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The 2014 Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Symposium

July 2014

By Ben Best

Small Cholesterol Particles Are The Worst


Michael Richman, MD, (Cardiothoracic/Vascular Surgeon, Center for Cholesterol Management, Los Angeles, California) did not agree with Dr. Nasir that routine screening for coronary artery calcium justifies the radiation exposure. He said calcified atherosclerotic plaques do not rupture, and that in his surgical experience, ruptured plaques are soft. He cited a study showing that coronary vessel blockage frequently occurs without calcification.44

Dr. Richman noted that many small cholesterol particles are a better indicator of cardiovascular risk than the total amount of cholesterol.45 Small cholesterol particles are more easily oxidized,46,47 and small particles enter blood vessel walls more easily than large cholesterol particles.48 Dr. Richman’s preferred phrase for helping people to remember the importance of the number of small particles as opposed to total amount of cholesterol is “The number of cars that cause a traffic jam is not related to the number of people in the cars.”

Prevention Of Blood Vessel Aging

Valentin Fuster, MD, (Professor, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, New York) asked if aging can be prevented—in particular, aging of blood vessels. The extensive shortening of telomeres that cap the ends of chromosomes causes cells to stop dividing (become senescent). In white blood cells, telomeres shorten about 6 to 9% per decade.49 Senescence of the cells that line blood vessels (endothelial cells) causes them to more readily bind to cells (monocytes) that contribute to atherosclerosis.49 Age-related decline in the supply of stem cells is observed in blood vessels which might ultimately lead to age-related atherosclerosis.49 In addition, aging leads to an increasing deposition of calcium in blood vessels and is associated with a reduction in bone mineral density.50 Blood vessel calcification causes kidney disease.50,5l It is a misconception that rupture of atherosclerotic plaques is usually a fatal event. Plaques frequently rupture in the absence of clinical symptoms.52 What can be fatal is repeated ruptures leading to increasing risk for blood vessel occlusion and eventually to clots that block the blood vessels completely.52

Chelation Therapy For Cardiovascular Disease

Chelation Therapy For Cardiovascular Disease  

Gervasio Lamas, MD, (Chairman of Medicine, Mount Sinai Medical Center, Miami Beach, Florida) reported on his clinical trial showing a reduction in cardiovascular disease in patients receiving intravenous chelation therapy with disodium EDTA (ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid).53

Chelation is a controversial intravenous therapy that removes metal ions such as calcium, lead, zinc, cadmium, arsenic, iron, and more from the blood stream.53,54 Some of these metals are toxic, whereas others are essential for health and survival. The claim that chelation could remove calcium from atherosclerotic plaques makes no sense insofar as EDTA is water soluble and cannot cross cell membranes,55 but removal of toxic metals could be beneficial for other reasons. Chelation therapy must be done slowly, because when done too rapidly blood calcium levels can become so low as to cause death.56

Dr. Lamas’ study was criticized because the chelation therapy infusion mixture needed to be made locally (shortly before administration), because so many of the testing centers practiced alternative medicine (including chelation therapy), and because so many more patients in the placebo group than in the chelation group withdrew from the study, leading to suspicion that many patients had discovered that they were being given a placebo.57

A follow-up analysis of the chelation clinical trial by Dr. Lamas’ team showed considerably greater benefit for heart attack patients in the trial who were diabetic compared to those who were not diabetic.58 It is plausible that chelation therapy could be particularly beneficial for diabetics due to the fact that it most likely inhibits the formation of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), which are responsible for many of the health problems associated with diabetes.59 At the conference, Dr. Lamas suggested that his study was not being given the credibility it deserved because of a bias of his critics against chelation therapy. But both of his publications of his study concluded that the results do not justify routine use of chelation therapy, and that further research is required.53,58

Fish And Mercury Toxicity In Cardiovascular Disease


Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, (Associate Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts) has researched the benefits and hazards of consuming fish. The main omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and DPA (docasapentaenoic acid).60 Omega-3 fatty acids provide multiple health benefits as they are incorporated into cell membranes, modulating the function of enzymes, receptors, and ion-channels embedded in the cell membranes.61,62 The omega-3 fatty acids also modify gene expression to reduce inflammation and improve lipid metabolism.61

DHA is incorporated into the membranes of heart muscle cells five to 10 times more than EPA (DPA is also incorporated more than EPA),63 which could also be relevant in explaining why DHA was associated with a lower risk of certain arrhythmias.61 But EPA and DPA are much more effective than DHA in reducing inflammatory protein (C-reactive protein) and the clotting factor fibrinogen.61 And DPA most strongly reduced death from stroke.64

The toxic metal mercury in fish is a concern, especially for pregnant women, but mercury intake can be reduced by eating small, short-lived species rather than larger, predatory, long-lived species (such as swordfish).65 Fish oil from supplements rather than from fish reduces mercury ingestion because mercury is tightly bound to the protein in the meat.66 Dr. Mozaffarian reports the cardiovascular benefits of fish consumption outweigh the risks,63,67 but he did not elaborate on the toxic effects of fish mercury on the nervous system, immune function, reproduction, or cancer.68

Benefits Of Chocolate (Cocoa)

In a separate lecture, Dr. Mozaffarian discussed the cardiovascular benefits of chocolate (cocoa). Cocoa, which is rich in flavonoids, has been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure, insulin resistance, endothelial dysfunction, and fats in the bloodstream.69 A study of subjects fed dark chocolate (containing cocoa) or white chocolate (no cocoa) for 18 weeks showed a small, but significant reduction in blood pressure for the dark chocolate group, but not for the white chocolate group.70 An analysis of several studies showed that the highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37% reduction in cardiovascular disease, and a 29% reduction in stroke compared with the lowest levels of consumption.71 Despite the sugar and fat content of chocolate, reduced insulin resistance and reduced serum insulin levels were associated with chocolate consumption.72 The flavanol epicatechin is believed to be the main source of benefit.72

Hazards Of Processed Meat And Red Meat


Natalie Castro-Romero, RD, (Chief Dietitian, Baptist Health South Florida, Miami, Florida) cited one study that showed slightly increased death rates for both cancer and cardiovascular disease resulting from the consumption of both processed meat and red meat.73 However, another study showed that consumption of processed meat, but not red meat, is associated with a higher incidence of coronary heart disease (42% higher), and diabetes (19% higher).74 Processed meat does not contain more saturated fat, cholesterol, or iron than red meat, but processed meat does contain more sodium and nitrate preservative.74

Subclinical Thyroid Disease And Cardiovascular Disease

Subclinical Thyroid Disease And Cardiovascular Disease 

Irwin Klein, MD, (Professor of Medicine, New York School of Medicine, New York City, New York) spoke of the impact of subclinical hypothyroidism and subclinical hyperthyroidism on cardiovascular disease. These conditions are called subclinical because they are detected in blood tests, but don’t necessarily manifest the clinical symptoms of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.

High levels of thyroid hormone affect the cardiovascular system by increasing heart rate, lowering vascular resistance, and increasing blood volume, whereas low levels of thyroid hormone have the opposite effect.75 There is controversy about whether patients with subclinical thyroid disease should be treated. But there is more certainty about certain classes of patients. Treatment is recommended for elderly patients having subclinical hyperthyroidism because of the risk of atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeats in the upper chambers of the heart).76 Treatment is also recommended for pregnant women because of the risk to the mother and/or fetus.76-78

As people age, there is an increasing incidence of subclinical hypothyroidism. But in the elderly (older than 85 years), subclinical hypothyroidism is protective against cardiovascular disease, whereas for the young and middle-aged, subclinical hypothyroidism increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.79 The risk of treating subclinical hypothyroidism is that thyroid hormone dosage and blood levels must be frequently monitored. Overdosing occurs in about 20% of patients, leading to atrial fibrillation, cardiac dysfunction, and reduced bone mineral density.80

Medications To Control Blood Cholesterol


Peter Toth, MD, PhD, (Professor of Clinical Medicine, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan) said that blood levels of non-HDL cholesterol are a better indicator of cardiovascular disease risk than is LDL cholesterol.81

Conventional wisdom holds that LDL cholesterol is bad and HDL cholesterol is good in terms of heart disease risk. But this simple description overlooks other forms of cholesterol, such as VLDL (very low density lipoprotein).82 Only HDL cholesterol reduces cardiovascular disease risk, whereas the other forms of cholesterol are all harmful―with VLDL being more harmful than LDL.81 Combining a statin (which lowers synthesis of non-HDL cholesterols) with an agent that lowers absorption of cholesterol from the intestine (ezetimibe) results in greater reductions of non-HDL cholesterols, and greater increase in HDL cholesterol than statin alone.83 Although niacin can raise HDL cholesterol, addition of niacin to statin therapy showed no additional benefit.84

Medications Against Cardiovascular Death From Type II Diabetes


Henry Ginsberg, MD, (Professor of Medicine, Columbia University Medical Center, New York City, New York) said that the vast majority of people with type II diabetes are obese,85 but that the vast majority of obese people do not have type II diabetes.86 He also supported the view that insulin resistance cannot be separated from type II diabetes or metabolic syndrome.87,88

A 40-year-old patient newly diagnosed with type II diabetes has a life expectancy that is eight years less than that of the general population, largely due to early death from cardiovascular disease.87 Administration of the drug pioglitazone (Actos® ) to type II diabetes patients significantly reduces all-cause mortality, non-fatal heart attacks, and strokes.89 Pioglitazone is a PPAR-ˠ ( peroxizome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma) activator which reduces various inflammatory markers.89 He cited a study showing that for patients at risk of developing diabetes due to high blood glucose, the blood glucose-lowering drug metformin reduced the incidence of diabetes by 31%, whereas lifestyle intervention (weight loss and physical activity) reduced the incidence by 58%.90

Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) affects up to 20 to 30% of the general population, and up to three-quarters of those have insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome.91 For type II diabetes patients who lost 8% of their body weight over a 12-month period, there was a significant reduction of NAFLD.91

Concluding Remarks

Although the above report only includes approximately half the speakers at the Cardiovascular Disease Prevention International Symposium, I believe it provides a good coverage of the flavor and highlights of the presentations. It was inspiring to be with so many medical professionals seeking to prevent disease, rather than to simply treat disease.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Health Advisor at 1-866-864-3027.