Protecting the Pump

Dr. Laura Roxann Alexander
9 min readFeb 10, 2024

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How to protect your cardiovascular system from dysfunction and disease

The heart might just be the most important muscle in the entire body. There is much that go wrong with the pump, the pipes, and conventional medical treatment might keep people sick rather than help them heal the dysfunction. There are a lot of heart healthy myths out there and I want to bust those wide open and give you some truths you can use to create change an environment in which your heart will thrive.

To keep the heart pumping 24/7 requires nutrients for energy generation, but also nutrients to protect against damaging compounds as well as high blood sugar. Treating risk factors doesn’t stop disease progression. Medications treat symptoms of the disease but not the source of the disease itself. Medications also have side effects that may ultimately lead to more disease and dysfunction of another body part or system. The body didn’t become stupid and dysregulated in the hopes that there would be a medication invented that could solve the problem. The problem is solved when the cause of disease is found and then stopped. That can be incredibly hard to discover, but it is the only way to stop the progression of disease, heal and thrive.

The cardiovascular system is composed of the heart, the blood, and blood vessels. There are between 50,000 and 100,000 miles of blood vessels in an adult body. Blood is ideally about 92% water (not sweet tea or soda) and within the blood you can find red blood cells (oxygen carriers), white blood cells (immune soldiers), nutrients, gases, and waste products. The cardiovascular system is complex and it relies on other systems for support. If you focus on just the pump and the pipes you will miss the operators in the background; the nervous system, immune system and endocrine systems. These systems work behind the scenes maintaining the ideal operation of the cardiovascular system.

If the operators become dysfunctional, the entire system becomes dysfunction. The nervous system can be stuck in sympathetic mode causing our blood vessels to constrict and keep our heart beating at a faster rate. The immune system may recruit soldiers to damaged parts of the arterial walls (from chronic high blood pressure or high blood sugar) and create a plug (plaque) leading to a narrowing of the arteries. The endocrine system maybe dysfunctional because a high sugar diet creates a need for higher and higher levels of insulin over time, which can eventually lead to insulin resistance and a decrease in cellular energy. All cells need energy to function, even the heart and the endothelial cells that make up the artery wall. The body does this all in the name of survival. There is no difference between real danger and imagined, either one results in a stress response and the need for elevated hormones and immune cells to keep us alive.

The heart is stimulated by an electrical gradient. It might beat 3 millions times in a lifetime. It is a muscle, it needs nutrients! It also needs relaxation and quality sleep. The heart is very vulnerable to oxidative damage because it never gets to rest entirely. It is highly dependent on partial rest or living primarily in a parasympathetic state.

Necessary Nutrients

Hydration

Oxygen (sleep apnea and snoring puts you at risk for heart disease)

Magnesium

Thyroid sufficiency

Exercise

Electrolytes and Antioxidants

Muscles in the walls of the arteries contract or relax in response to what our lifestyle demands. Arteries are alive and responsive. They must be able to respond quickly in case we need to defend ourselves or run for our lives. An overly pressurized line (chronic high blood pressure) is vulnerable to damage. This wear and tear attracts the atherosclerotic process which impairs the artery’s ability to flex and dilate. Picture the walls of the arteries and tiny capillaries becoming stiff and unable to move fluid. What actually causes the damage here? Yes, it is high blood pressure levels, but what causes that? Mainstream medical treatment would focus entirely on lowering the blood pressure with medications. Which will work- for a short period of time. However, the body will respond by increasing levels of cortisol and adrenaline. Eventually, the blood pressure will continue to creep higher even on multiple blood pressure medications. This isn’t surprising at all if you remember that the root cause of the blood pressure increase hasn’t been addressed.

Ultimately, the cause of high blood pressure is either living in a fight or flight environment, high glucose load, and/or toxin exposure which directly damages cells. The immune system tries to repair the damage by laying down plaque, which consists mainly of cholesterol. The plaque does repair the hole, but it impairs the artery’s ability to flex and dilate. This can happen throughout the entire cardiovascular system.

Does the presence of of policemen at the scene of the crime make them responsible for it? No. Neither does the presence of cholesterol mean the cholesterol is responsible for the damage. The immune system is putting it there on purpose to try to control the damage.

Myths and Truths

Myth: Those with higher total cholesterol have more plaque and have more heart attacks.

Myth: Those with higher LDL have more heart attacks.

Myth: If cholesterol is too high it will just stick to the walls wherever it can.

Truth: Low cholesterol is a predicator of mortality in the elderly.

Truth: Half of the people who are admitted in to the hospital having had a heart attack have normal or low LDL.

Truth: The ratio of triglycerides to HDL is a better predicator of cardiovascular events.

Truth: Inflammation and damage is what causes plaque buildup.

Answer to high blood pressure and arteries: Stop wounding the arteries with stress and crap food.

Nitric Oxide

Vascular wellness is about a balance of dilation and constriction. The dilation is primarily caused by nitric oxide. Nitric oxide (NO) is made in the lining of the arterial walls and by platelets and white blood cells. Bacteria can also make it. NO is also involved in insulin signaling, improved sleep, and memory and it can decrease cholesterol and prevent high blood pressure. NO requires amino acids, antioxidants and B vitamins for production. NO production fades with age and if the arteries are damaged. Excessive fructose consumption (from fruits and processed foods containing high fructose corn syrup) and alcohol increase the production of uric acid which interferes with NO production.

What about bacteria? There is a direct link between the health of your mouth and the health of your heart! Without a healthy balance of certain bacteria in the mouth, the body will not be able to produce enough NO.

It is estimated that 50% of your daily NO production comes from a cycle of eating enough nitrate from food, having the right oral bacteria present, and a enough stomach acid to break it down (another reason why I am a strong opponent of over-the-counter proton pump inhibitors). Foods that are used as a nitrate source are root and leafy green veggies like beets, radishes, spinach, and garlic. Nitrate sources should not be confused with processed foods that have been cured with nitrite, which offer very little free nitrate.

The oral microbiome is second only to the gut in the number of species present and disrupting this community decreases NO production. NO also have antimicrobial activity against pathogenic species in the mouth. Antibacterial mouthwashes decrease oral production of NO by upwards of 90% and there is a direct correlation between use of mouthwash and incidence of high blood pressure.

To increase NO production

Eat more leafy greens (dark)

Exercise

Make sure your Vitamin D level is optimal (Vitamin D increases the enzymes that makes NO)

Limit antibiotic use

Avoid antacids

Clean the tongue with a tongue scraper to get rid of biofilms that make be harboring inflammatory bacteria

Don’t use mouthwash!

Decrease fructose and glucose consumption which promote the growth of inflammatory bacterial species like P. Gingivalis

The most common pills for high blood pressure treatment

Diuretics- Reduce blood pressure by reducing blood volume. Side effects include depleting potassium, magnesium, and sodium. All of which are necessary for electrolyte balance. Using diuretics can lead to long term use of medications and dehydration. Over time making the dynamic worse.

Beta Blockers- Block adrenaline receptors and are usually used in stress mediated high blood pressure. Blocking adrenaline long term can cause an increase in cortisol (body adapts so it can continue to run for its life if necessary). Beta blockers also deplete melatonin and Co-Enzyme Q10 which is necessary for energy generation in the mitochondria.

ACE inhibitors- Relax blood vessels by increasing sodium excretion. Dehydration can happen quite rapidly and sodium is necessary to move fluid into a cell. These medications can also deplete zinc which is necessary for regulating immune function.

Using any of the medications or a combination of medications (which is seen more often) does not correct the cause of blood pressure and can lead to both short and long term consequences such as immune dysregulation, sleep dysregulation, and a decrease in overall energy production. The very medications that are suppose to be saving your life might be causing you to age faster and put you at risk for other chronic and age related diseases.

Food Considerations- You are what you eat

  1. Don’t let powerful marketing fool you. Why would cheerios be heart healthy over eggs and spinach? Quick and easy breakfast foods might just be causing your high blood pressure and high blood sugar.
  2. Sugar and fructose increase blood sugar which can lead to damage in blood vessels and decrease the vessel’s ability to flex.
  3. Deep fried foods lead to stiff cell walls and can block nutrient absorption.
  4. Processed foods are high in Omega 6 pro-inflammatory fats versus Omega 3 anti-inflammatory fats.
  5. Ancient oils that are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated are heart protective. Fats from nuts and seeds and coconut oils, olive oil and avocado oil can decrease inflammation in the body. Stay away from vegetable oils. Throw those out now! Limit eating in restaurants which almost always cook with low quality vegetable oils.

Parasympathetic versus Sympathetic

We need to live in a parasympathetic state. That means being able to rest and sleep on a daily basis. Find ways to minimize the doom that might be lurking over your head. The body responds to real or imagined threats. The sympathetic nervous system releases adrenaline and then cortisol in response to a threat. Both compounds increase blood pressure and heart rate so you can run for your life. Limit caffeinated drinks which increase cortisol and adrenaline.

Let exercise by thy medicine

Take a walk.

Join a yoga class or use an app like Downdog to make it a daily practice.

Start a resistance training program.

Decrease HITT and endurance training if you have high blood pressure.

Get out of your house

Practice forest bathing or what the Japanese call Shirin-yoku. Forest bathing is making contact with and taking in the atmosphere of the forest. Plants and trees release volatile organic compounds which can increase natural killer cells in the body that regulate the immune system and decrease inflammation.

Try earthing. Walk in your bare feet on the earth. Studies show there is improvement in heart rate variability, hypertension, and endothelial function when we walk barefoot on the earth. The exact reason is not fully known, but most scientist agree the electrical properties of the earth play a part in the ability to improve cardiovascular function.

Finally

Chronic, unrelenting stress is behind many of the major chronic diseases. You can have a perfect diet and exercise the right amount and still have dysfunction if you are unable to find ways to deal with stressors, big or small. I encourage you to find ways to minimize real and imagined threats. Learning how to meditate can have a huge impact on cardiovascular function. Start today, your heart will thank you for it.

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Dr. Laura Roxann Alexander

Pharmacist.Personal Trainer.Lift heavy, skip the run.Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food.