Although it is on the decline, heart disease is still the number one cause of death in the UK, especially in men; therefore, I feel it's crucial to distinguish fact from fiction.
Over the years, I've had the privilege of interviewing esteemed heart experts like Cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra, GP Dr. Malcolm Kendrick, and activist Ivor Cummins. Their insights have shed light on the role of cholesterol and saturated fat in heart health. Contrary to conventional wisdom, neither plays a significant role in heart disease (unless you have familial hypercholesterolaemia).
In this article, I've transcribed excerpts from three podcasts that delve into heart health.
Podcast with Dr Malcolm Kendrick
Throughout history, there have been huge spikes in the rate of death, particularly for men, from heart attacks, linked to social upheaval. There have been many examples where gigantic social upheaval is followed by enormous rates of heart disease.
In Scotland, when I was doing medicine, Scotland had the highest rate of heart disease in the world. What happened in the late 1950s and into the 60s was that half a million people were moved out of Glasgow and deposited in new towns, and the rate of heart disease went through the roof. Then, in the 1960s, Finland had the highest rate of heart disease in the world, when in percentage terms, it had the largest forced migration of people the world had ever seen.
More recently, if you looked around the world and said which countries had the highest rates of heart disease, then many of the top countries are the previous states of the Soviet Union. And then, if you say which countries are currently developing a rate of heart disease that is going up and up, it is those countries that are rapidly becoming more modernised, such as China and India, where sadly the rate of heart disease is already exploding.
Podcast with Dr Aseem Malhotra
What are the top five things we can do to avoid having a heart attack? When it comes to food, cut out the ultra-processed food. How do you define ultra-processed? The thing I tell my patients is that if it comes out of a packet and it has five or more ingredients, best avoid it, it’s an occasional treat. The reason I mention it is that 50% of our diet in the UK is now ultra- processed, microwaved stuff, stuff out of a packet.
Instead eat whole foods, vegetables, oily fish, olive oil, and a handful of nuts every day. Don’t fear fat in the sense of full-fat dairy, cheese, yoghurt and all that kind of stuff. These are the things that should be the base; these are good nutrition. Avoid and cut out refined sugars and refined carbohydrates, and the rest doesn’t matter. So, if you get the diet right, you are most of the way there.
Next things, avoid stress. While stress is subjective, if you feel stressed, then you are stressed. Are you getting seven hours of sleep at night? If not, why not? Do something about it! I like meditation, and there is an app I use called Calm. I try and do 20 to 30 minutes every morning. There is good evidence it is anti-inflammatory, it reduces cortisol, stress responses and all of the things that contribute to insulin resistance and inflammation. It is very powerful. I see it with my patients, some of them heart attack patients who transform their lives. They say for them it gives a sense of wellbeing and happiness. So it is also about feeling good.
Get out in the sunshine and then look at your social life. We find when you have a good sense of community, it helps protect against all the other things we have already discussed. I also talk in my book The Pioppi Diet, that it helps to have an intimate relationship. For example, we know that middle-aged men who have sex with their partners twice a week, rather than once a month, are 50% less likely to get heart disease. And it isn’t about being promiscuous or anything; it’s something that reflects a strong relationship with someone who is close to you.
Dr Malcolm Kendrick (extract from 2nd podcast)
Nitric oxide is the single biggest protective substance in heart disease. It sits inside the glycocalyx, which lines the inside of the endothelium (the internal lining our arteries). In Alfred Nobel’s (founder of the Nobel Prize) factory, where he invented and manufactured dynamite (which uses nitro-glycerine) they noticed how many of his workers suffering from angina, which is caused by the narrowing of the arteries and reduced blood supply (it’s like cramp in your heart), their angina went away. The nitro-glycerine was converted to nitric oxide in the glycocalyx, which relaxes and expands the arteries. And also, nitric oxide is the single most powerful anticoagulant (helps to prevent blood clots) agent known to nature. Anything that boosts nitric oxide is good for cardiovascular health. Interestingly, Viagra does that. In fact, initially, it was developed as a heart drug for angina. Sunshine is one of the very best ways to generate nitric oxide. Exercise increases nitric oxide. L-citrulline and L-arginine increase nitric oxide synthesis, L-arginine is found in meats. Also, beetroot, garlic, dark chocolate, nuts and seeds, spinach, kale, cabbage etc, are packed with nitrates, which are converted into nitric oxide in the body.
Smoking, pollution and lead are three of the worst causes for reducing amounts of nitric oxide in the arteries.
Another thing that can damage the glycocalyx is a raised blood sugar level. People suffering from Diabetes, let’s imagine if say the glycocalyx was three feet thick, then if you have high blood sugar levels its now one foot thick. And in fact, spikes of blood sugar really tear it off. Raised insulin levels also damage it too.
My tips to reduce the risk of heart disease:
- Avoid stress (causes narrowing of arteries and increased blood pressure) Exercise (creates nitric oxide)
- Sunshine (creates nitric oxide and reduces blood pressure)
- Eat food rich in nitrates (creates nitric oxide)
- Meditation, mindfulness etc
- Reduce sugar and carb intake
- Avoid fake foods
- Avoid pollution
- Don’t smoke
Podcast with Ivor Cummins
Heart disease is an inflammatory problem. Hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance, high blood glucose and spikes in your blood glucose after a meal are the top problem in the world driving heart disease. It’s not the whole cause.
A huge amount of cardiac disease victims, from ages 18 to 80 in recent studies in Europe, across 25 countries, over 70% were essentially diabetic when they looked closely. So, problems with blood glucose, high insulin, high blood glucose and glucose spikes, is the big heavy hitter.
There are other things, such as nutrient deficiencies like magnesium, which is a very important nutrient. It’s believed that about 70 to 80% of modern western humans, due to depletion in the soil and the foods we are eating, are kind of magnesium insufficient. Magnesium participates in around 300 functions in the body; it regulates blood pressure and countless other things that relate to vascular health. So, I would say low magnesium is another one to really watch out for.
Excessive refined carbs, excessive sugars and I would say excessive seed oils and vegetable oils, poly-unsaturated industrial products, which are in all the processed foods, that triad I would say is the big food problem. And this triad, of course, matches all of the processed and ultra-processed foods, where they use the sugar, refined carbs and seed oils for palatability, extended shelf-life and because they are dirt cheap to produce. And that’s where the industry has pushed us over recent decades, into the worst three food types we can eat, because that’s where all the profit is.
Eat only natural, wholesome food, eaten in a mixed diet - perfect. But eating processed foods, where the ratios have gone horribly wrong, and all the damage to the molecules and everything else like refined carbs and sugars, you are entering into the synergy which has really driven chronic disease over the past 100 years.
Whether you do vegetarian with supplements, and that’s your choice, or whether you do really heavy meat-eating, either of those is going to separate you from the people who are eating lots of processed food. Choosing real food over processed food is the single big thing you must do. And it’s the fact that the three main ingredients of processed foods, refined carbs, sugars and seed oils (which include vegetable oil) are the three worst things you can eat.
So you can see from these extracts there is a lot of emphasis on eating real food, trying to avoid stress, exercising and getting a good night's sleep. Let’s assume that you have started to implement these, now, which supplements might you want to take?
Malcolm Kendrick, “Collagen is the single most important support molecule in the human body. Think of collagen like the steel bars in reinforced concrete. Without collagen, your body begins to disintegrate. One of the first things to disintegrate are your blood vessels. Without enough collagen, they begin to crack and leak.”. I could write chapter and verse about the benefits of collagen, Collagen provides structure to our arteries, which heps blood flow to and from your heart. Research has revealed how taking collagen supplements can reduce artery stiffness and increase HDL cholesterol (a.k.a good cholesterol).
Vitamins play a pivotal role in maintaining heart health. Among these, vitamin C, vitamin D, folic acid, vitamin K, and thiamine have demonstrated significant benefits. While a high-quality multivitamin is advisable, our bodies are unique, each with distinct needs. Nothing beats a tailored multivitamin solution like our MYVIT, designed to match your individual requirements.
Research indicates that low magnesium levels can predict heart disease. Low magnesium is associated with various cardiovascular risk factors, including high blood pressure, arterial plaque build-up, soft tissue calcification, cholesterol issues, and arterial hardening. Magnesium plays a crucial role in regulating blood pressure and can help correct abnormal heart rhythms.
Beyond its culinary allure, garlic, when taken as a supplement, may be a valuable aid in managing conditions like high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. However, it's essential to be mindful of its blood-thinning properties, which could increase the risk of bleeding. If you anticipate surgery, dental work, or medical procedures, discontinue garlic supplements at least two weeks in advance.
Your body naturally produces CoQ10, an essential enzyme that contributes to overall health. However, supplementation can be a valuable addition, as it has shown promise not only in helping to lower blood pressure but also in supporting heart health. Whether taken independently or in conjunction with medications, CoQ10 can play a significant role in maintaining cardiovascular well-being.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Dr. Malcolm Kendrick attests, "There is compelling evidence that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for heart health. They appear to affect the heart's electrical impulses positively and possess mild anticoagulant properties, akin to aspirin but with fewer downsides." These essential fats in fatty fish and certain nuts are key players in promoting cardiovascular well-being. Their multifaceted benefits extend beyond electrical impulse regulation, making omega-3s a valuable addition to heart-healthy diets and supplementation routines.
Dr. Malcolm Kendrick emphasises, "Potassium, as seen in numerous studies, effectively lowers blood pressure and, subsequently, the risk of cardiovascular disease and overall mortality—by more than 50% in one study." This essential mineral acts as an electrolyte, carrying a small electrical charge vital for various cellular and nerve functions.
While you can find potassium in some supplements such as our MyVIT Multivitamin and Multimineral Tailored Supplement Programme and in our Immune & Hydration Supplement, you can also find it in many foods such as broccoli, avocados, coconut water, beets, Swiss chard, and pomegranates, and in potassium-enriched options like lo-salt, a blend of potassium and sodium chloride.