[From New Vegetarian and Natural Health, Autumn 2010 issue]
By Dwight Lundell, MD, former chief heart surgeon, 6th February 2009
We physicians, with all our training, knowledge and authority, often acquire rather large egos that tend to make it difficult to admit when we are wrong. So, here it is. I freely admit to being wrong. As a heart surgeon with 25 years experience and having performed over 5,000 open-heart surgeries, today is my day to right the wrong with medical and scientific fact.
I trained for many years with other prominent physicians who were labelled ‘opinion makers’. Bombarded with scientific literature and continually attending education seminars, we opinion makers insisted that heart disease resulted from the simple fact of elevated blood cholesterol.
The only accepted therapy was prescribing medications to lower cholesterol and a diet that severely restricted fat intake. The latter, of course, we insisted would lower cholesterol and heart disease. Deviations from these recommendations were considered heresy and could quite possibly result in charges of malpractice.
But this therapy is not working!
These recommendations are no longer scientifically or morally defensible. The discovery a few years ago that inflammation in the artery wall is the real cause of heart disease is slowly leading to a paradigm shift in how heart disease and other chronic ailments will be treated.
The long-established dietary recommendations for preventing heart disease have created ‘epidemics’ of obesity and diabetes, the consequences of which dwarf any historical plague in terms of mortality, human suffering and dire economic consequences.
Despite the fact that 25% of the American population takes expensive statin medications, and despite the fact that we have reduced the fat content of our diets, more Americans will die this year of heart disease than ever before.
Statistics from the American Heart Association show that 75 million Americans currently suffer from heart disease, 20 million have diabetes and 57 million have pre-diabetes. These disorders are affecting younger and younger people in greater numbers every year.
Simply stated, without inflammation being present in the body, there is no way that the cholesterol-rich plaque would accumulate in the wall of the blood vessel and cause heart disease and strokes. Without inflammation, cholesterol would move freely throughout the body as nature intended. It is inflammation that causes cholesterol to become trapped.
Inflammation is not complicated – it is quite simply the body's natural defence against a foreign invader such as a bacteria, virus or toxin. The cycle of inflammation is perfect in how it protects the body from bacterial and viral invaders.
However, if we chronically expose the body to injury by toxins or foods that the human body was never designed to process, a condition occurs called chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is just as harmful as acute inflammation is beneficial.
What thoughtful person would wilfully expose themselves repeatedly to foods or other substances that are known to cause injury to the body? Well, people who smoke perhaps, but at least they make that choice wilfully.
The rest of us have simply followed the recommended mainstream diet that is low in saturated fat and high in polyunsaturated fats and carbohydrates, not knowing that we were causing repeated injury to our blood vessels. This repeated injury creates chronic inflammation leading to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity.
Let me repeat that. The injury and inflammation in our blood vessels is caused by the low-fat diet that has been recommended for years by mainstream medicine.
What are the biggest culprits of chronic inflammation? Quite simply, they are the overload of highly processed carbohydrates (white sugar, white flour and all the products made from them) and the excessive consumption of omega-6 vegetable oils like soya bean, corn and sunflower oils that are found in many processed foods.
Now I want to discuss which foods cause inflammation, how those foods trigger the inflammatory process, and the foods that will cure inflammation.
Take a moment to visualise rubbing a stiff brush repeatedly over soft skin until it becomes quite red and nearly bleeding. Let's say you kept this up several times a day, every day for five years. If you could tolerate this painful brushing, you would have a bleeding, swollen infected area that became worse with each repeated injury. This is a good way to visualise the inflammatory process that could be going on in your body right now.
Regardless of where the inflammatory process occurs, externally or internally, it is the same. I have peered inside thousands upon thousands of arteries, and a diseased artery looks as if someone took a brush and scrubbed repeatedly against its wall.
Several times a day, every day, the foods we eat create small injuries that compound into more injuries, causing the body to respond continuously and appropriately with inflammation.
While we savour the tantalising taste of a sweet roll, our bodies respond alarmingly as if a foreign invader had arrived declaring war. Foods loaded with sugars and other simple carbohydrates, or processed with omega-6 oils for long shelf life, have been the mainstay of the American diet for six decades. These foods have been slowly poisoning everyone.
How does eating a simple sweet roll create a cascade of inflammation to make you sick?
Imagine spilling syrup on your keyboard – and you have a visual of what occurs inside the cell. When we consume simple carbohydrates such as refined sugar, the blood sugar level rises rapidly. In response, the pancreas secretes insulin which has the primary purpose of driving sugar into each cell, where it is stored for energy. If the cell is full and does not need glucose, it is rejected to avoid extra sugar gumming up the works.
When the full cells reject the extra glucose, the blood sugar level rises, causing more insulin to be produced, and the glucose is now converted to stored fat.
What does all this have to do with inflammation? Blood sugar is controlled in a very narrow range. Extra sugar molecules attach to a variety of proteins that in turn injure the blood vessel walls. This repeated injury to the blood vessel walls sets off inflammation. When you spike your blood sugar level several times a day, every day, it is exactly like taking sandpaper to the inside of your delicate blood vessels.
While you may not be able to see it, rest assured it is there. I saw it in over 5,000 surgical patients spanning 25 years, and they all shared one common denominator – inflammation in their artery walls.
Let's get back to the sweet roll. That innocent looking goody not only contains plenty of sugar, it is baked with one of many omega-6 oils such as soybean. Chips and fries are soaked in soybean oil; processed foods are manufactured with omega-6 oils for longer shelf life. While omega-6s are essential – they are part of every cell membrane and control what goes in and out of the cell – they must be in the correct balance with omega-3s.
If the balance is shifted by consuming excessive omega-6s, the cell membrane produces chemicals called cytokines that directly cause inflammation. Today's mainstream American diet has produced an extreme imbalance of these two fats. The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 ranges from 15:1 to as high as 30:1. That's a tremendous amount of cytokines causing inflammation. In today's food environment, a 3:1 ratio would be optimal and healthy.
To make matters worse, the excess weight that people are carrying from eating these foods creates overloaded fat cells that pour out large quantities of pro-inflammatory chemicals that add to the injury caused by having high blood sugar. The process that began with a sweet roll turns into a vicious cycle over time that creates heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and finally Alzheimer's disease, as the inflammatory process continues unabated.
There is no escaping the fact that the more we consume prepared and processed foods, the more we trip the inflammation switch little by little each day. The human body cannot process, nor was it designed to consume, foods packed with sugars and soaked in omega-6 oils.
There is but one answer to quieting inflammation, and that is returning to foods closer to their natural state. To build muscle, eat protein-rich foods. For carbohydrates, choose those that are complex, especially colourful fruits and vegetables. Cut down or eliminate inflammation-causing omega-6 fats like corn and soybean oils and the processed foods that are made with them.
One tablespoon of corn oil or soybean oil contains approximately 7 grams of omega-6. Instead of these, use olive oil or butter from grass-fed cows.
For comparison, animal fats contain less than 20% omega-6 and are much less likely to cause inflammation than the supposedly healthy oils labelled ‘polyunsaturated’. Forget the ‘science’ that has been drummed into our heads for decades. The science that saturated fat alone causes heart disease is non-existent. The science that saturated fat raises blood cholesterol is also very weak.
The cholesterol theory led to the no-fat or low-fat recommendations that in turn created the very foods now causing an epidemic of inflammation. Mainstream medicine made a terrible mistake when it advised people to avoid saturated fat [like butter] in favour of foods high in omega-6 fats [like polyunsaturated margarine]. We now have an epidemic of arterial inflammation leading to heart disease and other silent killers.
What you can do is choose whole foods like your grandmother served and not those your mom turned to as supermarket aisles filled with manufactured foods. By eliminating inflammatory foods and adding essential nutrients from fresh, unprocessed foods, you will reverse years of damage in your arteries and throughout your body from consuming the typical American [and Australian] diet.
Dr Dwight Lundell is the former Chief of Staff and Chief of Surgery at Banner Heart Hospital, Mesa, Arizona. His private practice, Cardiac Care Center, was also in Mesa. Recently Dr Lundell left surgery to focus on the nutritional treatment of heart disease. He is the founder of Healthy Humans Foundation that promotes human health with a focus on helping large corporations promote wellness. He is the author of The Cure for Heart Disease and the Great Cholesterol Lie.
REPRODUCED with permission from The Real Essentials Newsletter, issue No. 105, July 2009. Website http://www.therealessentials.com. Lightly sub-edited.
FURTHER READING. Full details of the true cause of heart disease and its prevention are given in the article ‘The Cholesterol Myth’, Summer 2006-07 issue of NHVL magazine, pages 24 – 29. They are also given in the Natural Health Society’s book, How a Man Lived in Three Centuries by Roger French, Chapter 17. Details of the tests that indicate a higher risk of heart disease – which do not include cholesterol levels – are given in the immediately preceding Spring 2006 issue under the heading, ‘Heart disease – new risk indicators’.