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Clogged Arteries : Cholesterol, Inflammation and Oxidation

Many of the forum members and IronOnline site readers are in the 50-year-old age bracket, making heart health, specifically cholesterol, a common topic around here. It’s a difficult one, too, because not only is there a good deal of money-making advertising going on, there’s honest disagreement among the research scientists.

Yet the Framingham Heart Study documenting patients since 1948 reports that 80% of cardiovascular disease patients, those with coronary arterial damage, have normal cholesterol numbers. Secondly, at least half of all clogged arteries don’t fit the standard risk factor mold. There’s simply more to this than those 30-second tv spots can tell.

Here’s an overview of cholesterol testing and treatment, and here’s a reminder how vital cholesterol is to our functioning bodies.

Several things we do know that we didn’t know just a few years ago:

~There’s a lot more to the cholesterol story than the two numbers (LDL, the low density lipoproteins, aka lousy cholesterol) and HDL, the high density lipoproteins, aka the healthy cholesterol). There are sub-particles of LDL and HDL, and it’s partly those elements that may contribute to problems. Still, the most current research conflicts with the common cholesterol thinking, and there’s more to be done before we can have confidence in medical recommendations.

~There’s some controversy over the importance of lowering cholesterol, even fairly high cholesterol. This is not to say dietary changes are not important, but it appears it’s more important for some than others; in some very important, others not important at all. You’ll have to do some research, and you’ll have to get some blood testing to find out in which category you fit. And then you may have to experiment, test and try again. This is sometimes a long process that can take a couple of years to sort out.

~Inflammation may be more damaging than cholesterol, and inflammation plus high LDL cholesterol might be the triple play. Stress inflames, bigtime, and this refers to all types of stress, stress over money and relationships, work and overwork stress, and, what I believe to be true in Dave’s case, overtraining — decades of pushing himself to the limit. You can’t go back for a do-over to see which method would have worked better, but there it is: It’s likely the demands Dave placed on himself, those that made him a champion athlete, combined with the next element to jam him up.

~The next element: Oxidation caused by iron, bad juju. Think rusty pipes. Iron causes oxidation that not even a cornucopia of anti-oxidant diets can neutralize. The main lessons here: Make sure your vitamins and food supplements do not have added iron (unless you’re a vegetarian or a menstruating woman); if you eat beef, commit to donating a pint of blood quarterly; and oh, don’t get any older. Age doesn’t help with the oxidation thing.

~High triglycerides contribute to plaque buildup in the arteries. Get a blood test and find out if this is a concern for you. High triglycerides is another danger marker when combined with high LDL cholesterol.

~High blood pressure gouges holes in the arteries by excessive force. It’s imperative to keep your blood pressure within optimal levels (120/80 or lower), either with exercise, food choices or medicine if those don’t work.

~High blood sugar damages arteries, causing more areas to be damaged by the deadly combination of inflammation, oxidation and cholesterol. Best way around that one is the Zone diet.

~Homocysteine: There’s a clear connection between it and atherosclerosis — arterial blockage — but the reasons are as yet unknown. Regardless of the whys, the fix is easy: B vitamins, specifically B6, B12 and folic acid. A B-Complex tablet should bring down homocysteine levels in the blood; plan to take a B vitamin daily for the rest of your life. Stick with the complex, individualizing the B vitamins is not recommended. Bonus point: B-complex may also lower fibrinogen and C-Reactive Protein, both factors in arterial inflammation and clotting.

~Lipoprotein(a) is a pretty clear marker for heart disease potential. There’s not a lot you can do about this genetically determined risk factor, but since it’s a good predictor — possibly the best — it does tell you of the importance of other controllable heart-health criteria. LP/a is highly susceptible to oxidation, causes blood clot problems and, in combination with high levels of LDL or even low levels of dense LDL sub-particles, is deadly.

~Menopausal women and hormone replacement: We used to take estrogen partly for heart health, we thought at the time, because pre-menopausal women are somewhat protected from heart disease. As it turns out, taking estrogen didn’t bring menopausal heart health up, and the thinking now is that iron is building up in women who don’t have a monthly period. Post-menopausal women need to do quarterly blood donations, too. Do it as a gift of life, and save your arteries as a side benefit.

~Stress causes inflammation; there’s no longer any question. Reduce all stresses. Whatever you have to do, do it. Change jobs, reduce debt, sort out troubled relationships, take a walk, pray, do yoga. Pick the one that hits home hardest and get to work. And if you train as hard as Dave does, well, either stop, get an extra day of rest between workouts, or find a way to relax fully. I dunno, get a hot tub?

~Trans fats we know to be deadly. Period. Saturated fats, that’s becoming a little less clear. At least, we’re not as sure as we used to be.

~Depression also causes blockage. If you’re depressed, do something about it, either try 5HTP for low-level, occasional or winter depression, or get a doc’s prescription for an anti-depressant. Stress and depression are absolutely, unquestionably linked to cardiovascular disease.

~Exercise, top of the list normally, but left to a lower position here only because you wouldn’t even have seen this if you weren’t already getting in your weight workouts. Still, the volume of weekly exercise seems to be preventative, 5-6 hours a week is optimum for heart health. Those of you doing shortened 30-to-45-minute training sessions or those on three-a-weeks (or less) may need to bring in more exercise. To keep overtraining at bay, cardio may be your answer… please accept my apologies in advance.

~I left off quitting smoking, which would otherwise have been at the top of the list as numero uno. You don’t smoke, do you?

We’re going to look closer at all of these puzzle pieces over the next weeks to make certain we’re each doing what we can to limit our individual risk.

Testing for heart health, how to get started

Further study material here:

More cholesterol research and commentary

More on heart health


35 Responses to 'Clogged Arteries : Cholesterol, Inflammation and Oxidation'

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  1. Hassan Hodgkinson said,

    on February 22nd, 2007 at 3:47 am

    Dear Dave, all the best for a speedy recovery…you are being watched over by many all over the world!

    Hassan, Sydney.

  2. Andre said,

    on February 22nd, 2007 at 7:16 am

    Hang in there big guy, i should not have read your newsletter, i am almost crying… i have always admired and loved Dave. I am now getting a little koodgy about my own health, should i stop taking dessicated liver, i pop about twenty tabs a day, am i oxidizing? What do you know about Argentine beef liver? I used to get regular nosebleeds in dry air winter, but they’ve stopped for years now , should i induce them? Thanks for reading this, I Love you Dave.

  3. Mike Payne said,

    on February 22nd, 2007 at 7:47 am

    Hi Dave,

    Love & best wishes for a speedy recovery.

    Love to you too Laree.

    I’ll be thinking of you both.

    Mike

  4. Jay said,

    on February 22nd, 2007 at 10:41 am

    Dear Dave,

    I just read this week’s column and I must admit I am stunned to read that you needed bypass surgery. I’ve always thought of you as this indestructible god of health and fitness. Guess this just shows how vulnerable we all are to the ravages of day to day living. I know you will continue to be a beacon of hope and motivation to everyone, and especially to those facing their own cardiovascular health issues. I wish you a speedy recovery and pray that all will be well for you and Laree.

    Fly high, my hero!

    Love – Jay

  5. Alison Dreifort said,

    on February 22nd, 2007 at 10:45 am

    This is absolutely right-on advice! Been studying diet and effects on arteries for a few years now and everything you say aligns with what I’ve learned. I hope and pray everyone reading your news will take it to ‘heart’.
    Alison

  6. Dan Hunter said,

    on February 22nd, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    Dear Mr Draper,
    You and your family are in our prayers my rosary tonight will be for your fast recovery.May our Blessed Mother give you comfort in,Jesus name.
    God bless you.

  7. Tom Caterino said,

    on February 22nd, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    Hi Dave: I had a major heart attack in 2005 and you sent me a kind and compassionate e-mail which lifted my spirits. Right back at you. You will get through this and come back better and wiser. Remember Jesus never fails.
    God speed
    Tom

  8. Mike Ramirez said,

    on February 22nd, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    To two of the Nicest People I’ve never met:

    My prayers and best wishes to the both of you.

    Dave, I think one of the best things that can be said about anyone is that they lead by example, and that certainly applies to you. Your maturity, humility and honesty have touched many people. I know. I’m one of them.

    May the Lord continue to favor our community by preserving your health for many years to come.

    Laree, thanks for your support, and for supporting the big guy. He’s made it sound almost routine, but I know this can’t be easy. Waiting and watching has it’s own special stresses, especially when it involves circumstances you can not control. I’ll say an extra, special prayer for you.

    I’m looking forward to reading the rest of your HEART BLOG, but you’ve also done an extremely impressive job with the IOL site. You continue to stay ahead of the needs of the IOL community, and I’m sure it’s appreciated by all. Here’s to the continuing success of IOL.

    PEACE,

    Mike Ramirez

  9. TikiTim said,

    on February 22nd, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    What, no Shemp? Yes I am in my 50’s.[51] Father died of a heart attack. My Mother had triple bypass, almost 30 years ago. She is 81 and lookin pretty good. Thanks for your website & newsletter. Your faith and attitude inspire me. Please keep up the good work. God Bless –TikiTim

  10. John Shipman said,

    on February 22nd, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    Dear Dave,
    My thoughts and best wishes go out to you for the best possible surgery outcome and speedy recovery. It’s odd that I was just mulling over two distinct dietary approaches (Bass and Beverly), weighing the pros and cons of costs and preparation times (similar costs, but one is prep heavy), and then I read about your situation (which is healthier?). You are my inspiration for free-style workouts and since recently returning to martial arts training that will even be more desirable.
    All the Best, John :)

  11. paul from england said,

    on February 23rd, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    Dear Dave and Laree,
    Thinking of you since i heard the news. I cannot thank you enough for your inspiration over the years, you did save me from a life of addiction and bad health.i have never been fitter, at 53.Love you both.See you in the gym.
    Paul.

  12. Peter said,

    on February 24th, 2007 at 7:37 am

    Dear Dave,

    I wish you the best in your recovery. I’m
    sure you be blasting again in the comming months.
    You will feel like a new man come summer after
    the maintenance on your aircraft. God Bless you.
    Peter

  13. Larry Barry said,

    on February 24th, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    Best of luck DAVE I went thru a 5 way by pass at 58
    I am now 64 and back to heavy lifting and doing good. My bench is stuck around 320 but i feel pretty good. The best for you is yet to come.

  14. Ross said,

    on February 24th, 2007 at 11:58 pm

    Dear Dave and Laree

    You’re both an inspiration and please know that there’s so much love and positive energy coming to you from around that world that it’s sure to be fine.

    We’re all looking forward to Dave’s new forthcoming “Cardio column” and how spinning is the new squats!

    Love and best wishes

    Ross and the gym rats

    Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  15. brunbomber said,

    on March 2nd, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    Dave,

    I am 37, but only “found” you a couple of years ago, and thank goodness! You are an inspiration to many of us from various generations. Our prayers are with you. Thanks for your guidance. You never really know how many people you touch.

    God Bless,

    brunbomber (Jon O’Brian)

  16. enrico fernandez said,

    on March 3rd, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    DEAR MR DRAPER:FOR MANY YEARS,I´VE BEEN YOUR FAN, AND MOST RECENTLY I FOLLOWD YOUR ARTICLES AND ADVICES AND NOW I HEARD THAT YOUR GOING TO HAVE AN ARTERY SURGERY. YOU´LL BE ON MY PRAYERS.GOD BLESS YOU AND HAVE A FAST RECOVERY.( I BELEAVE YOU´LL BE POMPING AGAING VERY SOON)

  17. Gary said,

    on March 4th, 2007 at 7:43 am

    O.K. Laree, you win! My disdain for cardio has now been resolved, and I promise to work my heart as well as my muscles every week. Thank you for putting all of this confusing cardio information in an easy to understand format. I am a 51 year old gym rat in the best shape of my life, but I am concerned about my heart health, so please keep the info coming!

    Dave: You are the inspiration and motivation that keeps me lifting. Thank you for who you are and what you do, you are in my prayers every night.

    Best wishes for a speedy recovery,
    Gary

  18. Teri said,

    on March 8th, 2007 at 10:21 am

    Your wit and wisdom has been a real inspiration to myself and others…my home workout area is posted with your “dave’isms” that keep me motivated on those off days…knowing the Lord will bless you both always, you are in my prayers daily.

    God Speed

    Teri

  19. Danny said,

    on March 8th, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    nice article. indeed the whole cholesterol issue is not as the mainstream public thinks, as usual.
    One thing i have to comment on is your suggestion to get a prescription for anti-depressants if depressed. This is quite irresposible as anti-depressants are very controversial and have even been thought to increase suicidal thoughts of some people.
    You seem to know about physical health, but not mental…

  20. Anonymous said,

    on March 9th, 2007 at 8:25 am

    Dennis
    Dave, you are the reason I fell in love with the iron game at age 14 (39 yrs. ago!). You were an inspiration then, but more so now. You are in my thoughts and prayers for a speedy recovery.
    In this time of recovery, may you lean on the Lord for His help and comfort. He indeed is “a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” (Prov.18:24)

    God Bless,
    Dennis

  21. Badge said,

    on March 12th, 2007 at 4:48 am

    “Danny said: One thing i have to comment on is your suggestion to get a prescription for anti-depressants if depressed.”

    I’d agree with this. Anti-depressants are not the way to go. Be careful with this.

    -B

  22. Anonymous said,

    on March 16th, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    Dear Dave and Laree,
    I think it is great that you are being so honest about what happens after open-heart surgery. Most surgeons lack any compassion and are utterly insensitive to the pain and suffering they are responsible for. Most patients after recovery (or what passes for recovery) are in a state shock or denial, not unlike that of combat veterans. What you have published on this site is information about heart disease that is of great value. I hope you will include it in a book. Best Wishes,

    amacr22@yahoo.com


  23. on March 18th, 2007 at 6:27 am

    Dear Dave
    When I was 12 years old I met you thru the bodybuilding mags. You looks so powerfull and with your blond hair it was the perfect combination. A group of friends never understand how you didn’t won over Arnold. Any way, some time later you came to Puerto Rico to the show of Luis Vigoro and to the Mr. PR at the San Jeronimo Hotel in El Condado, San Juan. I WAS THERE! I have been In shock since then.You were so big and I so small.(5’4″ and 160). You have been my hero from that day on.
    I’m 53 years now and a few years have past and you still blowing my mind. Now I know that I still have a Hero that make me think seriously about my health.
    You were an inpiration then and certantly you are now. You and your family are on my preyers and GOD BLESS YOU.

    Carlos Fernandez

  24. DEREK JAMES said,

    on March 22nd, 2007 at 10:16 am

    Hi Dave and Laree, So sorry to hear you have required heart surgery, as my father and mother died of heart related problems, this has certainly concentrated my attention to this area of health.
    Having recieved your columb for a few years now, i have always been encouraged by your enthusiasm for the Iron lifestyle and seeing you in Dont Make Waves, inspired me to lift weights all those yrs ago.
    Anyway BEST WISHES for the Future and Get Well soon & dont rush the Recovery OK you are UNIQUE!!!
    all the best, Derek, Former MR WALES, UK

  25. Bill Ruddick said,

    on March 28th, 2007 at 8:13 am

    Dave,
    you have always been a “living legend”. and i was shocked to hear of the needed surgery.
    recently at my wife’s insistance i went in for a needed physical. at 53 years i find my cholesterol levels at a whopping 215 (total) and i am now taking cholesterol blockers until i can reduce the fat in my diet. with a flat bench of 370 on a 250lb 6’2″ frame i find that kriptonite comes in more than one form.
    I truly wish you all the best
    Bill

  26. Anonymous said,

    on March 29th, 2007 at 9:02 am

    Hello Dave and Laree

    Thank you for so much information and thanks to the Lord that through this experience you could show us in a positive way that important and needed knowledge. It is great to see how the Lord gets you closer to each other and to the real knowledge.

    You 2 are a great “one-two”.

    Be blessed,

    Enrico.

  27. Bob said,

    on March 29th, 2007 at 10:04 am

    This is a fantastic post. So many ‘authorities’ won’t even consider information that bucks the commonly accepted wisdom on this subject. Keep up the good work.

    God bless and best wishes for a speedy recovery, Dave.

  28. Greg said,

    on March 30th, 2007 at 6:03 am

    Dear Dave,
    When my buddies and I were teenagers back in the 70’s, you were our hero, and still are. I can remember wanting every product you endorsed. You are such an inspiration to so many listening and watching. Your courage and determination through all of this demontrates your gifts of teaching and leadership to all who follow your example. I have recently reached the 50 year mark myself and have discovered that maintaining a healthy body and mind isn’t quite as easy as it once was. Several health issues have made their way into my life as well. Now I find myself over 30 years later listening and watching my childhood hero for advice and direction. You are the man, the big brother, to all who look up to you for guidance. God speed my friend!
    A special thanks to Laree for her hard work and expertise in directing Dave’s words and information to his students.

  29. Rick Stewart said,

    on March 30th, 2007 at 11:13 am

    Hi Dave-

    There are some GREAT, cutting edge ideas in this article. C-Reactive Protein, homocystein, blood sugar levels… all of these are really the keys to cardiovascular health – not cholesterol. You’re a lucky man to have a wife that is this knowledgeable about your machinery! There’s a great new book that deals with high iron, cholesterol, and human evolution. It’s called Survival of the Sickest. I really enjoyed it and it seems like it’s right up your alley.

    Can’t wait to see the newly invented Dave Draper… Cardio, Weight lifting, maybe even Yoga??? The Drapernator! Awesome!

    Are you, BTW, any relation to Mr Incredible from the Pixar movie? :)

    Wishing you the best, you’re an inspiration.

  30. Tom said,

    on April 5th, 2007 at 7:34 am

    Wow, Dave! It’s hard to swallow when one of your heroes has a chink in his armor!! I’m thinking of you and praying for an absolute world-class recovery! It does get one’s attention. Thanks, Laree, for all the useful info on cholesterol, lipids, etc. I’m going to my health coach today to examine all I can personally do to lower LDL which has been creeping up. Sometimnes I wonder if it’s all the extra protein we load in there during fitness training. There’s got to be a balance in there, somewhere!! Best wishes to you both!!! Tom

  31. Paul Maduros said,

    on May 2nd, 2007 at 11:11 am

    Mr. Draper, as long as I can remember you have been my favorite bodybuilder and I have in the last few years learned what a great person you are. I am 49 yrs. old and you are an inspiration to both young and old. That blonde bomber look you have has always been so cool looking. God bless you Dave, you have a lot of people that love and look up to you. Stay Well

  32. Anonymous said,

    on November 4th, 2007 at 4:06 am

    had triple by-pass six months ago ok if i do weights

  33. mack said,

    on February 19th, 2008 at 7:49 am

    hi dave,
    i like big macs is that bad for my legs

  34. cindy said,

    on October 8th, 2009 at 5:06 am

    I WANTED TO RUN THIS BY YOU HERE MY HUSBAND IS 49 HE HAD CHEST PAIN VERY BAD LIKE SOMEONE STOMPING ON HIS CHEST EAR PAIN JAW PAIN HEADACHE ALL THESE WERE ON THE RIGHT SIDE HANDS WERE COLD BUT HE SAID IN SIDE TO TOUCH HIM HE WAS WARM HE HAD TROUBLE SWALLOWING HE WENT TO EMERGENCY HE HAS 3 CLOGGED ARTERIES BUT NOT ENOUGH TO DO ANYTHING YET HE ALSO HAS VERY HIGH CHOL HE IS DIABETIC SINCE ALL THIS HAS HAPPENED HE STILL HAS CHEST PAIN EAR JAW HEADACHE HAND PAIN AND TINGLES BUT NOW ITS ALL ON HIS LEFT SIDE BEFORE IT WAS ON HIS RIGHT SIDE THE SAD THING IS I HAVE TO BEG HIM TO TAKE HIS PILLS HE EATS WHAT EVER HE WANTS TO NEVER CHECKS HIS BLOOD SUGAR A QUESTION I HAVE IS HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO HAVE A ARTERY GET TOTAL CLOGGED SINCE HIS WAS NOT CLOGGED ENOUGH TO DO ANY THING. AND HE HAS TROUBLE WITH SWOLLING DRINKS OR FOOD NOT ALL THE TIME I BELIEVE THISIS GURD WOULD SOME OF THE CHEST PAIN COME FROM THIS

    I’m so sorry to read this, and also sorry to say I don’t have any answers for you. I really don’t know how long it takes from an artery to go from somewhat clogged to enough to put in stents, and I also know very little about GIRD and diabetes.Unfortunately, I think it’s safe to say until he cares enough or gets scared enough to attend to his medicines, food choices and blood sugar monitoring, there won’t be a lot more you can do about it. You can watch over him all the time, and you can’t do this for him. Sounds like tough love, I guess, but it’s true. Laree


  35. on August 1st, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Wonderful information! I especially liked that you included the recommendation for a quarterly blood donation for post menopausal women. Not very many women know how beneficial that is for their health as well as the Red Cross blood banks. I also recommend exercise for heart health, but finding the fun in exercise is important. When you do something that you love, you’re more apt to make it a permanent part of your life. Here’s a fun exercise that’s great for weight loss and since it makes you laugh, your body releases endorphins (feel good hormones) so you get a double benefit for your heart health! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_7UKXeM0aI

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