What Causes Heart Attacks? | Weston A Price
The Theory Fits The Facts
So, if heart attacks are not the result of coronary artery disease, then what does cause all these MIs? The myogenic theory of Dr. Mesquita, in fact, fits all the current observations about this condition. The myogenic theory postulates that as a result of disease in the small vessels—the capillaries and small arterioles—which is a consequence of such factors as stress, diabetes, smoking and nutritional deficiencies, heart cells, which are very active metabolically, suffer from inadequate oxygen and nutrient supply. This oxygen and nutrient deficiency increases under stressful conditions. When this happens, the heart cells revert to their backup system, which is anaerobic fermentation for energy generation— very similar to what happens in your leg muscles when you run too far or too hard. The anaerobic fermentation produces lactic acid which collects in the tissues. Because the heart, unlike your leg muscles, cannot rest, the acidosis progresses if untreated, leading to actual death of the myocardial cells.
As a result of this necrotic process, inflammatory debris collects in the tissues, and it is this debris that is the actual source of the coronary artery blockages seen in death from acute MI. As you would predict, the longer the time period between the MI and death, the greater the likelihood of blockage—exactly as observed in the studies. The only conclusion one can draw from this is that the heart cells die first and only then does the artery become blocked with debris liberated at myocardial cell death, which is precisely the kind of debris that is found in these blockages. The current practice of flushing out arterial blockages can help remove the debris and restore blood flow to the compromised arterial system, but this in no way suggests that blocked arteries represent the primary event in the sequence leading to an MI. However, the whole emphasis on the coronary artery blockage is fundamentally a dead end and doomed to failure, whether it is approached from a surgical (bypass, stents, etc.) or a medical (cholesterol-lowering drugs, restricted diets, etc.) point of view.
The myogenic theory points us to a very different kind of preventive treatment for heart disease, one that focuses on small vessel disease and the prevention of heart tissue acidosis. The theory also explains why stress, diabetes and smoking are such strong risk factors for MI, because these factors have all been shown to primarily affect small capillaries and small blood vessels, not the large coronary arteries. But the story gets even more interesting.
It turns out that there are simple, inexpensive and very effective compounds that effectively prevent lactic acidosis in the heart tissues. These medicines have been known for centuries as cardiotonics and have been used for treating heart disease in every traditional medical system in the world. The two best known are digitalis (the common foxglove) and strophanthus, an African vine. These plants are the source of so-called cardiac glycosides: digoxin and digitoxin from digitalis, and ouabain from strophanthus. The function of these compounds is to regulate the rhythm and power of the cardiac contraction and to prevent or reverse lactic acid buildup in the cardiac tissue. This is why these plants have been used for centuries to treat congestive heart failure, rhythm disturbances and other disorders of heart function.
The amazing thing is that these compounds are exact chemical copies of hormones made by our adrenal glands. And our adrenal glands produce these cardiotonics out of . . . cholesterol! Now we know why all the draconian dietary and pharmaceutical measures to lower cholesterol have not resulted in a decrease in the rates of MI, and why numerous studies have shown that as we age, those with the highest levels of cholesterol live the longest. When we lower cholesterol, we are depriving our bodies of the very substance they need to manufacture cardiotonics.
The myogenic theory also explains why stress can lead to heart attacks. In conditions of stress, our adrenal glands must work very hard to create numerous hormones that regulate the blood sugar and help the body heal. If the adrenal glands are weak or overloaded, production of cardiotonics goes on the back burner.
While there are few studies in the conventional literature that have considered the effectiveness of digitalis or strophanthus in the treatment of MI, Dr. Mesquita’s clinical results over twenty-nine years show a dramatic lowering of the death rate, recurrent MI rate, angina rate and all symptoms in the spectrum of acute coronary syndrome with the use of oral low-dose digitalis glycosides. These results are published in Teoria Miogenica Do Enfarte Miocardico, available through the Infarct Combat project website, www.infarctcombat.org.
Also, a German cardiologist, Dr. Berthold Kern, used g-strophanthin in a study for the German government which showed a dramatic reduction in MIs in his practice, down from the expected 400 to 20, with the use of this medicine.9 Furthermore, many reports are coming in from Germany in which doctors have noted a decrease of up to 81 percent in angina attacks with the use of oral g-strophanthin.10
In my practice, I generally use oral strophanthin in the form of the preparation known as Strodival for all my angina and MI patients, and I have uniformly recorded a decrease in angina episodes, improved exercise tolerance and, thus far, no MIs. When combined with a nourishing traditional diet, cod liver oil, high vitamin butter oil, CoQ10 (which helps strengthen the heart muscle) and Standard Process heart nutrients (Cardioplus, two capsules three times per day, and Cataplex E2, two tablets three times per day), I have seen a huge improvement in the lives of patients with this otherwise devastating condition. (Note: Both digitialis leaf and Strodival are prescription-only items which need to be prescribed by a doctor who is well versed in their use.)
The final irony is that the traditional Chinese doctors were correct. The kidneys (their way of referring to the adrenal glands) help the body deal with stress as well as make hormones (digoxin and ouabain) that keep our marvelous hearts healthy, strong and open to enjoy the full richness of life
Why Plaque Is A Problem
While plaque in the arteries leading to blockage may not be the main cause of heart disease, there is no doubt that the phenomena of athersclerosis (plaque formation) is a real problem in people, especially as we age. Certain sections of our arteries are subject to thickening and the formation of what is called fatty streaks for reasons that have to do with flow dynamics, that is, the velocity of blood flow and turbulence in that particular artery. A certain amount of thickening in places where the blood creates a lot of pressure on the arteries is normal and protective, and it therefore occurs in everyone. But the build up of plaque is a different situation and can lead to many problems.
For example, blocked arteries in the legs can cause calf cramps and pain, which we refer to as intermittent claudication (leg pain while walking). In the brain, plaque formation leads to ischemic (lack of blood flow) stroke. In the kidneys, diminished blood flow due to plaque formation is a possible contributing factor in some cases of hypertension (high blood pressure).
Likewise, blocked arteries leading to the liver or spleen can result in reduced function of these organs. The reasons for this plaque formation are unclear. Although scientists have long blamed such build up on high cholesterol levels in the blood, informed medical researchers today often cite inflammation in the vessels as the cause. Of course, this inflammation is secondary to other factors, such as stress, consumption of processed vegetable oils and nutrient deficiencies (particularly of vitamins A and C and minerals like copper).
But plaque formation is not a sufficient explanation for the whole phenomena of myocardial ischemia. The reason the heart but not the spleen or the liver has “attacks” is because the energy use of the heart is so much higher and also because the heart can never rest. Because scientists have overlooked these factors, treatment of heart disease today is far less effective than it otherwise could be. The only other organ that might be said to suffer from an “attack” is the brain when a stroke occurs. However, strokes usually happen when a clot forms in one of the arteries feeding the brain. The process is not the same as lactic acid build up in the heart.
How To Protect Your Capillaries
Avoid high blood sugar: diabetes is a serious risk factor for capillary damage. A high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet is your best defense against diabetes. If you have diabetes, follow the protocol posted at www.westonaprice.org/moderndiseases/ diabetes.html.
Don’t smoke! Smoking is a risk factor for capillary damage.
Engage in moderate outdoor exercise.
Avoid commercial liquid vegetable oils, which are full of free radicals that can damage capillaries.
Follow a nutrient-dense traditional diet
Be Kind To Your Adrenal Glands
Since the adrenal glands, specifically the adrenal cortex (the outer portion of the adrenal gland), produce protective cardiotonics, an important strategy in protecting yourself against heart attack is to strengthen the ability of this important gland to work properly.
Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and related substances in coffee, tea and chocolate. Caffeine causes the adrenal medulla (the inner part of the adrenal gland) to produce adrenaline. In response, the adrenal cortex must produce a host of corticoid hormones that bring the body back into homeostasis.
Repeated jolts of caffeine can lead to adrenal burnout, a situation in which the adrenal cortex is unable to produce the myriad of protective and healing substance for the body, including the cardiotonics.
Don’t try to lower your cholesterol—the cardiotonics are made from cholesterol.
Take cod liver oil for vitamin A. The body needs vitamin A to make all the adrenal cortex hormones from cholesterol. Vitamin A intake should be balanced with vitamin D (from cod liver oil) and vitamin K2 (from the fats and organ meats of grass-fed animals).
Don’t consume trans fats. Trans fats (from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) interfere with the enzyme system needed for the production of adrenal cortex hormones.
Take care to avoid low blood sugar. When blood sugar drops too low, the adrenal glands go into overdrive to produce hormones that bring the blood sugar back up. This means avoiding sugar and not skipping meals. There is just no substitute for three good meals a day, at regular intervals, which contain adequate protein and plentiful amounts of good fat.
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This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2007.