Global Resilience Solutions > Category:heart health

Heart Disease: The Real Risk Factors

Cardiovascular disease in all its forms remains a major killer in the modern world, and a painful reality for many people who have to live with it. But new research is changing old views about the risk factors.



Dr. Thomas Cowen began researching Acute Coronary Syndrome- the constellation of symptoms from angina through heart attack- when he came across the research of Brazilian cardiologist Quintilaino H. de Mesquita.

Cholesterol Did It

The classical theory of what causes heart attack, simply put, is the buildup of plaque in the arteries. The heart gets into trouble because we ingest too much cholesterol, which clogs our arteries, meaning that the heart doesn’t get enough blood. As theories go, it’s attractive for its simplicity. We know that our arteries can get clogged. Anyone can find pictures of hearts with all sorts of calcification or other crap on them. Of course, most of what blocks our arteries is inflammatory debris, not cholesterol, but still, they get blocked.

…Or Was It Something Else?

What this research, and a raft of separate studies over the past fifty years, has shown, is that blocked arteries seem to have very little real correlation to heart attack. A 1998 paper by Mirakami, for example, showed that 30% of heart attack patients had no arterial blockage. A twenty-five year autopsy study of heart attack victims further found that only about sixteen percent of those who died immediately had enough arterial blockage to explain the heart attack.

So what’s happening the rest of the time? Well, a number of distinguished cardiologists over the years have acknowledged that heart attacks originate in the muscle of the heart, not the arteries. The body automatically begins to reroute blood flow in the event an artery is blocked. What Mesquita’s research showed was that factors such as stress, nutritional deficiency, diabetes and so on affect the small blood vessels in the heart muscle itself, starving these cells of the nutrients they need. Because the heart is always active, these cells revert to anaerobic energy sources, which produce lactic acid buildup- just as your leg muscles do during a run. Your leg muscles, however, can stop and recover. Your heart can’t. Cells begin to die, and the debris they leave behind blocks arteries- hence, the blocked arteries are a complication, not a cause.

Treatments which take this research into account focus on helping the small blood vessels of the heart and preventing lactic acid buildup. Of course, traditional medicines have done the same thing with cardiotonics like digitalis for centuries. Digitalis, an extract of the foxglove plant, is a parallel to a hormone made by our own adrenal glands… out of cholesterol. Dr. Mesquita’s clinical data show significant improvements in life expectancy and decrease in recurrent heart attacks with the use of low-dosage digitalis.

Emotional Risks

The connection between stress and heart disease is so obvious that few would question it. But recent research has also shed light on what kind of stress presents a particular danger. A study of over two hundred patients at Johns Hopkins in 2000 found that hostility and a drive for dominance were “significant independent risk factors.”

As Dr. Gabor Maté explains, certain personalities tend to get certain diseases. On one side of his spectrum, Dr. Maté places the familiar Type A personality- dominating, irascible, incapable of emotional repression. On the other side is a super-agreeable, self-abnegating personality, the kind that will check their own emotional expression and personal needs at the door in order to make things, allegedly, better for others. In the middle is a balanced personality with a healthy relationship to anger. It turns out that the Type A personality is prone to certain diseases, notably heart disease, while the repressed personality is prone to others, most notably cancers.

In rage states, blood vessels contract, increasing blood pressure and decreasing oxygen supply to the heart. It also overstimulates the adrenal glands on a regular basis, and the body lowers its sensitivity to the chemicals the adrenals send out, which help to regulate heart function.

To Sum Up

As we see, the usual formula for dealing with Acute Coronary Syndome, restricting cholesterol and preventing blocked arteries, is trying to treat a symptom without dealing with the root causes, stress and poor nutrition.  Keeping your heart healthy means not only giving your body the right fuel, including a healthy amount of cholesterol, but finding a healthy emotional balance as well.