Heart Disease -Can it be Reversed?
Dr Ross Walker MB. BS (hons), FRACP, FCSANZ
provides a specialist's view of heart disease and what we can do to prevent further problems. Here is his first installment of his ongoing blog.
Part 1 - Introduction
Be afraid, be very afraid. The biggest killer in our modern world is cardiovascular disease in all its forms. I said at the start of the COVID pandemic on television that if people were that concerned about their health & security, they should stop stockpiling toilet paper, but stockpile fruit & vegetables, along with exercise equipment as Cardiovascular disease kills one person in Australia every twenty minutes leading to around 55,000 deaths every year. Cardiovascular disease includes any disease that involves the heart and the blood vessels supplying the entire body.
The commonest type of cardiovascular disease is what is known as atherosclerotic vascular disease. This process can affect all the blood vessels in the body but particularly the coronary arteries (the arteries supplying blood to the heart), the carotid and vertebral arteries (the arteries to the brain) and the system of arteries supplying blood to the lower limbs.
What happens in atherosclerosis (AC) is the progressive build-up of fat and other substances in the wall of the arteries from a very early age. Who is affected by this condition? Almost everyone living in the modern world has a degree of atherosclerosis. In many ways, it is a disease of affluence.
If I removed your arteries and examined them under a microscope (and I promise I won’t as it creates an awful mess on the floor!), I would find at least some fat in the walls of your arteries. This doesn’t mean you will definitely experience some form of cardiovascular disease, but, it does mean that everyone with any fat in their arteries is at risk of a heart attack, stroke or sudden cardiac death.
I am also not suggesting that you have blockages in your arteries. This process occurs in the walls of the arteries for decades before it actually causes a blockage. If you imagine a doughnut, with the hole in the middle, this is where the blood flows through an artery, but all the action is happening in the wall.
There is no doubt that the more fat you have in your arteries, the greater your risk. But even small fatty plaques may rupture with large clots forming over these plaques, leading to some type of acute vascular event, such as a heart attack.
So why do you get this stuff in your arteries in the first place? Basically, because you are living against your physiology. You were designed to be a hunter-gatherer. In the next section, I’ll describe how we are living so much against our physiology in the modern world but suffice to say, if you lived with a lifelong cholesterol less than 3 mmols per L & a blood pressure around 100/60 or less, then this atherosclerotic process wouldn’t occur.
Try finding anyone in the modern world with these lifelong parameters. They may exist, but I’ve never seen them as patients.
Part 2 - Hunters and Gatherers
A major factor in hunter-gatherer eating patterns was availability, and since fresh, organic food decays very rapidly once caught or collected, it had to be consumed immediately. Therefore, if the hunter-gatherers killed a wild animal, there was no storing the carcass in the prehistoric Kelvinator; they either ate it or wasted it. On the other hand, if there was no food to be found, then the hunter-gatherers didn’t eat.
This pattern of feast and famine was the experience of ancient humans throughout their lives. If they were wandering through an area with little edible food and limited amounts to drink, they needed mechanisms to conserve their nutrients and also mechanisms to retain salt and fluid to maintain healthy blood pressure. Conserving nutrients would ensure a steady supply of glucose to their brains, which in turn prevented their minds from becoming clouded, feelings of disorientation, and unconsciousness.
Therefore, the hunter-gatherers developed protective fat-storage mechanisms to guard them against the perils of an inconsistent supply of food and water. They feasted on anything that was available through either hunting or gathering. The storage mechanisms would eagerly mop up any over-indulgence and save it, to help them to cope with times of famine when food wasn’t so readily available. In this way, human beings’ metabolism became geared to survive through both feast and famine.
Although ancient man’s life was damned inconvenient, his body certainly complemented his lifestyle. Modern man’s body has basically the same metabolic processes as our hunter-gatherer ancestors, but our lifestyle has changed dramatically. The only hunting or gathering we do today is to drive the car to the local supermarket, pick up a large supply of processed, packaged rubbish (disguised as food), place it in the boot and drive home, where we preserve it in the pantry or the fridge. Although this is quick and easy, it does not match our physiology and is a major contributor to our modern ills.
When we consider the necessities for human survival, what are we doing to attain them? Instead of seeking and satisfying these needs through normal, nature-based mechanisms, we have invented all kinds of artificial, synthetic substitutes. We tend to opt for the most convenient route. With careful planning, we can almost eradicate the need to expend any physical and mental energy at all. In the majority of cases this makes survival much easier, but I strongly believe that the convenient acquisition of our basic needs is killing us.
Life in the modern world appears to be squarely focused on the accumulation of wealth and material goods. We are also developing an extraordinary knowledge base that is allowing scientists, engineers and others to design all manner of items that are intended purely to make our lives more comfortable.
Although modern life has many advantages and although our bodies have been designed in an extraordinary manner, with significant reserves and safety mechanisms to ensure prolonged survival, we are pushing these mechanisms to the limit with our modern convenient lifestyle. Our growing epidemics of obesity, diabetes and cancer, along with the ongoing carnage from cardiovascular disease, are testaments to this. As I have said, it is my firm belief that ‘convenience is killing us’, and we cannot rely upon the medical profession to solve these problems once they have occurred.
If you do not want the convenience to be your killer, start thinking about how you can go back to a more natural style of living within the realm of our modern world.
Thus, our hunter-gatherer physiology is based around feast/famine and constant movement in a totally natural environment, where borderline malnourishment was the norm rather than the exception- certainly not what we are witnessing today in the modern world.
Now that you have some understanding of the what/who/when/where/how and why of atherosclerotic vascular disease, the two big questions are what should be done about it and can you reverse the stuff? Both these questions can be answered very simply. What should be done about it, is that it should either be prevented in the first place or, if you have it, reversed. Basically, the way to approach the entire issue of heart disease is to follow my five-point reversal program.
More of that in the next article.
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