Heart Disease

Lark Lands teaches an integrated approach to heart disease that is aimed at not only living better day to day, but also at preventing to the greatest extent possible the development or long-term progression of the disease, or helping to reverse problems where they already exist.

Heart disease is in many ways a silent disease for much too long. People may have high blood pressure (hypertension) for years without ever knowing it. They may be developing internal problems with their blood vessels with no symptoms for a long time. For too many people, the first indication of heart disease comes on the day they go into obvious heart failure or have a heart attack (myocardial infarction) or stroke. Thus, it is extremely important to work with a knowledgeable physician who can monitor the person’s blood pressure over time, and do all other appropriate medical testing to assess the health of the heart and blood vessels. This is particularly important in anyone who has a family history of heart disease or has any of the other risk factors for the disease discussed below.

Cardiac disease commonly has many different contributing causes. Although the most commonly discussed issues relate to blood fat problems, high triglycerides, increased total cholesterol, increased LDL cholesterol (low density lipoprotein cholesterol, the bad kind), and decreased HDL cholesterol (high density lipoprotein cholesterol, the good kind), there are many other factors that may be equally or more important.

The bottom line is that too many people now have coronary artery disease (CAD), the blood vessel problems that can lead to heart attacks and strokes. In addition, far too many people, especially older people or those with other diseases that contribute to heart disease, develop congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart is weakened and doesn’t efficiently pump the blood in the way it needs to for health. Some people also develop the potentially fatal blood clotting called venous thrombosis. Venous thromboembolism occurs when a blood clot or other blockage forms in the deep veins of the legs. If the clot breaks free and travels to the lungs, it can block an artery in the lungs (pulmonary embolism). The result is often shortness of breath and other signs of lung illness.

One or more of such problems affect a large percentage of people at some time in their lives. Luckily, there are many things that can be done to help protect the body against all of this. The focus for most Western physicians is one of two things: invasive surgery, or prescription drugs which can cause countless side effects. For people who have reached a certain point in progression of this disease, such things may be necessary. However, it is important to distinguish between therapies that may help prevent heart disease, and the much more difficult therapies that may be necessary for people with advanced heart disease. For the first, an integrated approach that combines eliminating risk factors with a healthy diet and nutrient therapies and exercise and, where appropriate, therapies to reduce blood fats might help to prevent, or at least slow the development of coronary artery disease. When heart disease becomes too advanced for such therapies to help, the surgical interventions that open up arteries, or replace hopelessly blocked arteries with clear ones, may be necessary, after which the healthy diet, supplements, exercise, and risk factor reduction may help prevent a recurrence.

In the work she does with clients, Lark focuses on the simple natural therapies that may do a great deal to help counter the underlying causes of heart disease, promoting not only the health of the cardiovascular system but of the whole body. If you have already developed problems, these therapies can help provide the building blocks that your body needs to return to better health. And if you haven’t yet developed serious disease but would like to do preventive maintenance, these are the simple steps you can take toward a program for the long-term health of your heart and blood vessels.

Ideally, everyone would want to live the healthy lifestyle that will help prevent heart disease. However, it should be a particular concern for anyone who has one or more of the known risk factors. Included are:

Unhealthy blood fat changes. Those that are considered of most concern are elevated triglycerides, elevated serum total cholesterol and, in particular, elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol, and low levels (less than 35 mg/dL ) of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Cardiologists will consider both the current readings, and the history of blood fat abnormalities.

Age (male over the age of 45, or female over the age of 55 or female who has experienced premature menopause without estrogen replacement therapy)

Previous history of coronary artery disease (CAD)

Family history of premature CAD (definite heart attack or sudden death before age 55 in male parent or sibling, or before age 65 in female parent or sibling)

Hypertension (high blood pressure)

Diabetes

Current cigarette smoking

Obesity (being significantly overweight)

Intake of partially hydrogenated fats (found in many margarines, shortenings, baked goods, snack foods, fast foods, and prepared foods, including in the meals prepared by many restaurants who use the partially hydrogenated fats in their preparation of food) and an unhealthy diet, in general.

Nutrient deficiencies, especially of B vitamins (B-12, folic acid, B-6), health-promoting omega 3 fatty acids, the minerals potassium and magnesium, the antioxidants that help protect the body against oxidative stress, and natural anti-inflammatories.

Physical inactivity.

Emotional and mental health problems. Research has shown that both depression and anger are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Stress is known to raise blood pressure, and has been linked to increases in homocysteine levels and cholesterol.

If you have one or more of these risk factors currently in your life, you should begin now to eliminate as many of these as possible. Obviously, some of these risk factors are things you can’t do anything about, things like your age (the older you are, the higher the risk) and your family history of heart disease. However, if you look closely at this list you will see that most of the things that contribute to cardiovascular problems are things you can absolutely work to change or improve.

Research has shown that oxidative stress is a key factor in the development of cardiovascular disease. This occurs when the body’s supply of antioxidants are insufficient to counter the unstable molecules called free radicals that are constantly created in the body. Many things can contribute to these body-damaging processes, one of the most important of which is an unhealthy diet, especially one that includes partially hydrogenated (trans) fats (found in many margarines, shortenings, baked goods and snack foods) and a too low intake of protective fruits and vegetables. So you can work to reduce this risk factor by consuming a healthy diet and taking the nutrient supplements which supply the antioxidants that counter both oxidative stress and inflammation. Antioxidants, including vitamins E and C, bioflavonoids, selenium, carotenoids, N-acetyl-cysteine, coenzyme Q-10, and alpha-lipoic acid, actually help to prevent the chemical changes in the blood vessels and the blood fats that are required for the fat to be deposited into the lining of the blood vessels, thus helping to prevent damage to the arteries.

Research has also clearly shown that inflammation plays a key role in the atherosclerotic (artery damaging and blocking) process via which blood vessel disease progresses. Taking the antioxidants discussed above will help to counter inflammation since at the point where inflammation begins in the body, oxidative stress plays a key role. Thus, taking regular antioxidant supplements can not only directly counter oxidative stress but will also help to counter inflammation. There are also many foods that can contribute natural anti-inflammatories to your body.

Eating fatty fish (such as wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, cod and halibut) is a particularly good source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown a reduced incidence of heart disease in people who consume one of these fish in a meal several times weekly. Fish oil can also be taken in capsule form.

Ground flaxseed, which can be eaten with cereal or added to casseroles or soups or other foods, are also a rich source of omega-3’s.

Eating a handful of walnuts several times per week will also contribute to your total intake of these important fatty acids.

Foods that contain bioflavonoids such as dark-skinned berries (blueberries, black raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries, cherries) and quercetin-containing foods like onions and garlic are another good source of natural anti-inflammatories. NOTE: Garlic may have interactions with some drugs and so should be used only after careful discussion with your physician about possible interactions with the drugs you’re taking.

Turmeric, the seasoning that gives mustard and many Indian dishes their yellow coloring, has natural anti-inflammatory benefits. It is found in curries, chutneys, and many Indian rice dishes. Adding this seasoning to foods is a good way to obtain its benefits. Curcumin, the main compound in turmeric, can also be taken in capsule form.

Ginger root is another food that contains potent natural anti-inflammatory compounds. It can either be chopped or juiced and added to foods or teas, or taken in powdered form in capsules.

B vitamins can also make an important contribution to cardiovascular health. Elevated levels of homocysteine, which can occur as the result of folate or B-6 or B-12 deficiencies, is a major contributor to heart disease. These nutrient deficiencies are particularly common in people past the age of 50, but can occur much earlier in people with diabetes or HIV or eating disorders or other contributing illnesses. Taking nutrient supplements to counter these deficiencies and achieve optimal levels of these nutrients is a very positive step for supporting heart and blood vessel health.

A metabolite of the B vitamin pantothenic acid called pantethine may also be very useful. In several studies, pantethine supplementation has been shown to lower both total cholesterol (by an average of about 15 percent) and triglycerides (by an average of about 30 percent). The doses used in these studies were in the range of 600 to 1,200 mg daily. Other studies have shown that pantethine may help inhibit the formation of dangerous blood clots and help prevent irregular heart beats.

High blood pressure must always be addressed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Although the focus from Western physicians is usually just one or more prescription medications, there are also many natural therapies that can help. Just improving the diet in a way that increases the intake of potassium-rich foods and reduces the intake of sodium can help. Potassium is essential for regulating the heartbeat and helping to maintain normal blood pressure. Most of your potassium intake should come from your diet. The best sources of potassium are fruits and vegetables. Particularly potassium-rich foods include apricots, bananas, cantaloupes, potatoes, and spinach. Supplemental potassium can also be used under the direction of a physician.

Taking certain other mineral and amino acid supplements can also help. Magnesium can help prevent arterial damage and protect the heart, most commonly in doses of 500-600 mg daily. Magnesium works as a vasodilator, thus potentially lowering blood pressure, and is involved in energy pathways in the body and, thus, may boost energy and improve heart efficiency. The amino acid arginine is another vasodilator which has been widely studied for its usefulness in lowering blood pressure. The doses used in research have varied widely, ranging from only a gram (1000 mg) or two daily up to ten grams (10,000 mg) or more in some studies. As part of an integrated approach to health, many people have used arginine, usually in powdered form, to effectively lower blood pressure.

Inadequate intake of the omega 3 fatty acids, a heart protective nutrient found most potently in fatty fish, is also risky. This is easily addressed by just taking regular fish oil supplements. Fish oil not only provides support for overall heart health but has also been shown to counter irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) in some people.

For those concerned about preventing congestive heart failure, coenzyme Q-10 is very important. Although well-studied in Japan where its successful use for reversal of congestive heart failure has been frequently published leading to its acceptance there as a standard therapy, there has been little attention to this antioxidant in the U.S. The biggest problem with its use is the high cost of the doses used in Japan for heart failure, doses which range from 500 mg up to 6,000 mg daily. However, it is certainly possible that lower doses of 100 to 500 mg daily might at least help prevent heart problems. For those who can afford it, the Japanese research would seem to indicate that higher amounts would likely be considerably more useful. Research has shown that coenzyme Q-10 may also help lower blood pressure and reduce angina.

Diabetes is a major cause of heart disease. Blood sugar elevations lead to dangerous changes in the cells of the body that too often result in ever worsening cardiovascular disease. Even people who have not been diagnosed with diabetes may have the condition called insulin resistance in which the body’s cells become less sensitive to insulin, leading to blood sugar disorders. Insulin resistance is also a major risk factor for heart disease. There is no magic wand for this but regular exercise can boost insulin sensitivity. Carefully monitoring blood sugar and eating a diet that is well balanced with your medications in a way that helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels can greatly help prevent all diabetic complications, including heart disease. And doing the other parts of an integrated approach to diabetes can very substantially reduce this as a risk factor for heart disease. For more information on that, see the Diabetes page.

Being overweight is a double risk factor. Just having extra pounds is risky, and when it leads to development of Type 2 diabetes, the risk compounds. Again, there is no magic wand but taking this seriously and working steadily to do the type of diet and the regular exercise that will slowly and steadily reduce pounds can significantly lower your cardiac risk. There are countless approaches to weight loss and countless books on the topic. For many people, an effective approach will include not only reducing caloric intake and increasing exercise, but also finding ways to deal with the emotional aspects of the problem. The bottom line is to find an approach that seems doable to you, and then stick with it over the very long term.

Lack of exercise is also a major contributor to heart disease. Just instituting a regular exercise program is one of the most protective things you can do. Countless studies have shown the value of exercise for preventing heart disease. It can strengthen the heart, lower blood pressure, improve blood fats, and decrease the risk of coronary artery disease. Many studies have shown that regular exercise can significantly raise HDL. Based on all we currently know, it seems clear that establishing a regular exercise program for yourself, preferably one that combines at least some aerobic exercise (ideally daily, but at least 3 to 4 times weekly) with weight training, is very important for long-term protection against cardiovascular problems. In addition, regular exercise will contribute to improving insulin insensitivity and reversing blood sugar problems, thus helping to address those other risk factors, as well.

Another huge risk factor is smoking, well known as a major cause of damage to the arteries and heart, in part because it increases oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. So you already know you should do this but if you’re still smoking, look for support to quit. Many people have found that some combination of nicotine patches, acupuncture, counseling, group support, hypnosis (either by a therapist or via self-hypnosis), and/or drugs have helped. Discuss these options with your physician. A strong dose of willpower will also be needed so motivate yourself in whatever way works best for you. And don’t keep waiting until tomorrow to do this. Tomorrow never comes. Today is the day you need to quit.

Studies have shown that both depression and anger are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Stress is known to raise blood pressure, and has been linked to increases in homocysteine levels and cholesterol. On the other hand, a study of older men showed that the most optimistic ones had less than half the risk for heart disease as the pessimists. For all these reasons, using relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises may be useful for preventing heart disease. Using techniques such as affirmations or self-hypnosis which are aimed at creating an optimistic hopeful outlook may also help. Where these are not enough, seeking the services of a professional therapist may be very important. There are countless reasons to address mental and emotional health issues. Working to counter heart disease is one more important one.

Addressing all the components of an integrated approach to heart disease can seem overwhelming to some people. Lark has given many speeches on an integrated approach to cardiovascular health and has worked with large numbers of people individually through her over-the-phone consults. With both her speeches and consults her goal is always to educate people on the type of integrated approach to health discussed here and to help people identify the specifics that are most important for them so that they can greatly boost their chances of living both long and well.

For Lark, this is not just theory. Diagnosed with severe type 1 diabetes as a child, Lark was given many pessimistic prognoses by multiple physicians who predicted all the serious heart disease complications of long-term diabetes, along with a greatly shortened life span. This was actually her original motivation for reaching out for information on an integrated approach to health. She worked to integrate the best that Western medicine has to offer with all the other components of a total approach to preventing cardiovascular disease. The result has been that she not only greatly outlived all those docs’ expectations but has lived with diabetes for almost fifty years in excellent shape with very little in the way of symptoms and no significant diabetic complications, including no cardiovascular disease of any kind. That’s right. After almost half a century with type 1 diabetes, no complications. She did a full cardiac work up recently, including a stress EKG and echocardiogram, along with all the blood tests. Her cardiologist kept looking back and forth at first all of her results and then at the long list she had given him of all the natural therapies, especially micronutrient supplements, that she has long used. He finally looked up at her and said, “You know, there is research evidence accruing showing the benefits of a lot of these things. And based on your test results, all I can say is, whatever you’re doing….keep doing it!. ” He went on to say that if he’d been handed these results blindly, without knowing whose they were, he would have sworn that they came from a healthy 25-year-old, not a diabetic fifty something year old.

As a diabetic who has always had to be concerned about the possible development of cardiovascular disease, Lark has long been appalled that there is so much information out there on how to help counter heart disease and, yet, it is too often not taught to those who could greatly benefit from this knowledge. Lark has put together information on ways to help maintain health and prevent the development or worsening of all types of heart disease. Her fundamental belief is that when you give the body what it needs, you can greatly help to boost cardiovascular health.

For most people, an integrated approach to heart health will include improving the overall diet, increasing the intake of specific foods that may be useful as rich sources of nutrients, using optimal levels of micronutrient supplements, implementing a regular exercise program that can be maintained long-term, and addressing the other risk factors discussed here. The combination of these may provide significant protection against the development of heart disease, while also improving or preventing the development of symptoms that can adversely affect quality of life.

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Lark Lands does over-the-phone individual health education consultations for those who are concerned about cardiovascular disease. The ultimate aim of doing the consults is to assist each person in creating and fine-tuning an individualized, integrated program based on each person’s particular needs, and ensure that each person has a full understanding of all the components of an aggressive, comprehensive, integrated approach to heart and blood vessel health.

The intent of the consult is to help each person narrow down the flood of information that many people find online into a carefully designed program that is individualized specifically for them. Information will be provided on antioxidants, amino acids, fatty acids and other nutrients and herbs that can help provide the base needed for long-term health.

Based on the case history and other information given to her either in advance or during the consult, Lark will discuss with each person the components that should be considered for a total approach, including the nutrients and other therapeutics that might be appropriate for that person, whether the goal is addressing current problems or simply creating a long-term health maintenance plan, along with recommendations for discussions with the person’s physician about any drug or medical care issues. NOTE: no medical recommendations can or will be made. Those are appropriately obtained only from your physician.

Please see the “Consults” link for more information on how to arrange a personal consultation