Heart disease is a group of diseases that affect the heart, arteries, capillaries, veins, the brain, legs, and other components of the cardiovascular and circulatory systems.
Heart Disease Risk Factors & Root Causes
Heart disease is the Number 1 killer disease in most countries including the United States, where over a million people die each year, one death every 33 seconds.
More than 60 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease, 50 million have high blood pressure, 12.6 million have coronary heart disease, 1.2 million have heart attacks, and 4.6 million have suffered a stroke.
Coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis are the two major degenerative forms of heart disease that account for most of the deaths.
Heart disease can gradually build up as most people live with some form of heart disease for years until one day when they have a heart attack or a stroke.
As depicted in the following diagram, some of the risk factors that contribute to heart disease and cause damage to the heart include chronic inflammation, high homocysteine, high CRP,high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure (hypertension), oxidative stress, obesity, deep vein thrombosis (DVT),nutrient deficiencies, and diabetes.
Other risk factors associated with heart disease include genetics, age, diet, lifestyle and ethnicity.
Heart disease is one of the top 4 silent killers because heart disease "silently" causes your body (cardiovascular system) to slowly deteriorate and create plaque buildup in the arteries that often goes undetected until there is a sudden heart attack or stroke.
FYI: The other top silent killers include high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and kidney disease. [Reference: Death to Diabetes Blog].
Heart Attack/Stroke Pathogenesis
Have you run into a friend who looked fine; and, a few weeks later, you hear that he/she had a heart attack or a stroke? We are surprised because the person looked fine and healthy.
Well, a heart attack or a stroke doesn't just "happen". It takes many years of no obvious visible signs as our arteries get clogged with oxidized fats, toxins, chemicals and plaque.
And, then, one day: Bam! We're in the hospital, wondering what happened, because it came on so suddenly.
But, as depicted in the following diagram, a heart attack (myocardial infarction) doesn't occur "suddenly". On the surface, it appears to be "suddenly ", but it's not.
Sidebar: When the author ended up in the hospital in a coma, there were obvious signs of ill health that led to this. One of the primary reasons that heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes kills so many of us is because there are no obvious signs of discomfort or pain.
To complicate matters, our doctors prescribe medications that give us a false sense of security because they appear to work! -- because they lower our blood glucose, blood pressure or cholesterol.
However, these medications do nothing but control the symptoms while the disease continues to progress until our body gives in. And, when we end up in the hospital (or, heaven forbid, dead), we never consider that the drug treatment contributed significantly to our health crisis.
And, even if we did realize this, we don't really care -- we just want to get out of the hospital. And, if we're fortunate to get out of the hospital, we go back to taking the same medications plus a couple more. And, this cycle continues, until our bodies can no longer continue to fight the disease and all the chemicals from the medications and the "dead" foods.
Author Sidebar: Even though I know better, I even find myself slipping and not eating healthy or not exercising like I should. So, I know this is not easy to take responsibility for our health -- because it's a full-time job that requires focus, perseverance, self-motivation, constant education, daily meal planning, etc. ...
Heart Attack/Stroke Pathogenesis Diagram
Chronic inflammation triggers pro-inflammatory cytokines, which is a response to stress in an attempt to restore cellular function. However, sustained exposure to cytokines can lead to cardiovascular dysfunction, altered cardiac metabolism, myocardial remodeling and the progression of cardiovascular disease and possible congestive heart failure.
Cardiac-related inflammation markers include: LDLcholesterol, triglycerides, c-reactive protein (CRP), ferritin, fibrinogen, homocysteine, interleukin-6, and lipoprotein(a).
Chronic oxidation (oxidative stress) and ongoing chronic inflammation trigger inflammation biomarkers and cause LDL cholesterol to oxidize which leads to the creation of foam cells (damaged macrophages) and fatty streaks. This makes the arteries rigid, leading to an increase in blood pressure because the artery walls are unable to expand and relax.
Because of the excess insulin and glucose, this prevents the breakdown of homocysteine, which contributes to the damage to the lining of the artery walls (endothelial cells) and the formation of arterial plaque within the in the artery walls.
And, as plaque builds up (forming fibrous caps/boils) within the artery walls, the arteries begin to narrow, causing an additional increase in blood pressure. In addition, because of the damage to the endothelial cells, the arteries lose the ability to relax and become hardened, causing restricted blood flow over time.
This leads to various health problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high inflammation, edema (swelling from water retension), chronic fatigue, weight gain, frequent colds, slowly-healing bruises, etc.
Then, after years of fibrous caps and plaque (silently) building up in the arteries, one of the fibrous caps/boils bursts (usually due to a stressful event). The fibrous cap/boil releases a piece of the plaque, which causes a blockage in one of the arteries supplying blood to the heart. This, in turn, causes a heart attack.
Similarly, when the fibrous cap/boil bursts and releases a piece of plaque that causes a blockage in one of the arteries supplying blood to the brain, this causes a stroke.
In the case of a heart attack or a stroke, a lack of blood stops the heart or brain from working so it shuts down and the body collapses.
In the case of leg cramping, a condition called normal inadequate leg circulation (NIC) can develop when leg valves do not close completely, resulting in feelings of heaviness, a sensation of tension (chiefly located in the calves), restless legs, and edema (swelling).
The ropy, swollen knots known as varicose veins occur when the incompetent valves cause blood to pool in the larger leg veins, forcing them to bulge against the skin surface. This slowing of the blood transit time triggers the clotting response causing pockets to form, trapping blood and resulting in minor clots and inflammation. This condition, called phlebitis, can become life threatening if the clot breaks free and travels to the heart, brain, or lungs.
Although heart disease is the Number One Killer, most people with diabetes believe that amputation and blindness are their biggest threats. They aren’t aware that they are at an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. In fact, two out of every three diabetics die from a heart attack or a stroke.
As a result, the risk of sudden death from a heart attack, even though there is no history of heart disease, is as high as the risk in people without diabetes who have had a heart attack. That’s why diabetes is called a heart disease equivalent: Having diabetes is like having survived a heart attack.
Interesting Point: The cardiovascular system, more so than any other system in the body, responds very well to proper nutrition and exercise. However, heart disease is treated with a lot of unnecessary dangerous drugs and surgeries (e.g. beta blockers, statin drugs, heart bypass surgery) that appear to work. But, the data shows otherwise.
Types of Heart Attacks
Heart attacks occur when your heart doesn’t get enough blood supply. A heart attack is also known as a myocardial infarction.
The three types of heart attacks are:
1. ST segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI)
2. non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI)
3. coronary spasm, or unstable angina
Note: “ST segment” refers to the pattern that appears on an electrocardiogram, which is a display of your heartbeat. Only a STEMI will show elevated segments. Both STEMI and NSTEMI heart attacks can cause enough damage to be considered major heart attacks.
1. STEMI: The classic or major heart attack
When most people think of a heart attack, they often think of a STEMI. A STEMI occurs when a coronary artery becomes completely blocked and a large portion of the muscle stops receiving blood. It’s a serious heart attack that can cause significant damage.
Symptoms and signs of a STEMI
A STEMI has the classic symptom of pain in the center of the chest. This chest discomfort may be described as a pressure or tightness rather than a sharp pain. Some people who experience STEMIs also describe feeling pain in one or both arms or their back, neck, or jaw.
Other symptoms that may accompany chest pain include:
-- shortness of breath
-- breaking out in a cold sweat
Call for medical help immediately if you have symptoms of a heart attack. Most people who have a heart attack wait two or more hours for help. This delay can result in lasting heart damage or death.
2. NSTEMI heart attacks
Unlike in a STEMI, the affected coronary artery is only partially blocked in a NSTEMI. A NSTEMI won’t show any change in the ST segment on the electrocardiogram.
A coronary angiography will show the degree to which the artery is blocked. A blood test will also show elevated troponin protein levels. While there may be less heart damage, an NSTEMI is still a serious condition.
3. CAS, silent heart attack, or heart attack without blockage
The coronary artery spasm is also known as a coronary spasm, unstable angina, or silent heart attack.
The symptoms, which can be the same as a STEMI heart attack, may be mistaken for muscle pain, indigestion, and more. It occurs when one of the heart’s arteries tightens so much that blood flow stops or becomes drastically reduced. Only imaging and blood test results can tell your doctor if you’ve had a silent heart attack.
There is no permanent damage during a coronary artery spasm. While silent heart attacks aren’t as serious, they do increase your risk of another heart attack or one that may be more serious.
Treatments for All Types of Heart Attacks
If your doctor suspects a heart attack, you may be treated immediately with:
-- aspirin to prevent blood clotting
-- nitroglycerin to relieve chest pain and improve blood flow
-- oxygen therapy
After your doctor confirms the heart attack, they will prescribe medications. They may recommend surgery, if needed.
Medications for heart attacks
Less severe heart attacks may be treated with medication. Your doctor will prescribe you medications based on your condition, risk factors, and overall health.
These drugs may include:
-- clot busters to dissolve clots that are blocking arteries
-- blood pressure medications to help reduce the heart’s workload and control blood pressure
-- blood thinners to prevent blood clots
-- statins to help lower LDL cholesterol
Key Point: If possible, find out from your doctor what was the root cause of your heart attack so that you can learn how to prevent it from happening again as well as learn how to safely wean off the drugs so that your heart doesn't become dependent on the drugs!
Surgical treatment for major heart attacks
Grafting: A blocked artery may also be treated with coronary artery bypass grafting, sometimes referred to as bypass surgery. In this procedure, a blood vessel is taken from elsewhere in the body and attached, or grafted, onto the blocked artery. With this, blood flow can be rerouted around the blockage.
Stent: A stent is a tiny, flexible, mesh tube that is placed at the site of the blockage. This opens up your blocked artery for normal blood flow. The plaque is pressed against the wall of the artery and the stent allows blood to pass through it.
Heart attack recovery and outlook
Your recovery from a heart attack will depend on its severity and how it was treated. It can take anywhere from one week to several weeks before you can return to all your regular activities, especially anything involving heavy lifting.
Treating a heart attack promptly and effectively minimizes the damage. Your chances of a better outcome also improve if you do cardiac rehabilitation and plant-based nutritional therapy. Cardiac rehabilitation is a multi-week program of exercise routines, nutrition counseling, and learning about heart medications and lifestyle changes.
Follow-up appointments with your doctor are typically done one, three, and six months after the heart attack. Then you’ll have them annually if you’re recovering well. It’s crucial to take your medications as prescribed and to follow all of your doctor’s instructions.
It's also important to learn how to safely wean off the medications and work with your doctor.
Feelings of anxiety or depression may also increase after a heart attack. Tell your doctor if you feel these emotions or if they interfere with your day-to-day activity. Your doctor can recommend steps to decrease anxiety.
Symptoms of Cardiovascular (Heart) Disease
Symptoms of cardiovascular (heart) disease vary according to the type of heart disease, and they vary from person to person.
The following is a list of some of the early signs or symptoms of heart disease/stroke:
- shortness of breath; shortness of breath after exercise;
- pain or tightness in the chest (angina);
- swelling (edema) in the legs and feet;
- pain in one of the legs, usually in the lower leg, with swelling and discoloration;
- pain in the legs with walking (claudication);
- heart palpitation, arrhythmia;
- cold feet and/or cold hands;
- high cholesterol/triglycerides; C-reactive protein level;
- high homocysteine level;
- slurred speech, memory loss, muscle weakness, numbness
Please Note: Women have different symptoms than men because heart disease in women tends to be microvascular (heart disease in the small blood vessels), while in men it's macrovascular (heart disease in the large arteries).
But, you may not exhibit any of these signs. If you do exhibit any of these signs, you should contact your doctor for a physical or check up – to avoid one of the major symptoms of heart disease: sudden death from high stress.
- Pain, shortness of breath, fatigue. No gender differences
- Right-side chest discomfort. 4.7 times more likely to be reported by men
- Throat discomfort. 12 times more likely to be reported by women
- Discomfort. 2.7 times more likely to be reported by men
- Dull ache. 3.9 times more likely to be reported by men
- Pressing on the chest. 7.3 times more likely to be reported by women
- Vomiting. 3.9 times more likely to be reported by women
- Indigestion. 3.7 times more likely to be reported by men
Men were also five times more likely than women to recognize their symptoms as being related to their heart, say the researchers.
Note: The 64-slice CT scanner can provide detailed images of the heart and arteries for an easier, non-invasive diagnosis.
Note: If you've been diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF), then, it's important to find out from your doctor, the root cause of your CHF. Knowing the actual root cause will help you and your doctor design an effective treatment protocol. For example, if your CHF was fueled by CAD, hypertension or alcohol-abuse vs. a heart valve dysfunction, the treatment protocol would be entirely different for each scenario.
Also keep in mind that taking certain medications can lead to the development or worsening of congestive heart failure. This is especially true for those drugs that can cause sodium retention or affect the power of the heart muscle, i.e. NSAIDs, certain steroids, some calcium channel blockers, and some diabetic meds (i.e. pioglitazone -- Actos).
Congestive Heart Failure (CHF): The 4 Stages
Congestive heart failure (CHF) is generally defined as inability of the heart to supply sufficient blood flow to meet the body's needs. It has various diagnostic criteria, and the term heart failure is often incorrectly used to describe other cardiac-related illnesses, such as myocardial infarction (heart attack) or cardiac arrest.
Common causes of heart failure include myocardial infarction and other forms of ischemic heart disease, valvular heart disease, and cardiomyopathy along with the 3 major silent killers, i.e. high blood pressure (hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.
Other conditions that can contribute to congestive heart failure include an overactive or underactive thyroid, emphysema, a viral or bacterial infection in the heart muscle, and/or damaged heart valves.
The 4 Stages of Heart Disease & Failure
It is critical that you are aware of what stage of heart failure you are in so that you can take a proactive approach instead of relying strictly on medications.
In order to determine the best course of of therapy, physicians often assess the stage of heart failure according to the New York Heart Association (NYHA) functional classification system. This system defines 4 stages of heart failure and relates symptoms to everyday activities and the patient's quality of life.
Class I (Mild): No limitation of physical activity. Ordinary physical activity does not cause undue fatigue, palpitation, or dyspnea (shortness of breath).
Class II (Mild): Slight limitation of physical activity. Comfortable at rest, but ordinary physical activity results in fatigue, palpitation, or dyspnea.
Class III (Moderate): Marked limitation of physical activity. Comfortable at rest, but less than ordinary activity causes fatigue, palpitation, or dyspnea.
Class IV (Severe): Unable to carry out any physical activity without discomfort. Symptoms of cardiac insufficiency at rest. If any physical activity is undertaken, discomfort is increased.
Note: For more details about heart disease and congestive heart failure, just "google it" or refer to the Death to Diabetes Blog for a starting point.
Impact of Diabetes on the Heart
According to the Mayo Clinic: “Diabetes damages your cardiovascular system, putting you at increased risk of a sudden heart attack or stroke.” Your risks are higher because of the damage that diabetes can cause to your major arteries, including the blood vessels that supply blood to your heart and brain. Another grave complication is gangrene, due to poor circulation, which usually leads to nerve damage and amputation.
WARNING: If you believe that you are having a heart attack, sit down, call 911, chew an aspirin tablet (if you’re not allergic), take deep breaths to inhale extra oxygen, and cough every few seconds to keep your heart beating at a reasonable rate.
When the circulatory system is working properly, it delivers blood throughout the body, utilizing and providing specific nutrients to all the organs, tissues, and cells of the body. These key nutrients include CoQ10, l-carnitine, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Omega-3 EFAs, magnesium, folate, and arginine.
But, when there is a chronic deficiency of these or other nutrients, the circulatory system starts to struggle and does not work as effectively.
Over time, components of the circulatory system such as the blood vessels may become inflamed and damaged, leading to other health issues such as thick blood, blood clots, cold feet/hands, chronic fatigue, erectile dysfunction, and depression.
This puts additional stress on other components of the circulatory system such as the heart, which can lead to a sudden stroke or heart attack.
Natural Remedies & Treatments for Heart Disease
A set of effective nutritional and wellness strategies should focus on reducing the effects of biological processes such as inflammation, oxidative stress, glycation, toxicity, etc. while reducing plaque formation and improving heart function.
A well-designed nutritional program should target specific nutritional deficiencies that address congestive heart failure (CHF), obesity, nutrient deficiencies, prevent and reverse heart disease, and address other circulatory issues without the need for drugs.
The 4 major natural remedies and treatment strategies for heart disease include the following:
- Nutritional Strategies
- Lifestyle Strategies
- Nutritional Supplementation Strategies
- Medical Strategies
"Super" Foods: Start a nutritional program that nourishes the heart and cardiovascular system, e.g. vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, plant oils, etc.
To nourish and protect the cardiovascular system, eat green and bright-colored vegetables such as spinach, kale, broccoli, red peppers, and pumpkin for the Vitamin C, chlorophyll, folate.
Eat carotenoid-rich foods such as red peppers, tomatoes, carrots, pumpkin, and cantaloupe to inhibit the formation of LDL cholesterol.
Eat heart-healthy fats such as avocado, cold-water fish (wild salmon, sardines), and use extra virgin olive oil for the Omega-3s/ monounsaturated fats and to increase absorption of the fat-soluble carotenoids.
Also, eat folate-rich foods such as spinach and lima beans to reduce homocysteine and prevent arterial plaque formation.
Eat foods that help to release nitric oxide that (along with l-arginine) helps to relax the artery walls, e.g. beets, cayenne pepper, garlic, onions, spinach, and walnuts.
Also, consider taking a systemic proteolytic enzyme such as papain, nattokinase, or serrapeptase to help break down fibrous proteins associated with arterial plaque and damaged endothelial lining of the artery walls.
Eat foods and nutrients that nourish and protect and the heart and the cardiovascular system, e.g. celery, tomatoes, CoQ10, cayenne, ginger, onions, and garlic.
Raw Juicing: Drink 6 to 8 oz. raw vegetable juice 30 minutes before breakfast and dinner.
"Dead" Foods: avoid the refined and processed foods, especially bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, trans fats, soda, etc.
Exercise: Perform consistent aerobic exercise, 4 to 5 times a week, for 30 to 40 minutes to support healthy heart function.
Stress: Get enough sleep; use yoga/meditation; and, talk to a friend to reduce the stress in your life.
Activities such as exercise, sleep, and meditation are helpful for many reasons. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the physical organs are correlated with emotional states. Heart problems are indeed closely tied to depression, rage, nervousness, despair, insomnia, and restlessness.
This has been repeatedly proven in studies of the Type A Personality and in studies of grieving patients. Therefore, people should look within themselves to deal with their own emotional issues as the first stage of healing their hearts. It is absolutely vital. Sleep, meditation and prayer can save lives.
Medical: Ensure that your doctor performs a series of stress tests to better evaluate the health of your heart and cardiovascular system.
Request additional blood tests at least once a year for inflammation markers such as homocysteine, C-reactive protein, lipoprotein (a), fibrinogen.
Work with your dental hygienist to implement a tooth and gum cleaning hygiene program to prevent periodontal disease and infections that can invade the arteries.
Also, try to avoid dental fillings that contain mercury. And, use an herbal-based powder and oral rinse to reduce bacteria growth and gum inflammation.
Do not use the traditional toothpastes (which can be abrasive and toxic) or the oral rinses (which contain artificial sweeteners, preservatives, dyes, alcohol, and other unwanted chemicals).
Nutritional Supplementation Strategies
Review the following nutrients and their descriptions to identify the nutrients that are appropriate for your heart health and complement your Super Meal Diet Program by closing any nutritional gaps.
Açai berries: are rich in oleic acid, which helps Omega-3 fish oils penetrate the cell membrane, making them more supple.
Arginine: is an amino acid that increases the production of nitric oxide to relax artery walls. Foods rich in the arginine include fish, poultry, dairy, nuts, and dark chocolate. Take with citrulline on an empty stomach for optimum absorption and effectiveness.
Astragalus: strengthens the beating and contraction of the heart, while increasing the level of energy production within heart cells.
Beet juice/powder: contains nitrates, which are converted into nitric oxide, which helps to relax and dilate your blood vessels, improving blood flow and lowering your blood pressure.
Beet juice is a good source of folate and betaine. These nutrients act together to help lower homocysteine, which can increase your risk of heart disease by causing artery-damaging inflammation.
Betaine: is a natural polysaccharide found in beets that can lower homocysteine levels.
Bilberry: is a bioflavonoid with active ingredients similar to those found in grapes and black currants including anti-inflammatory factors, anti-clotting factors, and several properties which result in a collagen-stabilizing effect. This effect strengthens the veins by restoring the surrounding connective tissue sheath, decreasing their fragility and permeability. This helps to prevent blood pooling, clotting, and swelling that can lead to varicose veins and other venous conditions.
Cayenne pepper (capsicum): contains the ingredient capsaicin, which gives peppers their heat. Capsaicin acts to reduce platelet stickiness and relieve pain. Cayenne acts as a circulatory stimulant that produces a speedy reaction in the circulatory system, removing the obstructions by natural evacuations and profuse perspiration; and, helps the arteries, veins and capillaries to regain their elasticity, causing blood pressure to adjust itself to normal.
Cayenne regulates the flow of blood from the head to the feet so that the pressure is equalized. It influences the heart immediately, and then gradually extends its effects to the arteries, capillaries, and nerves (the frequency of the pulse is not increased, but is given more vigor). In equalizing the blood circulation, cayenne produces natural warmth; and in stimulating the peristaltic motion of the intestines, it aids in assimilation and elimination.
CoQ10: is a powerful nutrient produced by the liver that acts as the “spark plug” for the mitochondria (“energy factories”) within all cells, to produce energy -- CoQ10 works with acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC) and alpha lipoic acid (ALA) to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the chemical form of energy in the body.
CoQ10 provides antioxidant protection and nourishes the heart muscle and other hard-working organs including the liver, kidneys, brain, and pancreas. CoQ10 levels are reduced by statin drugs, (e.g. Lipitor), which, ironically, were designed to prevent heart disease, but may actually contribute to heart disease.
Enzymes: use systemic enzymes and eat raw foods to support the immune and cardiovascular systems and to reduce plaque/fibrin caused by cellular inflammation. Use digestive enzymes such as amylase and lipase to ensure optimum digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Fish/krill oil: contains DHA and EPA, preventing heart arrhythmia and sticky platelets, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, inflammation, and lowered immune function.
Garlic: contains allicin, which enables red blood cells to release hydrogen sulphide to relax artery walls; inhibits red blood cells from sticking together; and, helps break down the buildup of plaque in the arterial walls. Similar to Vitamin E, onions, ginger, and Omega-3s, garlic helps to thin the blood.
Garlic cloves provide the best health benefit when eaten raw or crushed to provide the allicin in its juice. Aged garlic provides similar health benefits, but raw garlic is better. Garlic pills have no nutritional value.
Ginger: is known as the “poor man’s aspirin”. Ginger thins the blood, lowers cholesterol and increases blood circulation to help prevent strokes and hardening of the arteries, based on research done at Cornell University Medical College. The active ingredient in ginger (gingerol) is proven effective in preventing recurrences of so-called “mini-strokes”. It is believed that gingerol inhibits an enzyme that causes blood cells to clot.
Ginger improves and stimulates circulation and relaxes the muscles surrounding blood vessels, facilitating the flow of blood throughout the body. As a circulatory stimulant (for the extremities), it works well with cayenne pepper, a circulatory stimulant (for the heart).
Ginkgo biloba: contains flavonoids, including quercetin. Gingko acts as an antioxidant, anti-allergen, anti-inflammatory; and, as an oxygen-carrying agent, it increases the blood flow throughout the circulatory system as well as the brain. It may reduce plaque that builds up around artery walls. Ginkgo biloba has been used in the treatment of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and peripheral claudication.
Warning: Ginkgo can increase the risk of bleeding if used in combination with warfarin or antiplatelet agents.
Glutathione (GSH): is called the “master antioxidant” because it is the regulator and regenerator of immune cells, it recharges other antioxidants (Vitamin C, E), it is the most valuable detoxifying agent in the human body, and it fights oxidation. Unlike other antioxidants, GSH is actually produced by the body.
GSH is transported into the mitochondria, where it destroys free radicals, preventing damage to DNA, cell membranes, and protein.
However, most GSH supplements do not work as advertised. Pre-cursors such as n-acetyl cysteine (NAC), artichoke, asparagus, broccoli, milk thistle, cruciferous vegetables and whey protein supplements with gamma-glutamylcysteine help the body produce GSH.
Grapeseed extract: contains a concentration of the oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs) found in grape seeds and skins that acts as a smooth muscle relaxant in blood vessels, to combat hypertension. It provides nutrient support to strengthen the walls of small capillaries to prevent capillary leakage in the legs, reducing fluid retention. Also, protects nerve cells.
Green tea: is rich in catechin polyphenols, particularly epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is a powerful antioxidant that inhibits the abnormal formation of blood clots. Since green tea leaves are steamed instead of fermented like black tea leaves, they are more effective in preventing and fighting various diseases because the EGCG is not oxidized or converted into weaker compounds. Similarly, because white tea is even less processed than green tea, it provides more antioxidant and anti-cancerous benefits.
Hawthorne berry: contains the flavonoids hypercide, rutin, and vitexin, which help the heart to pump more easily, and with more force. It also helps the beta cells conductivity from the nerve to muscle fibers, increases blood circulation in the heart, and reduces angina pain and cardiac arrhythmia.
Medical studies have established that when Hawthorne berry is present in the blood, the heart muscle can survive on less blood and oxygen. Also, if a heart attack occurs, the heart muscle can survive longer because the heart cells don’t die as rapidly.
Indian gooseberry (Amla extract): is rich in Vitamin C and reduces arterial plaque buildup by preventing the adherence LDL cholesterol and monocytes to the insides of blood vessels.
L-carnitine: is synthesized in the body from two amino acids, l-lysine and l-methionine, and nourishes the heart by helping to transport fat to the mitochondria of each cell to burn the fat as fuel. More than 95% of the l-carnitine in the body resides in the heart muscle and the skeletal muscles.
Note: L-carnitine and CoQ10 are two of the most powerful and important nutrients for the heart.
Nattokinase: is a potent systemic enzyme extracted from fermented soybeans that break down fibrin to dissolve blood clots. Fibrin is made up of sticky protein fibers that form a netlike plug to stop any bleeding. The body produces plasmin, an enzyme that dissolves fibrin, but plasmin levels tend to decrease with age.
Onions: contain the flavonoid quercetin, which helps to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.
Pycnogenol: is a phytonutrient extract taken from French maritime pine bark, that contains oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs), a group of powerful antioxidant compounds commonly found in grape seed extract.
OPCs, also called procyanidolic oligomers (PCOs), have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral and antimicrobial properties that stimulate your immune system, protect against atherosclerosis and prevent certain types of cancers, according to the Sloan-Kettering.
Specifically, the OPCs in pine bark extract (pycnogenol) make blood vessels more elastic and less likely to leak fluids, thus decreasing the leg swelling often associated with varicose veins.
In addition, the flavonoids called catechin and taxifolin in pycnogenol stimulate nitric oxide production in the body, which relaxes your blood vessels and lowers your blood pressure.
A study from the University of Arizona Medical School and the University of Munster, Germany, demonstrated that pycnogenol significantly reduces platelet aggregation—the clumping together of blood cells to form blood clots that cut off blood flow and precipitate heart attacks and strokes.
More recent research found that pycnogenol also helps enhance the production of nitric oxide, a molecule made by the endothelial cells lining the arteries that keeps them open and relaxed, which is important for maintaining healthy blood pressure and circulation.
Research has also found that pycnogenol in combination with l-arginine is an effective natural treatment for erectile dysfunction; and, that taking pycnogenol before, during, and after long flights reduces the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Other studies have shown pycnogenol to boost the effectiveness of vitamin C and other antioxidants; and, provide cardiovascular and diabetes-related benefits.
Note: Pycnogenol is similar in composition to grape seed extract as it provides a similar benefit in strengthening blood vessels.
Red clover: contains coumarins, which inhibit the liver/vitamin K factor to reduce blood clots. Red clover is a “blood cleanser” with high amounts of isoflavones, such as genistein.
Resveratrol: is a flavonoid found in red wine and the skin of grapes and cranberries. It provides antioxidant protection, preventing hardening of the arteries and heart disease. It helps to thin the blood by inhibiting blood platelet aggregation; prevents narrowing of arteries by inhibiting the oxidation of LDL cholesterol; and, relaxes the artery walls by increasing the production of nitric oxide.
Turmeric: contains the antioxidant curcumin and helps to thin the blood with aspirin-like effectiveness.
Vitamin C (with bioflavonoids): provides antioxidant protection to prevent damage to the arterial walls and aids in the production of collagen to repair the arteries or other damaged tissues. Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient that “bathes” the outside of the cells to prevent the outer walls from becoming weak and breaking down.
For example, older people tend to bruise more easily partly due to the lack of Vitamin C and the weakening of the cells closest to the outer skin layers. Wholefood Vitamin C, which includes bioflavonoids, rutin, Vitamin K, and enzymes, can actually help heal the heart by increasing the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood.
Vitamin K2 (Menaquinone-7): supports bone health and heart health by removing calcium from artery walls; found in fermented foods such as natto, sauerkraut, aged cheese, and kefir.
Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols/tocotrienols): is absorbed into the lipid portion of the cells to provide antioxidant protection inside the cells; also, prevents fish oil from oxidizing too rapidly. It also prevents platelets from sticking to each other and to artery walls.
Note: CoQ10 and Vitamin E are fat-soluble and are absorbed internal to the cells to protect the insides of the cells. Studies show that people who had heart attacks tend to have low levels of these antioxidants in their bodies. True Vitamin E consists of 4 tocopherols and 4 tocotrienols – not just the one alpha tocopherol, or the dl-alpha tocopherol in synthetic Vitamin E.
WARNING: Because many of these supplements can interact with various heart medications, make sure that you consult with your primary care physician and/or cardiologoist before adding any of these supplements to your daily nutritional regimen.
Spiritual health: helps to control your emotions and reduce stress. Based on research from Johns Hopkins University, health of the heart can be affected by emotions, causing a surge in adrenaline and stress hormones that mimic a “heart attack”, possibly by constricting blood vessels. The MRI scans revealed no signs of actual heart attacks, but the subjects experienced measurable symptoms of cardiac distress.
WARNING: If you are having a severe drop in blood pressure and/or dizzy spells (or light-headedness), contact your doctor immediately.
A drop in blood pressure can cause dizziness and fainting when the brain fails to receive an adequate supply of blood. And big drops in blood pressure, especially those caused by uncontrolled bleeding, severe infections or allergic reactions can, be life-threatening.
Note: The drop in blood pressure could be due to one or more of the following: medications, dehydration, heart problems, endocrine problems, blood loss, infection and nutrient deficiencies (such Vitamin B-12, folate).
Vitamin K and Blood Clotting Concern
Vitamin K in green vegetables is used by your liver to make blood clotting proteins. In doing so, vitamin K plays a role in your body's natural clotting process.
Blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin) work against vitamin K. Specifically, warfarin reduces your liver's ability to use vitamin K to produce normally functioning forms of the blood clotting proteins.
By reducing the liver's ability to use vitamin K to produce normally functioning forms of the blood clotting proteins, warfarin reduces your risk of forming a blood clot.
However, Vitamin K should not be an issue as long as you eat the same amount of green vegetables every day.
However, please keep in mind that Vitamin K affects your INR.
INR refers to the international normalized ratio test, a standardized way to measure how your blood is clotting. The lower your INR, the more quickly the blood clots or the “thicker” the blood. The higher your INR, the longer it takes the blood to clot or the “thinner” the blood, putting you at risk for bleeding problems.
With an increase in vitamin K, your INR level may drop. Conversely, a decrease in vitamin K intake may increase the INR. Other things, like medications, antibiotics, and herbal products may also influence your INR.
So, since Vitamin K in food can decrease your INR, it is important to be consistent with the amount of green vegetables and Vitamin K that you consume on a daily basis.
Please Note: Vitamin K2 is a Coumadin antagonist, which means it can limit Coumadin’s blood thinning capability. Therefore, it is important for people on Coumadin to avoid taking Vitamin K2 supplements.
Prothrombin Time Test
A prothrombin time test measures how quickly your blood clots. Sometimes called a PT or pro time test, a prothrombin time test uses a sample of your blood.
Prothrombin is a protein produced by your liver. It is one of many factors in your blood that help it to clot appropriately.
If you take a blood-thinning medication such as warfarin (Coumadin), your prothrombin time test results will be expressed as a ratio called the international normalized ratio (INR).
Prothrombin time test results can be presented in two ways.
The average time range for blood to clot is about 10 to 14 seconds. A number higher than that range means it takes blood longer than usual to clot. A number lower than that range means blood clots more quickly than normal.
This ratio — which allows for easier comparisons of test results from different laboratories — is used if you take blood-thinning medications.
In healthy people an INR of 1.1 or below is considered normal.
An INR range of 2.0 to 3.0 is generally an effective therapeutic range for people taking warfarin (Coumadin) for disorders such as atrial fibrillation or a blood clot in the leg or lung. In certain situations, such as having a mechanical heart valve, you might need a slightly higher INR.
When the INR is higher than the recommended range, it means that your blood clots more slowly than desired, and a lower INR means your blood clots more quickly than desired.
PT is measured in seconds. Most of the time, results are given as what is called INR (international normalized ratio).
If you are not taking blood thinning medicines, such as warfarin, the normal range for your PT results is:
-- 11 to 13.5 seconds
-- INR of 0.8 to 1.1
If you are taking warfarin to prevent blood clots, your provider will most likely choose to keep your INR between 2.0 and 3.0.
Ask your provider what result is right for you.
Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or test different samples. Talk to your provider about the meaning of your specific test results.
What Abnormal Results Mean
If you are not taking blood thinning medicines, such as warfarin, an INR result above 1.1 means your blood is clotting more slowly than normal.
This may be due to:
-- Bleeding disorders, a group of conditions in which there is a problem with the body's blood clotting process.
-- Disorder in which the proteins that control blood clotting become over active (disseminated intravascular coagulation).
-- Liver disease.
-- Low level of vitamin K.
If you are taking warfarin to prevent clots, your provider will most likely choose to keep your INR between 2.0 and 3.0:
-- Depending on why you are taking the blood thinner, the desired level may be different.
-- Even when your INR stays between 2.0 and 3.0, you are more likely to have bleeding problems.
-- INR results higher than 3.0 may put you at even higher risk for bleeding.
-- INR results lower than 2.0 may put you at risk for developing a blood clot.
A PT result that is too high or too low in someone who is taking warfarin (Coumadin) may be due to:
-- The wrong dose of medicine
-- Drinking alcohol
-- Taking certain over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, vitamins, supplements, cold medicines, antibiotics, or other medicines
-- Eating food that changes the way the blood-thinning medicine works in your body
Alternative Names for Prothrombin Time Test
PT; Pro-time; Anticoagulant-prothrombin time; Clotting time: protime; INR; International normalized ratio
What your results mean
Clotting too slowly
Blood that clots too slowly can be caused by:
-- Blood-thinning medications
-- Liver problems
-- Inadequate levels of proteins that cause blood to clot
-- Vitamin K deficiency
-- Other substances in your blood that hinder the work of clotting factors
Clotting too fast
Blood that clots too quickly can be caused by:
-- Supplements that contain vitamin K
-- High intake of foods that contain vitamin K, such as liver, broccoli, chickpeas, green tea, kale, turnip greens and products that contain soybeans
-- Estrogen-containing medications, such as birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy
FYI: Some doctors misunderstand the issue with Coumadin vs. eating green vegetables and tell their patients to avoid green vegetables. For example, when Mr. McCulley was on Coumadin years ago, he was originally told not to eat green vegetables. However, once he convinced his doctor that he would eat green vegetables on a consistent basis every day, his doctor increased his Coumadin dosage to compensate. Eventually, as Mr. McCulley's blood glucose improved and his blood thickness decreased, his doctor was able to take Mr. McCulley off the warfarin (Coumadin) after about 6 months.
Of course, it is imperative that you consult with your doctor concerning this life-and-death matter to ensure that it is safe for you to eat green vegetables. Also,you can read more about the dangers of drugs on the Dangerous Drugs web page and the Death to Diabetes Blog.
Can You Safely Stop Taking Coumadin (Warfarin)?
Patients taking Coumadin (warfarin) often ask, “How can I get off this drug? Are there any natural alternatives that would work just as well?”
Many people are tired of the inconvenience and discomfort associated with having blood drawn every 4-6 weeks to monitor the drug’s anticoagulant action, or may worry about the risk of abnormal bleeding. Some people detest experiencing unpleasant side effects like weakness and abdominal discomfort, and others simply don’t like the nature of warfarin (it’s used as rat poison in large quantities).
Despite all the negative aspects of Coumadin use, there’s a reason it is so widely prescribed. With an unparalleled ability to thin the blood and prevent blood clotting, it has a great track record of protecting against stroke. A stroke is death of brain tissue caused by the lodging of a blood clot, or fragment of one, in an artery and subsequent prevention of blood flow to the brain.
Therefore, while there are some people on Coumadin who may benefit from switching to natural alternatives, certain higher-risk individuals really need to stay on it to prevent strokes.
Who Should Stay on Coumadin?
As of yet, there aren’t any blind studies which demonstrate that any natural alternative is as effective against stroke as Coumadin. Coumadin is the best preventative option for patients who are likely to experience blood clotting or stroke related to clot displacement.
In general (without knowing a person’s medical or family history), staying on Coumadin is often recommended for people who have:
- Hearts with enlarged chambers or valves that do not function properly;
- Had an extensive heart attack; the resulting scar tissue can weaken the left ventricle and allow blood to clot more easily;
- Prosthetic or mechanic heart valves, or a pacemaker; blood is more likely to stick to the artificial surfaces;
- Endured an embolic stroke (one of three kinds of strokes, where a fragment or clot of blood pumps from the heart to the brain); or
- Atrial fibrillation, where atria don’t contract; blood can form pools and become sluggish.
The one exception here is patients with “lone” AF… Patients who have had AF occur only once or twice and have an otherwise healthy heart – of normal size, and without enlarged chambers or leaky valves – may be candidates for more natural Coumadin alternatives as long as they are not otherwise prone to blood clots or other heart risk factors like diabetes.
Stop taking warfarin?
Your doctor will tell you how long you need to take warfarin and when you can stop. Make sure you know which doctor is responsible for managing your warfarin. This could be your specialist or your GP.
After stopping warfarin your blood will return to normal in a few days.
Don’t stop taking warfarin unless told by your doctor. If you stop taking warfarin before it is safe you are at risk of having clots forming in your blood.
Millions of people around the world suffer from atrial fibrillation (fast, irregular heartbeat), and thousands of them are treated with the blood-thinning drug warfarin.
New research shows that while these patients benefit from their warfarin treatment, they risk getting a blood clot in their brain if they suddenly stop taking warfarin. A blood clot in the brain can result in paralysis in the body – and can be fatal.
“Our study shows that you should be extremely cautious in breaking off your warfarin treatment – you could lose your life,” says Christian Torp-Pedersen, a clinical professor at the Department of Surgery and Internal Medicine at Gentofte Hospital in Denmark, and a professor of cardiac medicine at the University of Copenhagen.
“You should be far more cautious than people are today, when both doctors and patients are a little too relaxed about stopping this treatment for atrial fibrillation.”
A person taking Coumadin, who is not in any of the above mentioned situations, may want to try one or more of the following natural blood thinning alternatives -- with their doctor's approval:
Nattokinase – an enzyme extracted and purified from natto, a traditional Japanese soybean dish. Nattokinase is a good supplement to take to help thin the blood. It helps prevent blood clots by reinforcing the actions of plasmin, an enzyme in the body that breaks down fibrin – 100 mg daily;
Fish Oil – 2-3 grams daily -- make sure the fish oil contains Omega-3 EFAs;
Garlic – 2-3 cloves daily or as much raw garlic as you can tolerate. Avoid garlic in capsule form because it doesn't contain the active ingredients found in raw garlic;
Vitamin E (as mixed tocopherols) – 100 – 200 IU daily;
Bromelain (an enzyme derived from pineapple) – 600 mg daily;
Aspirin– As an anti-platelet agent, aspirin also has anti-clotting properties, and is frequently prescribed to help manage cardiovascular disease. While aspirin is also used to prevent ischemic strokes, it is less effective than Coumadin for preventing clots and strokes. It can also increase risk of hemorrhagic stroke (triggered by a leaky blood vessel in the brain);
Grounding– connecting to the Earth’s electromagnetic energy has been shown to help improve zeta potential, the tendency for red blood cells to repel one another. Grounding is also cardio-protective in that it can support heart rate variability and can help reduce stress by relaxing the body (as shown through increased parasympathetic nervous system activity).
If you take Coumadin, it is extremely important to consult with your prescribing physician if you are considering adding natural blood thinners to your program; hopefully s/he is holistically-minded and has knowledge of natural medicines (if not, bring him or her literature about them).
It can be dangerous to mix Coumadin with natural alternatives because excessive bleeding can occur; this is especially problematic for people over the age of 85 because they are at higher risk of hemorrhagic stroke.
Stopping Coumadin use entirely can also dramatically change blood viscosity, so be sure to discuss potential risks and benefits of all courses of action with your physician if you are considering natural alternatives.
Other Coumadin Concerns
Vitamin K2 is a Coumadin antagonist, which means it can limit Coumadin’s blood thinning capability.
However, K2 plays an important role in cardiovascular health. It helps get calcium into bones instead of letting the mineral build up in arterial walls, which can cause arteriosclerosis.
It’s important then, for people on Coumadin to abstain from vitamin K2 supplementation, and to instead eat leafy green vegetables and/or cheese, which contain vitamin K1 and K2, to avoid deficiency. The key is moderation.
The same reasoning applies to grounding. While people on Coumadin may stand to benefit from standing barefoot outdoors for an hour or so each day, utilizing a grounding device for many hours a day or overnight is not recommended because of risk of excessive bleeding. People who wish to ground to improve their quality of life must work with their physician and get tested regularly to determine the thickness of their blood.
Note: Coumadin (warfarin) is the most commonly prescribed oral blood thinning agent; other blood thinners that doctors may use include Heparin, Lovenox (enoxaparin sodium), Normiflo (ardeparin sodium), and Orgaran (danaparoid sodium).
Next Steps to Wellness
For more information about heart disease, refer to the following:
- Death to Diabetes book (Chapters 14, 15)
- How to Prevent/Recover from a Heart Attack/Stroke ebook
- Power of Raw Juicing ebook
- Wellness Protocols ebook
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