The Heart/Liver Link

My head feels so stuffed with information, I’m surprised it’s not coming out my ears. The pace at school has really picked up over the last couple of months and it’s all so fascinating. I feel as though I could write hundreds of blog posts on everything we’ve been learning—but alas, I barely find the time to do my homework. One of the most fascinating subjects we’ve delved into recently has been fat, and the link (or lack thereof) to heart disease. I’ve personally seen so many people in my life grappling with heart disease, I feel it’s important to get this information out there – please share it!

As a culture, we’ve been grossly mislead as to the causes of heart disease. Ansel Keys, who in the 1950s published a “definitive” study showing a correlation between diets high in fat and cardio-vascular disease worldwide, has been continually disproven and is now aknowledged to have used questionable evidence and statistical methods (at best) to support his findings. Despite this fallacy, the “low fat myth” persists.

In actuality, heart disease stems from inflammation in the body (as does all other disease). Inflammation can be caused by poor quality foods (overabundance of omega-6 oils , trans-fats, sugar, GMOs, etc.), food allergies, exposure to toxins, poor digestion/ leaky gut, drugs (perscription or otherwise, including alcohol, nicotine and caffeine) and, perhaps most widespread, stress. Inflammation is a natural and important reaction in the body, but is intended to be an acute reaction when we hurt ourselves or are fighting off a viris. Systemic inflammation or chronic inflammation from repetative lifestyle choices that encourage inflammatory reactions are what cause many of the so-called “chronic” diseases of our day, from heart disease to diabetes to cancer.

When the body is inflammed, including the arteries in the heart, the body responds by sending out “bandaids,” in the form of cholesterol, to the infected area. The heart gets a heavy dose since it is absolutely vital to human survival. In a healthy body, cholesterol is an extremely important and healthful substance. The body essentially coats inflammed areas with a layer of waxy cholesterol to allow it to heal and, in the case of an acute inflammatory response, this is just what we need. The tissue heals and the cholesterol is recyled and all is well. Of course, when we don’t treat the cause of the inflammation, the same tissue simply becomes inflamed over and over again and layer after layer of cholesterol is futily deposited in an attempt to heal the area.

A healthful liver is also vital to heart health because cholesterol regulation is controlled by the liver. The liver can produce cholesterol (from saturated fats in our diet) but it increases or decreases its output based on the amount of cholesterol in our diets. In general, if you liver cholesterol regulation is not working altogether, you will have cholesterol levels in the 400s or 500s—not the case for most people. Nevertheless, supporting a healthy liver ensures that this mechanism is functiong properly in response to diet. When blood cholesterol levels are measured, it is really a reading of how your cholesterol is being recyled. LDL cholesterol is cholesterol leaving the liver to treat an inflammed area of the body. It is “bad” because it is a sign that their is a new inflammatory response requiring attention. HDL cholesterol is cholesterol which has been used to treat an inflammed area and is returning to the liver to be recyled. It is “good” because it is a sign that inflammation has been sucessfully treated. Hence, a high LDL/HDL ratio signals a problem because inflammation is popping up and requiring treatment (LDL) more quickly than it is being treated (HDL).

So, what to do, you may ask? Start with treating the inflammation. Up your intake of omega-3 oils (fish, flax, walnuts and/or oil supplements) and reduce your intake of omega-6 oils (this includes all processed foods). Ensure all animal products you’re ingesting come from pastured animals and not grain-fed. Avoid sugar and refined grain products. Diagnose and treat any suspected food allergies. Reduce exposure to toxins, both environmental and dietary—buy organic or non-GMO food and avoid body-care products with unrecognizable ingredients. Reduce drug use, elimianting or greatly reducing alcohol, caffeine and tobacco use and exploring what it would take to get off any perscription medications (these can be especially taxing on the liver). And, very importantly, find a way to cope with stress: meditate, exercise, do yoga, make art, play music, take a bath, write… whatever floats your boat.

In addition to treating the inflammation, focus on supporting your liver. This includes eating plenty of leafy greens, brightly-colored fruits and vegetables, oranges and lemons and ensuring an adequate protein intake. Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cabbage, kale, etc.) and alliums (onions, garlic, leeks) as well as bitter-tasting foods are especially helpful. Also focus on liver-supportive lifestyle choices such as eating consistant balanced meals and snacks, avoding late night snacking, going to bed by 10 or 11 pm and, of course, the stress reduction mentioned above.

I’m sure this overview is somewhat elementary, so please do not treat it as fact – do some of your own reasearch! May you all keep your hearts healthy and free to do what they do best—love!

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