What is the big deal about cholesterol? It is discussed on the news, at dinner parties and especially at your Doctor's office. Why is everyone so concerned about their cholesterol? The answer is simple: high cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease. To further complicate matters, there is both good and bad cholesterol. And what about eggs? Eggs yolks contain cholesterol, is eating eggs a risk factor for heart disease? This month, I shall try and explain all about cholesterol, how it can affect your health and eggs too.

There are two main types of cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). The LDL, or bad cholesterol, carries cholesterol throughout your body to the cells that need it. Cholesterol plays an important role in your health. Your body uses it to make sex hormones, vitamin D, and help nerves function properly. The problem with LDL, is that if you have too much, it just keeps floating around. After a while, these LDL pieces get smaller and are more likely to enter the walls of blood vessels. Deposits of bad cholesterol particles are called plaques. Eventually, these plaques can build up and narrow the space in blood vessels leading to impaired blood flow. This is referred to as atherosclerosis, which is a major risk factor for heart disease. In contrast HDL, or good cholesterol, travels around your body and picks up extra cholesterol. It then takes the extra cholesterol back to the liver for disposal. Generally, the more 'good' cholesterol you have, the less 'bad' cholesterol is present in your arteries.

There are many things that you can do to help lower your cholesterol without leaving home. Don't smoke; smoking can lower HDL cholesterol. Getting regular exercise can help raise HDL cholesterol and help you lose weight, both of these health changes can improve your cholesterol. With approval from your Doctor, try to get at least 30 minutes of physical aerobic activity 5 times a week. What exactly is physical aerobic activity? An easy way to recognize it is that it should raise your heart rate, make you breathe heavier, but not so much that your can't maintain a conversation. This might include brisk walking, cycling or ballroom dancing. Drink alcohol in moderation. This recommendation is a controversial one. Studies have shown that moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages can reduce the risk of developing certain diseases. Conversely, too much alcohol can raise your risk for developing these same diseases. It seems that one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men appears to be optimal. It is unwise to recommend people start drinking to improve their health, because the evidence is not that convincing. So continue to imbibe, in moderation, if it is something you already enjoy.

Your diet can also affect your cholesterol, but not the way you think. The American Heart Association wrote, “Saturated fats and trans fats are the main dietary factors in raising blood cholesterol.” Saturated fats generally come from animal products, palm and coconut oils. Trans fats mainly come from processed foods, look for the phrase “partially hydrogenated vegetable oils”. What about eggs? It is thought that if you eat less than seven eggs per week, there is no increased risk of heart disease. All of the cholesterol in eggs comes from the yolk, so scrambled egg whites do not contain cholesterol. Perhaps the significant risk of heart disease at the breakfast table are from the bacon, sausages and cooking oil. They may contain saturated and trans fats.  

Cinnamon is not normally associated with cholesterol reduction. However, in one small study 6g of cinnamon daily helped reduce LDL cholesterol by 27% and total cholesterol by 26%. Six grams of cinnamon is not that much, it's about one teaspoon. This could easily be sprinkled on cereal or oatmeal in the morning, provided you like the taste of cinnamon. It is important to use the correct kind of cinnamon as there are two main varieties. The type of cinnamon used in this study was Cinnamomum cassia. This spice is generally safe to use, but you should check with your Doctor or Heart Pharmacist before use. Higher doses of cinnamon can sometimes lower blood sugar and complicate the treatment of diabetes.

Dietary fibre is one of the most overlooked options to help lower cholesterol. One study found that 3.4 g of psyllium taken three times a day lowered LDL by 20%. Fibre works due to its ability to bind to cholesterol in the gut, correct? Not necessarily. There is evidence that the metabolism of fibre may lead to the products, propionate (a short-chain fatty acid) and alpha-tocotrienol (similar to vitamin E), both of which can prevent your body from making its own supply of cholesterol. Consuming extra fibre can cause stomach related side effects such as gas, bloating and indigestion. If you wish to increase your intake of fibre, start with small amounts and work your way up from there. Increased fibre intake can interfere with the absorption of certain medications, ask your Heart Pharmacist for more information.

This is certainly a lot to digest, but there are many natural options to help reduce cholesterol. Many of these suggestions can be incorporated in one’s lifestyle, without even purchasing a supplement; increasing fibre intake, adding cinnamon, getting regular exercise and avoiding 'convenience' foods. Many convenience products have little nutritional value anyways; think about having an apple instead. Don’t be fooled by the ‘low-fat’ food phenomenon, which I feel can be a real problem. In many cases, these products are lower in fat but they have similar amounts of calories as their regular fat counterparts. Most of the fat calories are often replaced with sugar; high-fructose corn syrup and/or sucrose (50% fructose) to be exact. So you may not be any better off. So watch those labels, but better yet avoid processed foods. Your heart will thank you for it.

AuthorDanielle Cooper

Hypertension (elevated blood pressure) is one of the “silent killer” diseases. People may not be aware that they have hypertension because this condition might not produce noticeable symptoms. If hypertension is left untreated, it can cause significant problems with your heart, arteries and entire cardiovascular system. But statistics do not lie – well, not often. Every 7 minutes someone in Canada dies from heart disease or stroke. It is thought that heart disease costs the Canadian economy $20.9 billion dollars every year. Both are good reasons to have your blood pressure checked regularly.

Blood pressure readings are expressed as a ratio of your systolic over diastolic pressures. Let's compare your cardiovascular system to a garden hose; they are more similar than you might think. When your heart contracts it forces blood into your arteries, or when you quickly turn on the faucet water rushes into the hose, causing the pressure to rise. This systolic pressure will normally range from 150-120 mmHg. When you turn off the water supply, or your heart relaxes, the pressure will drop. This diastolic pressure will normally range from 95-80 mmHg. These two readings will provide you with your blood pressure, which is ideally 120/80 mmHg. According to the Canadian Hypertension Society, a blood pressure reading of 140/90 mmHg indicates blood pressure that is too high. If you have diabetes or kidney disease, your blood pressure should be under 130/80 mmHg.

People often ask me what natural options are available to lower blood pressure? What supplements can I take? Perhaps the best thing one can do is to exercise regularly. It can help to lower blood pressure in several ways. Regular exercise can help you lose weight and being overweight is known to elevate blood pressure. Always check with your Physician before starting a new exercise program.

There are several supplements that can help lower blood pressure. Garlic is the product most commonly taken to help lower blood pressure. In some studies, it has been shown to help reduce blood pressure by about 10%. The recommended doses vary. I recommend taking the equivalent of 4 garlic cloves a day and most supplements will state how much raw garlic each tablet contains. I don’t recommend using garlic oil capsules for lowering blood pressure as they tend to not be as effective. Generally, there are few side effects associated with garlic supplements. The most common side effects are heartburn, indigestion, dizziness, nausea and bad breath. This bad breath and skin odour can even occur when one takes an “odourless” form of garlic. The most noted drug interaction with garlic involves its ability to enhance the effectiveness of anti-coagulants (blood thinners). People taking blood-thinning medications should consult their Doctor or Pharmacist before taking this supplement.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a supplement that has been shown to be helpful to reduce blood pressure. One small study demonstrated that men who took 120mg of CoQ10 had lowered their blood pressure by 9% after eight weeks of therapy. There have been no known side effects seen with CoQ10 use. However, this supplement can lower blood glucose levels, so people with diabetes should use this supplement with caution. CoQ10 can also interact with warfarin, a prescription blood-thinner. If you have any questions about CoQ10 ask your Heart Pharmacist.

Even my favorite supplement, Vitamin C, has been shown to be helpful for treating high blood pressure. One 30-day study of 39 individuals, taking medications for hypertension, who received 500 mg of vitamin C daily showed a reduction of their blood pressure by about 10%. There is some evidence that the minerals magnesium, calcium and potassium may be associated with high blood pressure. These three minerals work together to help regulate blood pressure in the body. Some studies have shown that people who have high blood pressure may be deficient in these minerals. Perhaps this is why taking these minerals, and thus correcting this nutrient deficiency, can help reduce blood pressure.

High blood pressure is a condition that should not be ignored. Just because there are no symptoms, it does not mean there are no long term health consequences. There will need to be significant effort on your part to help lower your blood pressure. Diet, exercise, supplements, yoga and even acupuncture can all help lower blood pressure.

AuthorDanielle Cooper

Sometimes seemingly unrelated events can be connected. One of my favourite documentaries was a BBC program called “Connections” by James Burke. He would prove how diverse events influenced each other; like how the common drinking thermos was instrumental in helping to put a man on the moon. The same can be said for health care. Could there be a link between heart disease, memory loss and erectile dysfunction? Three seemingly unrelated diseases do share a common path. I will also explain about the thermos and space travel, but that will have to wait until the end.

Heart disease and memory loss do have a connection. Heart and cardiovascular disease has an impact on blood delivery to all organs. It could be due to narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis) which reduces blood flow to certain parts of the body. Some types of heart rhythm issues (arrhythmia) or heart failure can reduce blood delivery to all parts of the body. This reduced blood flow to the brain can reduce nutrient and oxygen supply to fragile brain cells.  And I’m sure we are familiar with the cognitive troubles that can happen after a stroke or a TIA/mini stroke (transient ischemic attack). So there is a connection between heart disease and memory.

There are medical studies which demonstrate the connection between heart disease and cognitive function. In the Jan 28, 2013 edition of the Journal American Medical Association Neurology, researchers reported this connection. After following a group of 70 to 80 year olds for a few years, the researchers noticed a decline in cognitive function. This decline is normal for people in their 80s, and people in their 40s like myself. However it was noted that people with heart disease (atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease and heart failure) had twice the risk of developing cognitive issues.

The same correlation also applies to sexual dysfunction. In July 1994 edition of the medical journal Urology, men in their 40s to 70s with sexual dysfunction were screened for other health problems. No surprises here, men with issues of heart disease and high blood pressure also had the greatest risk for developing erectile dysfunction. Cigarette smoking was also a significant risk factor.

It does make sense that the health of your heart can affect the health of other organs. The advice for improving your heart health is worth repeating. Reduce your risk factors for heart disease by getting regular exercise, stopping smoking and eating well. Visit your Doctor or Heart Pharmacist to have your blood pressure checked. I almost forgot about the thermos connection. The thermos provided a theory of how to keep liquids cool. This was necessary to keep liquid rocket fuel cold on the Saturn V rockets used for the Apollo moon landing missions. So you see, unrelated events can be connected.

AuthorDanielle Cooper

Come join us next Thursday, September 29th (Fairfield location) and Friday, September 30th (Cadboro Bay location) from 11-2pm for our Charity BBQ! All proceeds will be donated to BC Hospice and Victoria Headway. We hope to see you all there!

AuthorBryce Dalke