Our risk of heart disease increases as we age, but is this inevitable? Besides unpredictable adverse events, 30% of all cardiac deaths in Europe among over 35-year-olds were a direct result of coronary artery disease – inflammation of the heart blood vessels.
This unseen killer, develops slowly, silently and subtly over time and often only comes to light, after an adverse event such as a heart attack.
While poor dental hygiene, allows plaque to build up around teeth and gums causing gum disease; plaque can also build up inside heart vessels, causing red, swollen, and weak arteries.
Risk factors for heart, coronary or cardiovascular diseases are:
- Being over 45 years of age if you are male and over 55 for females
- Gender – males are more at risk than females
- Family history and genetics – cardiovascular disease appears to run in families
- High blood pressure – persistently elevated blood pressure puts strain on arteries, leading to a higher risk of an adverse event
- High LDL – high levels of LDL cholesterol (the ‘bad’ cholesterol) increase the likelihood of plaque building up in the arteries
- Smoking damages blood vessels, hardens veins and increases plaque build-up in the arteries
- Obesity – being overweight puts pressure on all our organs, including our arteries Belly fat, in particular, will consistently generate inflammation that spreads throughout our body
- Diabetes – generates metabolic abnormalities contributing to an increased risk of heart problems
- A sedentary lifestyle and lack of regular physical activity increases our chances of contracting many diseases, including cardiovascular problems
- Stress – chronic stress also contributes to cardiovascular disease
Things we can do to reduce the risk of heart disease, include quitting smoking, reducing excess weight, increasing exercise and consuming a variety of antioxidant-rich foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, organic and free-range meat and fish.
The human heart, arteries and veins
Our heart is made primarily of muscle tissue. It pumps a whopping 100,000 times a day, pushing blood through our body to deliver oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to every cell and tissue.
It relies on clean, stretchy arteries – the ‘pipes’- that bring blood in and out and allows it to perform.
Think of it like your home drainage system; connected to every water portal in the building, linked together by pipes. Some pipes bring water into the house and operate under variations in pressure – such as a shower or tap. Other pipes carry water out of the house – through drains and sewage systems.
Arteries are like the pipes leading to the taps or shower– they can move blood, using pressure. Veins are like the drainage system – blood trickles back through them much slower.
Whilst the pipes in our homes are made of hard materials like steel or plastic – the ‘pipes’ in our heart - the arteries - are made of a stretchy material; designed to cope with the natural rise and fall of blood pressure that occurs when we exercise, run or become stressed.
Blood vessels feed into our skin, kidneys, brain and every other body cell and tissue; while our heart has its own dedicated network of vessels that supply oxygen and nutrient-rich blood.
Just as pouring oil and fat down the kitchen sink can cause blockages and restrict the water flow, some dietary fats affect our arteries, adding increased pressure to our heart’s blood supply. These artery-sabotaging materials are called ‘blood pressure’, ‘cholesterol’, ‘triglycerides’ and ‘inflammation. If left unresolved, they can permanently affect our coronary arteries.
When talking about the heart vessels, we use the term ‘coronary’, which means ‘related to the heart’s blood supply’.
What are coronary arteries?
They are the arteries that carry blood out of the heart, known as ‘circulation’. Arteries push blood all around the body. They differ from veins, which trickle blood back into the heart. As the arterial blood supply is fast, we can feel its force. When we check for a pulse, it is arterial pumping that we are checking for.
The intensity of that force is called ‘blood pressure’– it’s a pressure that we can feel by touch and measure on activity monitors.
Any damage, blockage, plaque build-up or tension can prevent blood from flowing smoothly. This means the heart has to work harder to pump blood, and can, in some cases, lead to coronary artery disease, i.e. semi-permanent damage to our arteries.
Cholesterol is a beneficial fat used by our body to form hormones such as oestrogen and testosterone and to make the coating of nerve cells and Vitamin D. However, not all cholesterol is good.
HDL Cholesterol, the ‘good’ cholesterol, is a large molecule that functions as a ‘mop’; circulating our body, picking up little fats and debris, to keep the blood clear.
LDL cholesterol is the ‘bad’ cholesterol. It becomes ‘sticky’ and is small enough to adhere to the inside of the arterial wall. There, it begins the process of plaque build-up, making it more difficult for blood to pass through.
This mix of higher blood pressure and bad cholesterol is a recipe for a cardiac incident such as a heart attack or stroke.
Hardening and narrowing arteries
When there is continuous inflammation, our arteries harden, this is called Atherosclerosis and when they fill with plaque, this causes them to narrow. This is known as Arteriosclerosis.
Both are bad news for blood flow from the heart, especially when under pressure (such as high blood pressure).
As recently as 10 years ago, it was believed that cholesterol alone caused the plaque build-up that led to clogged arteries. While cholesterol is the starting point for the build-up of plaque, the latest scientific findings show it is not the only cause.
It was found in coronary artery disease, that both cholesterol and arteries have contributed. The cholesterol had changed into a different substance, creating plaque. In response, our body sends immune cells to the area which then becomes inflamed – inflammation being the warning sign that something is amiss.
As a scrape or burn alters the texture of our skin, inflammation at the lining of the arteries is a similar warning that something has changed. When slightly inflamed, the smooth, slippery interior of the artery changes to a rougher, bumpier surface – ideal for foamy cholesterol to stick to.
Sticky foamy cholesterol + rough arterial surface = Plaque.
How cholesterol changes from smooth to sticky
To undergo the transformation from a fat into a foam, cholesterol has to interact with other substances. This process of converting relatively harmless cholesterol to its harmful foamy version is called ‘oxidation’. It happens when there are more free radicals (unstable molecules) in the body than antioxidants. This imbalance is called ‘oxidative stress’.
What is oxidative stress?
If a disease was a rhythm, then oxidative stress sets the tempo. It dictates the speed and degree, to which any strains on our body will develop into full-blown disease, especially regarding the heart and the arteries.
Oxidative stress describes the balance between free radicals (bad) and antioxidants (good) in our body. Free radicals are biological molecules that generate harm - some are produced naturally. Others, such as pesticides, pollutants, processed foods, novel food ingredients, food colourings, sugar, etc. enter our bodies from the outside.
Thankfully, our body has antioxidant defence systems to maintain the balance between free radicals and antioxidants, offsetting any potentially damaging effects. The first of these defence systems is good digestion. This works by using the plentiful supply of antioxidants found in fresh, green leafy fruits and vegetables and healthy fats such as those in avocados, fish and healthy proteins.
However, if we live in a polluted environment, eat processed foods and suffer from ongoing chemical exposure - even standard tap water - never mind fizzy or flavoured drinks and processed foods, our antioxidant enzymes struggle with these high levels of oxidative stress. We become overwhelmed and our cardiovascular system is affected.
What does oxidative stress do to our heart?
Oxidative stress is a significant influencer of almost every disease. For the heart, uncontrolled oxidative stress harms the lining of our arteries. Our dietary choices can have a direct effect on inflammation. For example, a diet rich in animal and trans fats is linked to a greater incidence of cardiovascular disease. In contrast, healthy fats such as olive and fish oil help reduce it.
Other lifestyle factors like smoking, drinking alcohol and little, or no exercise contribute to worse outcomes than a clean, healthy lifestyle.
An inflamed arterial lining can lead to heart or vascular diseases, such as:
- Arterial hardening and plaque build-up (atherosclerosis)
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased vulnerability to the adverse effects of bad cholesterol and other circulating fats, which become harmful once exposed to oxidative stress (free radicals)
What do enzymes have to do with this?
Enzymes can reduce fats in the blood and oxidative stress and support healthy fat digestion, which in turn, helps heart health. Let’s take a closer look at this.
Nattokinase and cholesterol
One ‘super enzyme’ that has been clinically trialled and shown to reduce cholesterol is Nattokinase.
A clinical trial involving 76 adults with hardening of the arteries - reported that participants who were given a daily dose (2,000 FU) of Nattokinase over 26 weeks, experienced a 36.6% reduction in arterial plaque, compared to only 11.5% in those given a 20mg dose of simvastatin (a popular over-the-counter cholesterol-lowering drug).
Another human clinical trial involving 12 individuals, found that Nattokinase increased the effectiveness of proteins that break down clots in the blood.
A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving 86 participants, found that a daily dose (2,000 FU) of Nattokinase, significantly reduced high blood pressure when compared to the placebo group.
Enzymes can reduce oxidative stress
Studies consistently show that antioxidants generally reduce inflammation, including the heart and arteries; and antioxidant enzymes reign supreme, in terms of power and potency.
In addition to enzymes, dietary antioxidants such as Vitamin C, E and Selenium indicate increased positive outcomes, whether you are on heart medication or not.
Add Stem XCell
If you need to supplement your diet, a product like Enzymedica’s Stem XCell contains potent antioxidants in their most absorbable form, namely Blueberry, Vitamin D, Green Tea Extract and Carnosine. These neutralise free radicals.
This product also contains potent antioxidant enzymes, superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase that break apart free radicals – protecting all cells in the body from inflammation.