Cardiovascular Disease and the Use of Statins
The Better Life Experts | February 18, 2010

It is widely accepted within the medical community that eating too much food, particularly fats and saturated fats, combined with inadequate exercise can overcome the body’s normal metabolic processes, resulting in damage to the cardiovascular system. This process is gradual in nature, so a great deal of damage can accumulate before a person experiences the first signs of difficulty. Here is a how this happens.

All of the food we eat is broken down by chemical processes and then reorganized by the body as it passes through the gastrointestinal system and into cardiovascular circulation. This happens by means of an intricate communication system wherein the body decides how to rearrange nutrient chemicals that we have ingested. These will either become immediately available as a source of energy or be stored for future body “needs”. A problem occurs with many people during this process, often resulting in a disease state known as excess plasma cholesterol. Cholesterol, in excess, accumulates as plaque on the walls of the circulatory network. This atherosclerotic plaque (arterial disease) leads to blockages and a disruption of blood flow. At this stage of the disease process a person is likely to experience angina (pain due to a lack of blood to the heart), heart attacks and eventually, death.

As mentioned above, most of the dietary fat we eat will be rearranged to prepare it for transport throughout the cardiovascular system. Dietary fat, especially triglycerides, rearrange to become lipoproteins (protein-carrying lipids). Because the body requires a certain amount of lipoproteins for healthy functioning, triglycerides are critical to the body’s metabolic process. Once the triglycerides are broken down into lipid molecules, they will be transported throughout the body via the human lipid system. As the lipoproteins travel through the intestines and into the circulatory system they act as a nutrient distribution system; some molecules transport triglycerides from the digestive system and liver for immediate use or they arrange for storage in tissue and muscles for utilization at a later time. Additionally, the lipid system transports cholesterol to the liver for breakdown and discharge from the body. But problems arise when these lipoprotein molecules become too highly concentrated. If this happens, the lipid transportation system becomes overwhelmed and formerly healthy arteries become clogged and blood flow becomes sluggish. What makes this a particularly dangerous disease is that many people do not know that they have abnormal lipid metabolism because in the earlier stages there are few symptoms or signs of difficulty. By the time they experience chest pain the disease is established and medical intervention is required immediately.

One of the first signs of artery damage is an accumulation of LDL (low density lipoprotein) in the walls of blood vessels. The main reason for this accumulation is that there is too much cholesterol in circulation. Oxidized LDL compounds the problem even further because it encourages LDL to accumulate at damaged sites of the arterial walls. Once LDL and oxidized LDL bind together in the vessel walls, blood can no longer blow freely through the arteries. This plaque buildup can become unstable and burst, leading to the formation of clots. These can become caught in arteries already narrowed due to the disease process, subsequently blocking the flow of blood and oxygen back to the heart. The good news is that this disease process takes many years to reach a critical stage and that there are ways to detect the problem early on and then do something about it.

The best way to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease is to get rid of excess body weight. This is done by controlling food intake. Ideally, our body should be utilizing the calories stored in muscles as the primary source of fuel. So if we eat enough food to replace the calories taken from the muscles for the production of energy, we are much less likely to put on weight. When our daily calorie intake exceeds our need for fuel, the excess will be stored in the body’s fat deposits rather than in the muscle. Obviously, increasing the need for more food calories by being more physically active is another method of tapping into the calories stored in fat deposits. However, not everyone can lower their LDL and raise their HDL to the ideal range through diet and exercise alone. In these cases, medical intervention in the form of a statin may be considered. The goal of taking a statin is to modify the plasma lipid levels (cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations) so that they move toward a healthier level. So, ideally, a statin should lower LDL, lower triglycerides, and raise HDL. Because statins have the potential of increasing the risk of liver disease, physicians are alert to any signs that this is occurring and can quickly intervene. However, in general, the use of statins is considered to be a very effective strategy in reducing the risk for atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.
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