What causes heart disease? A healthy heart is a cornerstone of health, well being, physical ability and longevity. There are many risk factors we're aware of that we can control, such as smoking, lack of exercise, obesity, Type II diabetes, stress and poor diet. Manufactured foods promote systemic inflammation. Food items such as white flour, hydrogenated oil and trans fats, margarine, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, flavors or coloring are poisonous to your heart and overall health.

A study appearing in the December 2010 issue of the journal Cardiology Research and Practice reports that long-term adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet results in significant improvements in several risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes in overweight men. The beneficial shifts included a decline in blood glucose and blood pressure, insulin, LDL cholesterol, oxidative stress and triglycerides.

Elevated C - reactive protein and elevated fasting insulin: C-reactive protein (CRP) and fasting insulin are tests that determine the level of inflammation in your body. CRP level is used as a marker of inflammation in the arteries. Fasting insulin is a test that screens for diabetes and heart disease, but it's also a marker for inflammation. The higher your insulin levels are, the more inflammation your body is producing. Inflammation can stem from a poor diet, oxidative stress, emotions, gum disease, being overweight, injuries, smoking, long-term infections, existing heart condition, diabetes and too much or too little exercise.

Saturated fat is actually healthy for your heart. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that women who regularly eat the highest amounts of saturated fats have the least amount of plaque buildup in their arteries, and had a healthier balance of HDL and LDL cholesterols. Healthy saturated fats not only decrease your risk of heart disease and improve your lipid profile; they prevent osteoporosis, kill Candida, boost immune health, are healthy for your brain and nervous system and help balance hormones. Excellent sources of "healthy" saturated fats include cage-free, organic poultry and eggs, coconut oil, grass-fed beef and buffalo, real butter, organic nuts, unpasteurized, raw milk and wild fish.

Cholesterol is a steroid found in all body cells and blood. Up to 80 percent of cholesterol is produced in your liver.

Statins are now the No. 1-selling drugs in the nation. Heart disease is not a Lipitor or Crestor deficiency. Drugs don't treat the underlying causes of chronic illness. The causes of chronic disease are rooted in what we eat, how much we move, how we face stress, how connected we are to our communities, and toxic chemicals and metals in our environment.

Why go for the dangerous drugs when there's a much safer and easier way to lower your risk of heart disease? Eating eight servings of fruit and vegetables a day dramatically cuts heart disease risk. People who followed this simple, easy and effective method for a study published in the European Heart Journal had a 22 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease than those who didn't.

If your cholesterol is too high (a total cholesterol >240), the problem is not the cholesterol. Your body has raised its levels in order to play some type of essential role(s) for your survival. The cause of high cholesterol is often due to an overconsumption of starchy carbohydrates, sugars, alcohol, hydrogenated trans fats and hormone imbalances such as hypothyroid. Emotional and physical stress can also influence cholesterol levels. In general, cholesterol is increased in most endocrine or organ hypofunction, and decreased in most endocrine and organ hyperfunction. Elevated LDL can be caused from the body attempting to produce hormones (during menopause or andropause) as cholesterol is a precursor to hormone production.

Cholesterol is necessary and healthy because it is involved in cellular repair and reducing inflammation. It's oxidized cholesterol that is unhealthy. Elevated triglycerides, in conjunction with a low HDL versus a high cholesterol total, by itself are risk factors for disease.

In 1990, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that normal cholesterol was considered to be around 200. Today, normal is considered 160. Individuals with cholesterol <160 cannot manufacture sex hormones. So much has been written concerning the evils of increased cholesterol, however, very little has been reported concerning decreased cholesterol. Decreased cholesterol can be normal for a vegetarian and some people with a genetic predisposition. However, cholesterol levels <160 are associated with a compromised immune system, an increased risk of depression, anxiety, respiratory illness, stroke and brain-related deaths. A total cholesterol <140 is one of the red flags for cancer (Journal of the American Medical Association, December 1980).

Ahwatukee Foothills resident Paula Owens is a nutritionist, fitness expert and weight loss coach with more than 20 years of experience. Reach her at www.PaulaOwens.com.

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