Truths Behind Coronary Artery Disease Prevention Myths

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
February 17, 2015
coronary artery disease causes

For decades, our public health system, healthcare providers and media have touted that lifestyle behaviors like a high-fat diet and elevated cholesterol levels can lead to  coronary artery disease, raising the risk of a heart attack or stroke. However, recent studies have ignited debates between experts as to what really contributes to heart disease. Below are three questionable prevention tactics and the truth behind them. 

Myth: Diet High in Saturated Fat

Foods high in saturated fats, like dairy products, red meat and hydrogenated oils were universally considered artery-clogging until the authors of two recent studies suggested that these foods are not the real cause of heart disease. 

Truth: Having some saturated fat in your diet is not unhealthy; in fact, foods that are considered heart healthy, such as nuts, avocados and olive oils, contain saturated fat. And saturated fats are certainly better for you than processed or chemically engineered fats like Trans fats or even many low-fat products available. The fact is, you should limit the amount of saturated fat in your diet and be selective of the sources of fat. You can learn more about saturated fat and heart health from MDVIP Connect. 

Myth: Lifestyle Behavior

People who live a sedentary lifestyle, eat processed foods, smoke and struggle controlling weight and stress have a higher risk of developing coronary artery disease compared to those who do not engage in these lifestyle behaviors. 

Truth: Lifestyle does play a major role in coronary artery disease but the root of the problem isn’t the behavior; it is the immune system. Studies suggest that inflammation is a primary culprit in cardiovascular disease. Inflammation is an immune system response to an irritant. As soon as you prick your finger or come in contact with an allergen or catch a cold, your immune system activates, sending an army of white blood cells to fight off “foreign invaders” like bacteria, allergens and viruses. Even injuries like a sprained ankle, tennis elbow and tendinitis cause inflammation as white blood cells flood injured areas to remove bacteria and dead cellular debris. Sometimes inflammation is noticeable (redness and swelling that appears in an injured area); this is referred to as acute inflammation. Chronic inflammation, however, occurs on a deeper, more internal level and is usually invisible, leaving us unaware that an underlying, potentially dangerous health issue like heart disease may be brewing.

Diet can also promote inflammation that can lead to heart disease. For example, eating refined foods like white flour products, sugary foods and drinks, and fried foods can raise blood sugar levels, triggering proteins called cytokines to send inflammatory messages to the immune system. Further, excessive alcohol consumption can raise the level of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation in the body.

Myth: Elevated Cholesterol Level

For years, experts have preached that keeping cholesterol levels under 200 and having a high HDL (good cholesterol) is a key component of heart disease prevention.  

Truth: Although a high LDL level (bad cholesterol) is a reliable predictor of heart disease, studies suggest that only half of those who suffer from a heart attack had elevated LDLs. Recent research revealed that LDL particles come in different sizes. Larger particles are relatively harmless, while smaller particles can cause damage as it is easier for them to slide through the lining of arteries. Smaller particles also tend to oxidize easier than larger particles. Oxidation occurs when oxygen is metabolized. The process creates a by-product known as free radicals, which steal electrons from other molecules, damaging cells, blood fats and DNA. Oxidation deteriorates our bodies and has been linked with cardiovascular disease, liver conditions and some cancers. Foods high in antioxidants like vitamin C, E and beta-carotene can protect our bodies and offset some of the damage caused by oxidation and free radicals.

Staying current with standard cardiovascular disease screenings and tests can help you manage your heart health. And adding the advanced panel of tests included in MDVIP's Wellness Program help determine your risk for coronary artery disease more accurately than simply tracking lifestyle behaviors and relying on cholesterol levels. MDVIP-affiliated physicians have the time and tools to look deep into heart disease risk and prevention strategies. Click here to find an MDVIP physician near you.

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About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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