How Can Functional Medicine Help with Cardiovascular Disease
Read below how Functional Medicine can help with Cardiovascular Disease
What is Cardiovascular Disease?
Your cardiovascular system is the collective name for your heart, blood vessels and your blood itself. Your heart’s job is to make sure a good supply of blood, carrying nutrients and oxygen, reaches all around your body. Cardiovascular disease, affecting seven million people in the UK, is a general term for conditions affecting your heart and blood vessels, including:
- Coronary heart disease, when arteries become narrowed by fatty deposits or plaques containing cholesterol, calcium and waste products from blood cells being deposited on the inner walls of your arteries. This is called arteriosclerosis and causes a lack of oxygen to your heart. Symptoms include chest pain on exertion or under stress, known as angina.
- Heart failure, a decline in the functioning of your heart causing it to become weak and stiff, meaning it can no longer pump blood around your body effectively. It causes breathlessness, fatigue and swollen ankles and legs.
- Heart attack, when the blood supply to your heart muscle is interrupted, starving your heart of oxygen. It’s usually caused by a blood clot. A stroke is when the blood supply to your brain is blocked, again usually because of a blood clot.
- High blood pressure, due to a narrowing of the diameter of your arteries, reducing their volume. This can be because of arterial plaques or the muscles of your blood vessel walls being unable to relax properly, or a combination of both. Another cause can be your blood vessels losing their natural flexibility.
Heart and blood vessel health are closely connected because if anything impedes your circulation, your heart has to work harder. If your arteries become narrowed or stiff, or your blood is sticky and liable to clot meaning it can’t be transported as easily, increased pressure is put on your heart.
Causes of Cardiovascular Disease
Because cholesterol collects in atherosclerotic plaques, it was previously thought too much cholesterol in the blood caused plaques to form. However, your liver produces cholesterol for you because it’s needed to make bile and some hormones, to protect nerve cells and to manufacture your cell membranes. So actually cholesterol is useful and essential.
Rather than the total amount of cholesterol in your blood, the form it’s found in is thought to play a role in cardiovascular disease. Cholesterol is transported around your body attached to molecules known as lipoproteins, and these can be either low or high in density, referred to as LDL and HDL. High levels of LDL are thought to be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, with HDL considered to be beneficial for cardiovascular health. But even this is too simplistic, with only LDL made up of small, dense particles having the potential to form atherosclerotic plaques and correlated with cardiovascular disease.
Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood. Like cholesterol, they’re carried around your body by lipoproteins. High levels of triglycerides in your blood are a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Triglycerides can increase if you’re sedentary, obese or eat a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates.
- Insulin Resistance
If your cells become resistant to the message insulin is bringing them, insulin and blood sugar will both rise. This can damage blood vessels and cause them to stiffen. Insulin resistance seems to be particularly connected with cardiovascular disease in women.
Uncontrolled inflammation will damage artery walls, cause arterial plaques to rupture, and blood will be more likely to clot. If your gut microbiome is out of balance, you may suffer from chronic inflammation.
Other risk factors for cardiovascular disease include smoking, obesity, stress, eating a lot of processed fats and processed meats, and too few antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables.
Some conventional tests only measure total cholesterol, although increasingly they do distinguish between HDL and LDL, so you can see the balance between the two. An ECG can monitor your heart’s electrical activity, while a stress test looks at how your body reacts when your heart rate increases with exercise.
Conventional Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease
Blood-thinning medications such as aspirin make blood less likely to clot, while beta-blockers slow the heartbeat, so reducing blood pressure, and statin drugs prevent your body from manufacturing cholesterol. However, these drugs may have side effects and don’t address the causes of your condition. Statins reduce the production of coenzyme Q10, an important antioxidant used in energy production.
Functional Medicine Approach to Cardiovascular Disease
If you’re concerned about your cardiovascular health, a Functional Medicine consultation will examine how your nutritional status and lifestyle choices, combined with your genetic makeup, may be influencing your cardiovascular system.
Functional tests can discover the predominant type of LDL as well as its particle size, along with your triglyceride levels. Testing can look at markers of inflammation, how sensitive you are to insulin and how liable your blood is to clotting, as well as revealing your levels of homocysteine, a substance linked to blood vessel damage.
Personalised nutritional, dietary and lifestyle measures will be recommended to maximise your cardiovascular health. Your programme will aim to restore a healthy balance of cholesterol, manage inflammation and replenish nutrients important for cardiovascular health, as well as balancing your blood sugar levels, supporting healthy blood pressure and protecting your heart and arterial health.