noticed in the skeletal muscle at first, and eventually the stores will be depleted in the smooth muscle of the internal organs and eventually the cardiac muscle. Long-term use of these drugs does not seem reasonable.

Your food can be one of your best medicines. Let’s talk about what you can do besides taking drugs. First of all, it is important to let go of what is considered a healthy diet in this country. It is not acceptable as being called “okay” or healthy to consume the amount of meat, fried food and sugars that we do. The average hospital serves some of the most unhealthy food imaginable. This is very curious, since the original idea of a hospital was to treat sick people. What is acceptable in the conventional medical community hardly seems acceptable. What is driven by economics does not mean that it is right. This is not to say the conventional medical community is initiating it. Allopathic medicine helps us in many, many ways, but it must stop being a victim of economics and accepted norms. Why accept the current economically-driven food supply as reasonably healthy? The only person responsible for our health is us, each individual. It is time that we, people who live and eat, start taking the driver’s seat instead of being the “U-Haul” behind it. The basic diet should consist of whole grains such as brown rice, whole wheat berries, whole and steel-cut oats, oat meal, corn, etc. with vegetables being the second largest in quantity and beans and soups a smaller portion and animal-based foods being very small proportions and not at every meal. Dairy products would best be eliminated completely from the human diet. Sugar should be taken in the form of fruits and sweet vegetables for the most part and if confections are eaten, these should be made with brown rice syrup, barley malt, molasses, or unrefined honey and eaten in small quantities. Besides this, there are certain foods that can be eaten to clean up and dredge the cardiovascular system of excessive cholesterol and toxins. You can clean up your blood and get the system back in balance with food and herbs. However, you cannot break up hardened plaque inside the endothelial (inner lining) of the arteries. Sea vegetables, commonly known as seaweed to most American people, are one of the greatest foods for making and keeping clean vessels, from the arteries to the microcirculation (capillaries). Sea vegetables also help the body to eliminate fat and radioactive materials from the body. A common American food to help reduce cholesterol and clean the system is asparagus. Black shiitake (Japanese mushrooms) are very good at helping to clean up the cardiovascular system and get rid of excess fat and cholesterol in the body. These can be steamed or stir-fried and put in soups.

The Japanese people who eat their traditional diet have a low incidence of hyperlipidemia and of cardiac diseases. Their diet consists of a lot of fish and sea weeds and miso soup. The Chinese have been studying this disease, as well, because with more Chinese getting more affluent, they are starting to have more obese people with heart disease. They have studied the Japanese diet and believe that the protein in fish seems to have a protective effect against a buildup of cholesterol in the blood. More importantly, they believe, are the sea weeds as well as soybean based foods. When we talk about soy products, we are talking about traditional soy foods that Japanese eat, such as natto (fermented soybeans), tofu, eda mame, miso, and soy sauce. The manner in which American health food manufacturers are producing soy products are not healthy, such as soy isolate and other methods of refining soy products, rather than through the natural method of fermentation and using the whole product, like the Japanese do. The problem with many American health food manufacturers is that they start producing a product before they really know the entire story (meaning the data and reasons and methods behind a food or herb). They hear that soy beans are good for you and then make new products, but their method may actually make the product unhealthy. Soy beans that are dried in their natural state are actually very hard to digest. That is why the Japanese never eat them that way and have been producing fermented products for centuries- the natural method, using time and the sun, or natural microorganisms. Other foods that the Chinese eat which have been shown to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides are black and white fungus, known as black wood ear and white wood ear, and Hawthorne berries. The Chinese also eat red yeasted rice in its real form, natural form, as rice with other dishes in recipes. The American health food industry wants to put all of these things in a pill, but actually this is not always best because of the way it is manufactured, the dosages, the potency, the freshness and the actual “aliveness.”

It is much more effective to eat the whole foods, because this is balanced. Pills are not always the answer, although if they are given for the right underlying pattern to the right person, they can be helpful. It is important not to just go out and buy herbal supplements, because they can be the wrong herbs for you. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses the whole herbs in combination and makes individualized formulas that match the individual person’s underlying diagnosis (TCM diagnosis). Diagnosis differentiation for each individual is important, even though the condition or manifestation of symptoms may be the same in different people. Though this is the same, the underlying factors are likely not the same.

Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs are excellent for lowering excessive cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood and for improving the function of the liver and digestive system, as well as the function of the heart and circulatory system. Some of these herbs are huang qi, dan shen, gou qi zi, he shou wu, ze xie, hai zao, and shan zha which are commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. These herbs are made into formulas for each individual according to their individual condition, and with excellent results without any negative side effects. People do not need drugs for this condition. Exercise, as well as dietary factors must be changed and improved. While statin drugs successfully lower hemolipids, there is a price. Some of the side effects are digestive problems, headaches, and insomnia and muscle soreness. Most of them lower the LDL successfully, but do not always increase the HDL. One drug that does increase HDL levels is Rosuvastatin. However, scientific research has found that exercise increases HDL levels better than any pharmaceutical drug. The natural method is always the preferred method and this problem is not difficult at all to solve if you live with nature. It is quite simple.

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