Heart Disease – How Can We Defend Ourselves from The Number-One Killer?

Cardiovascular diseases are the number-one reason we, and our loved ones, will die. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), nearly 18 million lives each year are taken by cardiovascular diseases, 80 percent of which are heart attacks and strokes.

To put things into perspective, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has claimed, to the 30th of September 2020, the lives of 1.01 million people globally. This means that cardiovascular diseases kill 18 times more than COVID-19 does. Yes, you heard it right. For every single person who succumbs due to COVID-19, 18 people die from a heart attack or stroke. Of course, some may argue that this is not a direct apples to apples comparison. COVID-19 is still unfolding and the infection rate is still, unfortunately, exponentially growing. We know it. However, these figures are far too shocking for us to keep underestimating the seriousness of cardiovascular diseases!

If worldwide figures are alarming. The situation in Singapore is just as concerning. According to the Singapore Heart Foundation, every single day, 17 people die from cardiovascular diseases in the city-state. In 2019 alone, almost 1 out of 3 deaths, were related to heart diseases or stroke. And the numbers continue rising.

It’s impressive to see how much effort and resources we are rightfully putting into the development of effective treatments and vaccines to slow down the spread of COVID-19. This is remarkable. However, a big question still remains. Are we doing enough, or anything at all, to fight the number-one killer of our time?

We did a thorough academic literature search on this topic, and what we discovered is stunning. Cardiovascular diseases are mostly lifestyle-dependent, and small changes to our day-to-day routine can help a great deal! In other words, this means that we have the power to manage these lifelong conditions through the making of conscious decisions, and cutleries may do the job just right! Can you believe it?

What are Cardiovascular Diseases?

Cardiovascular diseases refer to a group of medical conditions caused by a common cause: a buildup of fatty plaque in the walls of our arteries. Experts call it atherosclerotic plaque. This buildup narrows the path for the blood to flow, and if the plaque ruptures, a blood clot forms and blood flow will stop. This whole thing is what leads to a heart attack or stroke.

Many may argue that cardiovascular diseases are just a consequence of aging, but is that really true? Fortunately for us, this is not true, and we can actually

Cardiovascular diseases may be a choice, and there is a growing body of ground-breaking scientific evidence suggesting that adopting a healthier lifestyle that minimizes behavioural risk factors (unhealthy diet, use of tobacco products, and obesity, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol) may prevent, stop, and, in some instances, even reverse these conditions.

It’s all about Cholesterol

The American Heart Association defines cholesterol as a “waxy substance” that is not necessarily harmful to our health. At least, not all cholesterol is necessarily bad, and that’s why we have two kinds of it: the bad one, or LDL, and the good one, or HDL. We all have both kinds running in our bloodstreams, and cholesterol turns to be harmful when we have too much of the LDL, and/or too little of HDL. When this situation happens, the chances of building up atherosclerotic plaques increase, and so does the risk for cardiovascular diseases. It is as easy as it sounds.

While many physicians believe that multiple factors contribute to atherosclerotic plaque, in his 2010 editorial titled “It’s the Cholesterol, Stupid!” Dr. Roberts put forth an unprecedented argument.

Dr. Roberts, who at that time was the editor in chief of the American Journal of Cardiology, argues that atherosclerosis is not a multifactorial disease as most physicians would believe. In his views, there is no solid evidence that smoking, obesity, lack of regular physical activity, or family history, do play a role in atherosclerosis plaque development. To him, atherosclerosis plaques are solely caused by elevated levels of bad cholesterol in the bloodstream. In his words:

If serum LDL cholesterol is <60 mg/dl, maybe <50 mg/dl, irrespective of degree of blood pressure increase or number of cigarettes smoked daily, atherosclerotic plaques do not develop […]. The lower the LDL cholesterol, the better!

This is not to say at all that smoking, obesity, lack of regular physical activity, and family history, or left ventricular hypertrophy are not dangerous. These factors are extremely dangerous to human health and the primary cause of many chronic diseases. What Dr. Roberts argues is that these factors do not play a role in atherosclerosis plaque development and that we should watch out for bad cholesterol.

And what causes elevated LDL cholesterol levels?

Cholesterol, Atherosclerosis, and Nutrition

The liver is the organ of our body designated to produce the cholesterol that runs in our bloodstreams. Optimum levels of LDL is probably in the range of 50 to 70 mg/dl, and whatever exceeding values derive from foods. From the bad foods. In his New York Times Bestseller book “How Not to Die”, Dr. Michael Greger, reasons out that to reduce LDL cholesterol level, we must avoid mainly three things

  • Trans fats, which can be found in processed foods, meat, and dairies.
  • Saturated fats, which can be found in tropical oils such as palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil.
  • Dietary cholesterol, which can be found mostly in products such as eggs.

It comes with no surprise that diets revolving around a low intake of animal-derived products, where the three boosters of LDL cholesterol seem to lie, are less likely to suffer from cardiovascular diseases.

The Mediterranean provides an excellent example of what a healthy diet is about. Named the best diet overall for the third year in a row in the U.S. News & World Report annual rankings, the Mediterranean diet scored 4.8/5 on healthiness. A truly outstanding result. Centered on plant-derived foods, such as whole grains, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), fruits, vegetables, unrefined cereals, and legumes such as peas, beans, and lentils, the Harvard School of Public Health concluded:

Research has consistently shown that the Mediterranean diet is effective in reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and overall mortality.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Cardiovascular Diseases

EVOO is the main source of fat in the Mediterranean diet, and it has long been associated with lowering the incidence of coronary heart disease and blood pressure levels.

High phenolic EVOOs have shown significant beneficial effects on heart health, for instance on arterial stiffness and blood pressure, and on other cardiovascular risk factors.

In May 2020, The New York Times reported the findings of a 24 years long study showing that consuming half a tablespoon of EVOO (7.5 ml) every day would deliver a 14% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and an 18% percent lower risk of coronary heart disease.

How about EVOO and LDL cholesterol?

We have all been well aware of the cardio-protective effect of EVOO for a very long time. However, the underlying mechanism of this protective effect was still a bit unclear…at least until 2005, when a group of Italian researchers reported for the first time a post-prandial reduction of LDL cholesterol (and blood glucose) in subjects consuming EVOO. A Spanish study did a similar experiment and found out that EVOO induces a reduction of total cholesterol, accompanied by an increase in HDL (good cholesterol) levels, in healthy elderly people. But of course, as we always say, all extra virgin olive oil is not created equal, and a recent Spanish study, tells us exactly so: only phenolic-rich EVOOs have a cholesterol-lowering effect!

As we said at the start of this piece, cardiovascular diseases may be a choice, and we have the power to determine our destiny right here. We are choosing our future wisely. And you?

Try some of our EVOO today. Browse our family’s range of genuine first cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil that comes directly from the olive groves of Colletorto, in the Molise region of Italy, and get joy and health your mealtimes. We are available in Singapore. Click here.

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