In honor of our good friend who recently died from a Heart Attack, I am writing a three-part series on how to prevent one:
Part One: What is a heart attack and how it happens
Part Two: Beyond Cholesterol – the blood markers to use to reduce your risk
Part Three: Science-based lifestyle practices that work to prevent a heart attack
What is a heart attack and how it happens
Last Friday night, at about 9 pm our good friend Harry died from a heart attack.
His three daughter, all 15 year-olds (triplets) took turns in performing CPR on their dad. Despite their valiant effort, their dad succumbed to the #1 killer in the world.
At 2 am, his now widowed wife looks at his phone when she hears a text coming in. It was one of the triplets texting him. “Dad, I know you are still here, right? You are still going to see me graduate from school, right? Please, dad, tell me you are still here.”
I am tearing right now as I write this.
Harry admittedly struggled with his weight and addiction to food. His wife is nearing the third stage of grieving, anger.
Of course, I feel guilty that as a healthcare practitioner, I didn’t do more for him.
Harry died at the young age of 63.
The whole thing just sucks.
The funeral services are in a few hours.
Yep, Harry was not a celebrity like Alan Thicke and Gary Shaddling who also died from a heart attack within the last year or two. He was just one of us, regular men who wished he could walk his daughter down the aisle one day.
I don’t know about you but this crap scares the hell out of me.
What the heck is going on here?
Here’s some alarming stats on heart attacks:
- Heart disease is the #1 cause of death for both men and women. By far, most deaths occur to men.
- About 610,000 Americans die from heart disease each year—that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.
- Someone in the United States is having a heart attack right now as you read this – as a heart attack occurs every 43 seconds.
- Coronary heart disease alone costs the United States $108.9 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications, and lost productivity.
Exactly what is a heart attack?
Before I explain what a heart attack is, I must first briefly describe an artery.
Arteries are long muscular tube-like structures that carry oxygen-rich blood that’s pumped from your heart to every single cell of your body, including heart cells.
Unlike a plastic tube which is hard and rigid, the arteries are flexible and expand and contract smoothly. In fact, if an artery hardens enough where it loses its flexibility that’s called arteriosclerosis.
Arteries consist of three layers: an outer layer, a middle layer and the inside layer known as the endothelium.
Atherosclerosis (athero: pasty material, sclerosis – hardening) is a specific form of arteriosclerosis which an artery wall thickens as a result of invasion and accumulation of white blood cells(WBCs), in this case, caused by foam cells creating plaque.
When the plaque gets large enough that it blocks blood flow in an artery, that’s when a heart attack occurs – only if the blocked artery is in the heart. If the blocked artery is in the brain that’s a stroke.
Are you with me?
Now, here’s the deal. The endothelium (the inner most layer) plays a huge role in protecting the rest of the arteries from hardening and forming plaques. The endothelial cells (which makes up the endothelium) is a barrier to prevent toxic substances in the blood from entering the middle part of the arterial wall.
Another specialized function of the endothelium is to react to mechanical forces such as blood pressure and blood flow generated by the heart’s beating action. The endothelium releases substances into cells of the middle layer smooth muscle that changes the tone or firmness of the artery.
When endothelial cells sense an injury, they produce signals that prompt smooth muscle cells in the middle arterial wall to change. Then endothelial cells also produce substances that signal circulating blood cells to stick to the endothelium (instead of effortlessly flowing through the vessel).
Cholesterol is Not the Cause of a Heart Attack
Part of the material the body uses to form a plaque is cholesterol largly due to its sticky nature.
But cholesterol is not the cause of plaques, it is just found as part of the material of a plaque.
In other words,
Cholesterol is not the criminal. It was just found in the crime scene.
Atherosclerosis gradually forms in response to this initial injury to the endothelium.
So, a heart attack is caused by an injury to the endothelium which then causes plaques in the arteries, not by cholesterol.
In fact, statins, the group of pharmaceutical drugs that lower cholesterol, has shown to not prevent heart attacks or dying from anything despite its ability to lower cholesterol.
In other words, like the news reporter Tim Russert who suddenly also succumbed to a heart attack ten years despite having lower cholesterol with pharmaceutical help, statins poorly protect from a deadly heart attack.
Three Recent Blog Post
The CaPLESS Retreat is coming in September to help prostate cancer (CaP) thrivers to live their best life by implementing science-based lifestyle practices. I to connect with you there. There is limited space.