Home All About Your Body What Causes Heart Disease? Part 2

What Causes Heart Disease? Part 2

by Erika Nicole Kendall

So. A year and some change ago, this news article appeared:

Heart disease is supposedly a modern affliction, the result of a diet rich in animal fat and too many hours spent on the sofa. But recent discoveries suggest that strokes and heart attacks may have been bedeviling humans for millenia.

Dr. Greg Thomas is part of a team of scientists that recently discovered the earliest known case of atherosclerosis — clogged arteries — in ancient Egyptian mummies. The startling findings mean scientists may not understand heart disease as well as they think they do.

Thomas tells Weekend All Things Considered host Linda Wertheimer that his team began by running mummies through a CT scanner.

“Our hypothesis was that they wouldn’t have [heart disease], because they were active, their diet was much different, they didn’t have tobacco,” he says.

But they were wrong.

One of the mummies the team scanned was a princess in her 40s, who presumably ate fresh food and wasn’t sedentary. “That she would have atherosclerosis,” Thomas says, “I think we’re missing a risk factor. Right now we know that high blood pressure, smoking, cholesterol, inactivity and other things cause athersosclerosis, but I think that we’re less complete than we think.”

Ancient Egyptians did have access to meat, though Thomas says their diet consisted mostly of grains, fruits and vegetables.

and commenters were asking me why I said I’d presume that the paleo and gluten-free teams would be cheering on the field.Well, in the current cover story for the August 2013 National Geographic, you’ll find this:

[…] fat makes up a smaller portion of the American diet than it did 20 years ago. Yet the portion of America that is obese has only grown larger. The primary reason, says Johnson, along with other experts, is sugar, and in particular fructose. Sucrose, or table sugar, is composed of equal amounts of glucose and fructose, the latter being the kind of sugar you find naturally in fruit. It’s also what gives table sugar its yummy sweetness. (High-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, is also a mix of fructose and glucose—about 55 percent and 45 percent in soft drinks. The impact on health of sucrose and HFCS appears to be similar.) Johnson explained to me that although glucose is metabolized by cells all through your body, fructose is processed primarily in the liver. If you eat too much in quickly digested forms like soft drinks and candy, your liver breaks down the fructose and produces fats called triglycerides.

Some of these fats stay in the liver, which over long exposure can turn fatty and dysfunctional. But a lot of the triglycerides are pushed out into the blood too. Over time, blood pressure goes up, and tissues become progressively more resistant to insulin. The pancreas responds by pouring out more insulin, trying to keep things in check. Eventually a condition known as metabolic syndrome kicks in, characterized by obesity, especially around the waist; high blood pressure; and other metabolic changes that, if not checked, can lead to type 2 diabetes, with a heightened danger of heart attack thrown in for good measure. [source]

Now, your girl has mad questions. And, by questions, I mean “gaslighting to set fire to.”

1) Pardon me if I’m wrong, but is this…

“If you eat too much in quickly digested forms like soft drinks and candy, your liver breaks down the fructose and produces fats called triglycerides. Some of these fats stay in the liver, which over long exposure can turn fatty and dysfunctional. But a lot of the triglycerides are pushed out into the blood too.”

…not the definition of what causes high blood pressure? It’s not merely a coincidental thing, like this might imply…it’s the actual cause, no? An excess of triglycerides in the blood? So, basically, when we were told that the excess of fat was the “primary” cause of high blood pressure, that was “well, [dietary] fat begets fat” again, right?

Okay.

2) The liver is the detoxifier, right?

WebMD answers:

“The liver’s main job is to filter the blood coming from the digestive tract, before passing it to the rest of the body. The liver also detoxifies chemicals and metabolizes drugs. As it does so, the liver secretes bile that ends up back in the intestines. The liver also makes proteins important for blood clotting and other functions.”

Anything that the body cannot make use of in other ways are sent to the liver, where they’re converted to fat, right? I mean, that’s what the body does with fructose, the largely unusable form of sugar found in processed food [mostly by way of high fructose corn syrup], right?

Could this same thought pattern not apply to the additives and preservatives in processed food? The prevalence of these additives and preservatives in the food, would this not cause an overflow of unusable chemicals in the body?

And, because of the excess preservatives and other chemicals in processed food… is that converted to fat in the body, left to produce these same triglycerides?

3) To go back to my initial statement that the paleo and gluten-free types would feel a bit vindicated, here… those are two particular lifestyles that not only shun sugar but also a large number of grains that, as served in their typical processed form, act similarly to sugar in the body once ingested. In fact, Mark’s Daily Apple, a living encyclopedia for all things paleo, talked about this a long time ago. My question now, is…do my original assumptions about fiber and its ability to brunt the effects of sugar in multiple ways still stand? Can fiber both slow you down/fill you up in a way that forces you to eat less sugar? Does it still count that fiber can have a positive effect on the dispensing of sugar in the blood stream?

4) If you read a lot of nutrition articles, you hear a lot about something called “metabolic syndrome,” which is… well, the article spells it out pretty well: it’s the two-piece-and-a-biscuit-combo of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and often comes connected with obesity (insert disclaimer about how we know better.) If both high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes can be brought on by an influx of sugar in the body, all this makes me think about is how many articles I’ve read that talk about how most people who are afflicted with one, also exhibit signs of the other. Or, how the inner city – environments with the smallest amount of money, stuck with the worst qualities of fresh produce and quality protein, if they have any at all – in most states is plagued with dialysis centers because of kidney problems…. the same kind of kidney failure that plagues a little over half of those who suffer from liver problems… liver problems that are largely due to…

…am I taking this too far? Am I losing it?

There is a lot of gold in this NatGeo article, and I’d sincerely recommend reading the full thing in its entirety. I’m going to bring it up again, just because there’s another really meaningful parallel I want to share.

But really… I need to reflect on this. Help, please.

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8 comments

Alana August 22, 2013 - 3:29 AM

Could this same thought pattern not apply to the additives and preservatives in processed food? The prevalence of these additives and preservatives in the food, would this not cause an overflow of unusable chemicals in the body?

Excerpted from What Causes Heart Disease? Part 2 | A Black Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss

That is certainly true: I expect those born in the late 8’s and consuming processed food to have horrible rotten livers by the time they’re fifty or sixty. Whether or not the chemicals are converted to triglycerides depends on their chemical composition.

I’m not sure of the connection between the kidneys and the liver: I’d have to refresh my memory. But you are definitely on to something. Carbs are converted to “sugar” by the body, no question.

Of note: I believe the author of Wheat Belly uses the incidence of clogged arteries in the Egyptian Mummies as “proof” that a grain based diet is eviiil and baaaaad.

I am going to go and read your linked article on fiber (and then get my beauty sleep 🙂

Erika Nicole Kendall August 22, 2013 - 10:08 AM

Regarding the liver failure-kidney (renal) failure connection:

“Renal failure develops in approximately 55% of all patients referred to specialized centres with acute liver failure. The renal failure may be secondary to the liver failure itself (and is termed the hepatorenal syndrome) or the renal failure may be a secondary insult that directly affects both liver and kidney alike (for example paracetamol overdose).” [source]

“Kidney failure. Kidney failure often occurs following liver failure, especially in cases of acetaminophen overdose, which damages both your liver and your kidneys.” [source]

“Renal failure is common, present in more than 50% of ALF patients, either due to original insult such as paracetamol resulting in acute tubular necrosis or from hyperdynamic circulation leading to hepatorenal syndrome or functional renal failure.” [source]

Consider this my mea culpa for not citing that better in the post… I was just ranting because I really flipped my lid when I read that part of the article.

Alana August 22, 2013 - 3:08 PM

No worries. Thanks for the information. I really had no idea they were connected that strongly. Interesting.

I’ve done a lot of reading on the paleo diet and so on in the last six months. I think it was in Lights Out, by T.S. Wiley that I learned about fruit. The fiber does not “protect” us from the “danger” of fructose. (Please forgive the quotation marks, but as you well know, fructose is not dangerous and we don’t need protection from it, quantity and quality matter– not the thing itself.)

It does help us pack on pounds–as, the book argues, it should. In the good ol’ days before adequate heat and food in the winter, we needed those pounds to help us hibernate and keep warm through the long, dark nights. The book is a bit out there in its theories and claims, but its a thought provoking read.

Fruit, as I came to understand it, is best consumed in season, fresh and whole (no juicing) and, even then, sparingly. But still, you are waaay better off having a plum or a banana than a bar of some sort with so called fruit in it.

Erika Nicole Kendall August 22, 2013 - 11:09 PM

“The fiber does not “protect” us from the “danger” of fructose.”

Depends on what you define as “danger,” and what you define as “protection,” IMO.

“It does help us pack on pounds–as, the book argues, it should.”

All food is intended to do this, to some degree.

Kami August 22, 2013 - 9:28 AM

Hey Erika, I love this blog. I will add a another comment later. Sugar is the root to all evil especially high fructose corn syrup and agave nectar. Now my goal is to be sugar free for a month or have it only on holiday but not the refined or highly processed sugar stuff. This stuff is bad for you.
The most important question is about fruit. The nutrients of fruit are important. Even though I love kale , pineapple, mangoes, guineppe and cherries keep me not wanting the processed junk . Does the fiber in fruit have a positive effect on the dispensing of sugar in the blood stream?

Reecie August 22, 2013 - 1:42 PM

the cover pulled me in and that NatGeo article was VERY INFORMATIVE! the history of our diets over centuries and how sugary used to be considered a spice, used sparingly. I learned a lot. I love learning about food in general but there were lots of eye opening gems there.

you’re always on top of these discussions and its why i enjoy your site so much, E! I look forward to reading your parallel piece.

Erika Nicole Kendall August 22, 2013 - 11:04 PM

Thanks, sis. Really appreciate you. <3

Carla Vaughn September 1, 2013 - 8:24 AM

I stumbled across this website when I was researching cheese and the clean eating lifestyle. Every couple of years (for the past 20) I try to pitch this lifestyle to my diabetic husband (my sabotager – LOVED that post!)

This post was so easy to understand that he is FINALLY agreeing to try!

You are obviously an amazing and strong woman! Thank you for taking the time to create such and informative site.

THANK YOU!!

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