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Cholesterol Theories...What Causes High Cholesterol and Heart Disease?

What causes high cholesterol and heart disease

Does cholesterol information get you excited?! Me neither – or at least it didn't until I started researching about turmeric which led me to find all kinds of information about how cholesterol plaque is formed and what we can do about it.

FYI: Be sure to watch Dr. Lundell's video about why he thinks cholesterol isn't the real culprit causing heart disease. It's near the end of the article.

I highlighted the theories 1 and 2 to help you scan a bit easier.
 I started reading about monocytes turning into macrophages and about amino acids, and I could go on and on. Our bodies have all these systems in place that are silently fighting a little war inside us trying their best to keep us healthy.
We don't see those systems or feel this war taking place, so we go about our daily lives counteracting those constant miracles and making it harder for our bodies to win that war. Basically, we're fighting a battle against ourselves where when we lose, we end up with diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, heart disease, and diabetes.

CHOLESTEROL THEORY 1: The Standard/Old Theory

Cholesterol is measured in three ways: total cholesterol, HDL and LDL (Lousy Cholesterol). In my eBook, Lower Blood Pressure Fast!, what you are looking for in the way of measurements is explained so I won't go into it here, but instead will talk about the plaque involved in cholesterol. Just know that the HDL is the good stuff that you want to have. It's like a little broom sweeping up after the LDL in your arteries.
cholesterol plaque buildup in an arteryIf you are a visual person and want to actually see why plaque makes such a difference, be sure to read farther down where you'll find a video of the buildup of plaque in a heart attack victim.
LDL (lousy) cholesterol reacts with free radicals in your body which creates oxidation of your blood. 
When that happens, the LDL cholesterol goes to the inner lining of arteries which is called the endothelium
This lining is normally smooth. Too much of the LDL flowing through your arteries can damage that lining.

Macrophages Function: Like PacMan Cells in Your Blood

Ok. Now picture a bunch of hungry little cells called macrophages going through your body trying to keep you healthy & healing wounds. After reading about them, I think of them kind of like PacMan cells. (I think I just gave away my age there!)
These macrophages are formed originally from a group of white blood cells called monocytes.  When a wound or something in your body needs to be healed, the macrophages search out the bad guys that are trying to do harm to your body.
Similar to a chameleon, macrophages modify themselves to fill the bill of what is needed to do the healing. In the case we're talking about here, it's the LDL cholesterol.
The term macrophage comes from macro (the Greek term for big) and phage (Greek word meaning eat). 
My dad would be proud right now because I'm explaining something using a Greek definition! (He was a Greek professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary). 
 Anyway – doesn't that remind you of little PacMan cells?

PacMan Cell Buildup Not a Good Thing!

Along with the macrophages accumulating on the damaged artery lining are more LDL & other lipids. NYU Langone Medical Center published a study on January 8, 2012 in Nature Immunology where they discovered that the macrophages secrete a molecule called netrin-1.
The netrin-1 immobilizes the macrophages, thus combining with accumulating LDL. The buildup of both of these begins causing inflammation response in the body. 
Plaque can be either lipid (fatty) or fibrous.
Unfortunately, when the macrophages and the netrin-1 secretions combine with the LDL cholesterol, the kind of plaque that is formed tends to be lipid with a smaller fibrous cap.
Recent studies at John Hopkins University in Maryland have shown that the soft, lipid plaque is more unstable than the fibrous plaque and is more likely to break off and cause a heart attack or stroke. 

That makes sense if you imagine the difference in strength between soft tissue hanging on to your arteries while in blood's flow vs stronger fibrous tissue.
Their studies showed that 71% of people with high cholesterol (the study considered high than 226 mg/dl as high) had the lipid core
According to current guidelines, any number between 200 mg/dl and 239 mg/dl is considered only borderline for high cholesterol.
Personally, considering that study, it might be worth considering working toward the goal of the actual desirable level of 200 mg/dl or less!
It is possible for the plaque to grow into the artery wall where it then wouldn't cause issues of higher blood pressure.  I guess that's when you have a stroke of luck! (Sorry-couldn't resist it.)

CHOLESTEROL THEORY 2: It's the Inflammation, not the Cholesterol

But what you might find fascinating is that while there is all this information about cholesterol, there is another theory making the rounds about how chronic inflammation in the artery wall is the real culprit in causing high cholesterol.
What causes chronic inflammation? That would be the excess of Omega 6 in the diet and it being out of balance with the Omega 3's. Inflammation occurs which basically then traps the cholesterol in the artery.
Dr. Dwight Lundell, a world renown heart surgeon wrote about it in his book, The Cure for Heart Disease. Here's a video where he speaks his opinion about conventional cholesterol treatment with statin drugs vs taking care of the inflammation... and what causes the inflammation.
Dr. Lundell explains his study and thoughts on cholesterol NOT being the problem, and instead what we need to watch out for is too much carbohydrates and sugar. According to Dr. Lundell, that is what causes inflammation, which causes heart disease and diabetes. And he explains the process that causes the issue.
It's a fascinating video... maybe a little slow at the beginning but chock full of information! 

The Difference Between Heart Attack and Stroke

When that plaque buildup suddenly ruptures and breaks off, arteries become clogged.  Some heart muscle dies, and that is a heart attack.
Rupturing plaque buildup occurring in the brain are strokes. Ruptures can either lead to permanent brain damage, or temporary brain damage (TIA's) that have stroke symptoms, but with recovery possible.

Peripheral Arterial Disease

You may have heard about peripheral arterial disease. It has to do with blood supply getting to your legs. It is caused by poor blood circulation getting through the leg arteries. You may hear people who fly talk about how they need to get up and move around every hour or so. That's to enable the blood to keep flowing so as to not cause a clot. It can be a painful disease and can eventually lead to needing an amputation if care is not taken.
Symptoms of peripheral arterial disease can be:

  • Hair loss on the legs
  • Weakness in the legs
  • Thicker toenails
  • Color of the skin on the legs changes
  • Numbness in one or both legs
  • Male impotence

So What Are You to Do?

You have a choice. You can either go all in or make astronomic changes to your lifestyle or you can change a little here and a little there. There are pro's and cons to both, actually.
Take exercise. The American Heart Association's article, Circulation, on Coronary Plaque Disruption says that sudden exertion of heavy exercise when a person has been sedentary can actually cause plaque to break off.
According to their study, only about 5% of people would have a heart attack because of the sudden exertion. But why take a chance on being part of that 5%? The article does go on to say, "it is unknown whether refraining from such activities reduces myocardial infarction in sedentary people or just postpones it."
The AHA's article also says that by exercising regularly, there is less chance of plaque breaking off and causing issues because of the sudden vigorous exercise.
Moral of the story here is as always to get your doctor's ok before starting a new exercise regime.

Does Diet Reduce Plaque?

According to the same article in Circulation, research using monkeys showed a reduction in the plaque lipids and macrophages when they were on a regression diet. Although it was a 40-month study, they found that most of the cholesterol that was lowered occurred during the first half of the diet study.

Because of the nature of where the plaque is, without constant testing, it would be hard to prove for sure whether or not plaque was increasing, decreasing or staying the same. However, I did find a recent 2013 article in the American Physiological Society Journal that showed research where it had been proven that
flaxseed slows the progression of plaques.
A spice you might want to add to your arsenal is turmeric because of the curcumin in the spice.
The reason for that is curcumin is a great anti-inflammatory.
There are so many diseases that inflammation is part of the cause... heart disease being one of them! 
One thing to keep in mind is that since it isn't easily absorbed, combining it with black pepper (the pepperine works the magic) helps it to be absorbed by the body. 
The University of Michigan Health System has shown in studies that curcumin can help get rid of plaque formation. 

Turmeric is also considered a great anti-oxidant that can also be used for people with colitis, Crohn's Disease, diarrhea, as well as helping to protect the liver. 

The list goes on about turmeric's virtues, but just know it's a great herb to use for health benefits as well as for flavor!

If you want to use curcumin supplements instead of the turmeric spice, the usual dosage is 400 – 600 mg three times a day. However – and this is importantbecause turmeric thins the blood, if you take blood pressure or other medication, consult with your doctor before using in supplement form.  

Plaque Build-up Seen Via Microscope

If reading about plaque buildup doesn't make you want to take action to help yourself, maybe seeing it will! Here is a video showing the autopsy specimen from a 58-year-old man who had died from a heart attack. What struck home for me was at the very end where Michael Davis, the pathologist, stated that it probably took about a week for the plaque to form to that extent.

Whether you are taking statins to reduce your cholesterol or not, hopefully, you have a good understanding now of what is going on inside of your body and how the choices you make each day make such a huge difference in your health. 

And most importantly, even the little changes add up to giving your body more help to heal naturally.

Please keep in mind that the theories and opinions expressed in this article are not meant to be used as medical advice for your particular condition. 
It's best to always keep in touch with your doctor so the two of you can make informed decisions regarding your health.



Moll, Jennifer, PharmD. What is Oxidized LDL? September 15, 2013. http://cholesterol.about.com/od/lipoproteins/f/oxidizedldl.htm

American Physiological Society. Macrophages: The 'defense' cells that help throughout the body. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 August 2010. www.sciencedaily.com//releases/2010/08/100826141232.htm.
Nordqvist, Joseph. Medical News Today. What is Atherosclerosis? What Causes Atherosclerosis? Updated August 23, 2013. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/247837.php
Mandal, Dr. Ananya M.D. What is a Macrophage? Retrieved February 28, 2014. http://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-a-Macrophage.aspx
NCBI Resources. PubMed.gov. Risk factor associations with the presence of a lipid core in carotid plaque of asymptomatic individuals using high-resolution MRI: the multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosis (MESA). February 2008.
Erling Falk, MD, Ph.D.; Prediman K. Shah, MD; Valentin Fuster, MD, Ph.D. Circulation. Coronary Plaque Disruption.
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Nordqvist, Joseph. Medical News Today. Atherosclerosis-Main Cause Discovered. January 13, 2012.   http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/240277.php.
The Atlantic. A Heart Surgeon's Viral Confession.  by James Hamblin. Re: Lundell, Dr. Dwight, M.D. World Renown Heart Surgeon Speaks Out on What Really Causes Heart Disease. January 28, 2014.  https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/01/a-heart-surgeons-viral-confession/283413/       
Armstrong, Mark L. , and Megan, Marjorie B. Department of Internal Medicine, University Hospitals, Iowa City, IA. Circulation Research.  Lipid Depletion in Atheromatous Coronary Arteries in Rhesus Monkeys after Regression Diets. January 19, 1972. http://circres.ahajournals.org/content/30/6/675.abstract?ijkey=37f2d302416e01341c789a6e9596bda0ac4ab541&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha.

Terry, Sarah. Herbs that Clear Your Arteries of Plaque. August 16, 2013. http://www.livestrong.com/article/122416-herbs-clear-arteries-plaque/
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