Updated: 7/5/2019

What Causes Heart Disease?

Like aging and most illnesses, heart disease is the result of a combination of factors. While some individuals are genetically more prone to having high cholesterol and blood pressure, many of these factors are a result of dietary and lifestyle choices.Sedentary lifestyle, inactivity, processed foods and an on-the-go diet, chronic stress, and a negative outlook on life all contribute to heart disease more than genetics do.

In other words, you have more control than you think. You can enjoy robust cardiovascular health if you make good choices in life…no matter what your genes define as risk.

Though cardiovascular disease risk is most often discussed in terms of blood cholesterol levels, heart disease is, more than anything else, an issue of blood flow.

Good blood flow in the body is essential for delivering oxygen and nutrients and removing wastes, especially for vital organs such as the heart and brain.

If blood were as thin as water, flow would not be a problem, but blood is viscous and thick. It contains solid, partially-dissolved, and dissolved components including red blood cells, white blood cells, proteins, fat (triglycerides), cholesterol-containing lipoprotein particles, nutrients, immune factors, platelets and coagulation factors.

Pushing thick viscous blood through blood vessels causes friction. Friction causes chronic damage to the lining of blood vessels. The body attempts to heal the damage like it would a scrap on skin; it forms a scab from fibrin and platelets. This type of scab is called plaque.

clogged blood vessel entering heart, science drawing

LDL cholesterol sticks to the plaque making a bad situation even worse. The rough surface of the plaque disrupts flow even further, creating a dangerously vicious cycle–the lesion never heals properly and the plaque formation continues.

Enlarged image of blood flow impeded by plaque formation and cholesterol.

Chronic stress aggravates the process by stimulating adrenaline. Adrenaline causes constriction of blood vessels, which causes turbulent flow. Adrenaline also increases stickiness of platelets which makes blood clot more easily. This is a good thing if your stress is caused by running from a tiger, in which case you might be slashed by fangs or claws… but not so good if your stress is caused by being late on a deadline or having an argument with a spouse.

Healthy Tips from Dr. Rawls

Good blood flow is the key to optimal cardiovascular health. Good blood flow is a function of approach to life, diet, and natural supplementation.

  • Exercise dilates blood vessels and gets blood flowing. It increases heart rate and strengthens the ability of the heart to contract. Increased blood flow removes toxic substances. An active lifestyle is your best protection from heart disease.
  • Emotional stress increases adrenaline which constricts blood vessels. Adrenaline also increases blood flow and is associated with increased platelet aggregation.
  • Stress management and spontaneous relaxation techniques are essential tools for reducing high blood pressure and maintaining a healthy heart. Methods that promote spontaneous relaxation include yoga, meditation, hypnosis, and tai chi.
  • What you eat matters. A healthful diet consists of lots of vegetables, some fruit, some meat (mostly from fish and poultry), nuts, beans, and very minimal grains. Processed foods made from wheat and corn are actually the primary source of elevated LDL cholesterol, not red meat. Red meat does not significantly raise cholesterol, but it is high in saturated fat, which makes blood more viscous.

Fat found in fried food and processed foods causes inflammation in the body, which accelerates plaque formation. Lifestyle changes and dietary modifications necessary for better health will automatically address the issue of weight.