African Americans and Cardiovascular Disease!

African American DoctorCardiovascular disease is the number one killer of people worldwide.  Unfortunately, it’s even worse for the African American community.  There are several reasons for this and hopefully this article will help begin the process of changing this sad reality.   To address these reasons I’ve broken this article into three parts:  The Bad News, Several Underlining Causes, and Steps to Decrease Your Risk! 

The Bad News! 

It’s important for you to understand the depth of cardiovascular disease confronting the African American community.  Below is a brief summary of the ailments that directly affect African Americans:  

  • Diabetes.  Type 2 diabetes has grown to epidemic proportions in the United States.  People with diabetes have a greater risk for stroke, heart disease and circulatory issues.  Most diabetes-related deaths are due to cardiovascular disease.  Twice as many African Americans will develop diabetes when compared to the Caucasian community. 
  • Erectile Dysfunction.  Erectile dysfunction affects 50% of the male population over the age 40 and is even greater in the African American community. 
  • Heart Disease.  African American women in the age range of 25-44 have a 2.5 times greater risk of coronary heart disease and African American men have a 1.5 times greater risk than the Caucasian community. 
  • High Blood Pressure.  The number one risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure, and 1 out of every 3 African Americans suffers from this ailment.  The American Heart Association estimates that 28% of African American adults and more than 66% of African Americans over the age of 60 have high blood pressure.  
  • High Cholesterol Levels.  High blood cholesterol is a significant risk factor for heart disease.  Unfortunately 50% of African American men and 54% of women have too much cholesterol circulating in their blood stream. 
  • Sickle Cell Anemia.  It’s estimated that one in 12 African Americans has sickle cell trait and one out of every 400 births have sickle cell anemia. 
  • Stroke.  African Americans are twice as likely to die from a stroke as Caucasians.  The rate of having their first stroke is almost doubled that of Caucasians.  One half of all African American women will die from either a stroke or heart disease.  For those with sickle cell anemia, 11% will have experienced a stroke by the age of 20.  

That’s quite a list of ailments affecting African Americans.  If you look closely at all seven health issues you will see that the common denominator is your cardiovascular system.     

The key for reducing your health risk for these cardiovascular diseases is to make sure your cardiovascular system is as healthy as possible.  This article will provide several steps to address this but before we do you need to understand some of the underlining causes of why cardiovascular disease is so prevalent in the African American community. 

Several Underlining Causes! 

Within your cardiovascular system there is one particular essential amino acid, one critical signaling molecule, one critical cellular structure and one detrimental enzyme that directly impact its overall health.  They are: 

  • L-arginine – Key Essential Amino Acid
  • Nitric Oxide – Key Signaling Molecule
  • Endothelial Cells – Key Cellular Structure
  • Arginase – Key Detrimental Enzyme 

The first three keys of L-arginine, nitric oxide and endothelial cells are interrelated so we will examine them as a whole.  The endothelial cells form the interior lining of all your blood vessels.  These cells ultimately determine your cardiovascular health.  One function of these endothelial cells is to take the essential amino acid L-arginine and convert it into the signaling molecule nitric oxide.  Very simply, you couldn’t live without nitric oxide! 

Nitric oxide is the master signaling molecule of the cardiovascular system.  It regulates blood vessel tone and flexibility.  Its production is completely dependent upon the health of your endothelial cells and an adequate supply of the essential amino acid L-arginine.  Here are some of the benefits of nitric oxide: 

  • Nitric oxide regulates the muscle tone of blood vessels to have a major impact on controlling blood pressure.  This directly relates to high blood pressure.
  • Nitric oxide causes penile erections by dilating blood vessels.  This directly relates to erectile dysfunction.
  • Nitric oxide prevents blood platelet cells from grouping together in a clot.  This minimizes blockages in the blood vessels to reduce the risk for heart attacks, strokes and complications from sickle cell anemia.
  • Nitric oxide promotes vascular reparative mechanisms and is one of the keys to reversing atherosclerosis.  This helps to reduce the damage caused by high cholesterol levels and assists in preventing the vascular complications of diabetes. 

Nitric oxide is literally involved in all cells to help keep you fit and healthy.  It’s important to understand that this interrelationship between the endothelial cells, L-arginine and nitric oxide production is common for all races.  

What is not common is a genetic polymorphism inherent to the African American population.  This genetic polymorphism causes African Americans to have higher levels of an enzyme called arginase in their blood stream.  Arginase destroys L-arginine which is the main ingredient for creating nitric oxide in the body. 

For the African American community, nitric oxide production is compromised on both sides of the equation!

On the front end, the enzyme arginase destroys L-arginine which interferes with the production of nitric oxide.  On the back end, the health of your endothelial cells determines how much of the remaining L-arginine can be converted to nitric oxide.  Unfortunately, your endothelial cells are damaged by high blood pressure, high sugar levels, high cholesterol, smoking, and oxidative stress.  This damage reduces the production of nitric oxide which compounds the problem and increases the risk for cardiovascular disease. 

Steps to Decrease Your Risk! 

Given the above information there are several important steps to decreasing your risk for cardiovascular disease.      

Step 1 – Monitor your blood pressure.  High blood pressure damages your endothelial cells.  If you do not know what your blood pressure is then you need to go to your doctor’s office, local pharmacy or health clinic and get your blood pressure taken.  If you have high blood pressure, then you need to take steps to bring it back into a normal range.  This is your first and most important step.  It’s so important that the Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program was established to exclusively address the issue of high blood pressure on a national level.  For more information on participating barbershops, go to http://www.blackbarbershop.org/ .

Step 2 – Monitor your blood sugar and cholesterol levels.  High sugar and cholesterol levels damage your endothelial cells.  Diet is extremely important for both of these areas.  One simple but highly effective step to stabilize your blood sugar levels and help your body naturally reduce its cholesterol levels is to increase your fiber intake.  Including dry beans or legumes into your diet is a quick and delicious way to increase your fiber intake. In fact studies have shown that consuming dry beans four times or more per week, compared with less than once a week, lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease by 22 percent. 

Step 3 – Stop smoking!  Smoking damages your endothelial cells.  This is a nasty habit that is extremely hard to break.  Part of the process is having a motivation greater than the habit.  

If your very life isn’t motivation enough, then maybe for the men your sex life is! 

Your endothelial cells control your nitric oxide production.  Your nitric oxide levels control an erection.  No nitric oxide no sex!  Every puff on your cigarette is destroying your endothelial cells which lowers your nitric oxide level and reduces your chances of having good sex.  

Step 4 – Increase L-arginine intake!  In addition to protecting your endothelial cells, you need to get an adequate intake of the essential amino acid L-arginine which is found in foods like milk, cheese, yogurt, meat, and other protein sources.  Most people take in enough L-arginine to meet basic bodily needs.  However, when your diet is poor and/or your stress level is high, then this essential amino acid will be lacking.  Couple this with the enzyme arginase that destroys L-arginine and the potential risk for cardiovascular disease is increased. 

Step 5 – Use L-citrulline to bypass Arginase!  Your body will convert the amino acid L-citrulline into L-arginine to help maintain its production of nitric oxide.  This process also helps to bypass the arginase enzyme since it has no effect on L-citrulline.  Having a good supply of L-citrulline provides the body with a 24 to 36 hour window in the production of nitric oxide.  This is important for all population groups but it’s critically important for African Americans especially those with sickle cell anemia.  Unfortunately, L-citrulline is not prevalent in most foods we eat.  Thus, supplementation is usually required. 

Step 6 – Consider ProArgi-9 Plus!  There is a clinically proven nutritional supplement called ProArgi-9 Plus which has the ability to bring in the proper balance of L-arginine and L-citrulline.  This product also combines other heart healthy ingredients to significantly improve the health of the endothelial cells and their ability to properly produce nitric oxide.  The most recent validation for this product is the remarkable results obtain for 33 congestive heart failure patients in the High Desert Heart Institute study.  

Conclusion

You have the power to directly improve the health of your endothelial cells to significantly reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease.  And, for those with sickle cell anemia, you can help to reduce your symptoms.  It all centers on helping your endothelial cells function optimally, with an above average supply of L-arginine, and a way to bypass the arginase enzyme so that nitric oxide is properly produced.  Improved production of nitric oxide is critical to helping African Americans decrease their risk for cardiovascular disease!

Together we can work to save a million lives! 

Dan Hammer 

Dan Hammer has a background in biology, chemistry and exercise physiology.  He used to run one of the largest health club operations in the Chicagoland area and has been helping people with their wellness issues for more than 25 years.   
The information contained in this article is for general information purposes only and never as a substitute for professional medical advice or medical exam.  The information contain in this article has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease without the supervision of a qualified medical doctor.

Fiber and Cholesterol Reduction!

Lady and AppleCholesterol reduction through the use of statin drugs has become a big and profitable business for the pharmaceutical industry.  As more and more people have opted for a pill to help control their cholesterol levels fewer people are using fiber as their first line of defense.  If you read my blog post http://no-more-heart-disease.com/cholesterol-and-statin-drugs/“Cholesterol and Statin Drugs – Happily Married or Headed for Divorce?”[/intlink] you know that these types of drugs are not without risks.   

So why has the use of fiber declined?  For most people compliance is the issue!

This post will provide you with 3 effective steps that can help increase your fiber intake to help in cholesterol reduction!   

Background Information!

According to the American Heart Association, http://no-more-heart-disease.com/cholesterol/high cholesterol levels[/intlink] are a major risk factor for the cardiovascular disease atherosclerosis which increases the risk for heart attacks and stroke.  The main contributing factor to this problem is LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol which is commonly called “BAD” cholesterol.  Over 100 million Americans have cholesterol levels that exceed the recommended level with 20 percent of these considered in the high category.  

Soluble fiber has been clinically shown to reduce LDL cholesterol.  The typical American diet has somewhere between 5-14 grams of dietary fiber per day.  In 2002, the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences Research Council issued Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for fiber.  For males between the ages of 19-50 it is 38 grams of fiber per day.  For women in the same age category it is 25 grams of fiber per day.  If your age is greater than 50, then the amount of fiber decreases to 30 grams for men and 21 grams for women.  At best the typical American is only getting 50% of the needed fiber in their diet.   

What is Dietary Fiber?

Dietary fiber is found only in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, nuts, and legumes (dried beans, lentils and peas).  Although there are several forms of fiber, they are usually classified into two groups: 

  • Soluble fiber can dissolve in water to form a gel-like substance in the digestive tract.  This soluble fiber is beneficial in lowering the “BAD” cholesterol.  Clinical studies have shown that diets containing 10 to 25 grams of soluble fiber per day can lower LDL cholesterol by 18%.  Sources of good soluble fiber include oats, peas, beans, apples, and citrus fruits.  Typically one serving of any of these foods will provide about one to three grams of soluble fiber.
  • Insoluble fiber cannot dissolve in water so it passes through the digestive tract relatively unchanged.  This insoluble fiber helps to make your stools softer and bulkier and speeds elimination.  Sources of insoluble fiber would include whole-grain foods, wheat bran, most vegetables and fruit with skin.  

Typically, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables contain just as much fiber as raw ones.  However, some types of refining processes may reduce the fiber content.  Current food labeling requires the amount of dietary fiber to be listed.  It is listed just below the “Total Carbohydrate” portion of the Nutrition Facts section of the product label.  For a manufacturer to make fiber claims it must meet the following guidelines: 

  • High Fiber:  5 grams or more per serving
  • Good Source of Fiber:  2.5 – 4.9 grams per serving
  • More or Added Fiber:  At least 2.5 grams more per serving than the reference food  

How Fiber Decreases Cholesterol Naturally!

One of the ways the body eliminates cholesterol is through the excretion of bile acids.  Water-soluble fiber such as pectin and fiber found in rolled oats helps to bind these bile acids so that they are not reabsorbed in the intestines.  This forces the liver to make new bile salts.  To do so the liver increases its production of LDL receptors.  These receptors then pull LDL cholesterol out of the bloodstream.  The more bile salts the liver has to make the greater the amount of LDL cholesterol pulled from the blood.  By increasing your fiber intake you increase the amount of fiber available to bind these bile acids to speed this natural cholesterol reduction method.  

Soluble fiber also seems to have a secondary method for cholesterol reduction.  Although this method is not completely understood it seems that the fermentation of soluble fiber in the large intestines produces several short-chain fatty acids.  One of these fatty acids will travel to your liver to tell it to produce less cholesterol.  

3 Simple Steps to Increasing Your Fiber Intake!

When most people hear the concept of increasing their fiber intake they immediately think about eating multigrain breads and a lot of lettuce.  This is not what their culinary taste buds are going to get excited about.  Plus, it’s not the most effective way to increase your fiber intake.  

The following 3 steps are realistic so that everyone can achieve the goal of increased fiber intake and be able to do it long term.  These steps will help improve your overall health and have the potential to be an effective strategy for cholesterol reduction. 

Step 1- Examine Your Diet.  You like bread, cereal, pasta, rice, and maybe a vegetable.  By making some simple changes you could drastically increase your fiber intake while still enjoying your same meals. 

  • Bread:  1 slice of white bread has .6 grams of fiber where as 1 slice of whole-wheat bread has 1.9 grams of fiber.  Figuring two slices of bread for your sandwich, you just increased your fiber intake from 1.2 grams to 3.8 grams.  For a creative change to the normal sandwich try Flatout Wraps.  Their Harvest Wheat has 5 grams of fiber per wrap and some of their wraps can go as high as 9 grams of fiber.  Go to http://www.flatoutbread.com/ for recipes and store locations.
  • Cereal:  Maybe you’re a Wheaties type of person which has 2 grams of fiber per 1 cup serving.  By switching to 100% All Bran you just increased you fiber intake to 17.6 grams of fiber.  Too much fiber and not enough taste than try Raisin Bran at 5 grams per 1 cup serving. 
  • Pasta:  1 cup of uncooked pasta typically has 2 grams of fiber.  Switching to 1 cup of Barilla PLUS pasta and your fiber intake increased to 7 grams of fiber.  Add a ½ cup of tomato sauce on top and you added another 3 grams of fiber.  What would have been a “5 grams of fiber” meal has now become “10 grams of fiber” with no loss in taste.  For more information about recipes and store locations go to http://www.barillaus.com/ .
  • Rice:  1 cup of cooked white rice is 2 grams of fiber.  Switching to 1 cup of cooked brown rice and you’re at 5.5 grams of fiber. 
  • Vegetable:  Some people think they need to add broccoli or cauliflower to their meal to increase their fiber and it turns them off.  Broccoli has 3.0 grams of fiber per cup, cauliflower only has 2.5 grams of fiber per cup.  Switching to 1 cup of corn gives you 4.0 grams of fiber, 1 cup of green beans is 4.2 grams of fiber, and 1 cup of peas is 7.0 grams of fiber.  Instead of having a salad which has 1 cup of iceberg lettuce at .7 grams of fiber you could skip the salad and add a vegetable that gives you 8 times the value in fiber. 

Step 2- Add Fiber.  There are a couple of simple ways to add fiber to your daily intake of food without adding loads of calories.  This helps control your weight which can also be a factor in cholesterol reduction. 

  • Breakfast:  A medium banana added to the top of your cereal is 3 grams of fiber.  A cup of strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries would range from 3.3 to 4.5 grams of fiber.   
  • Snack:  Instead of going to the vending machine for a candy bar or bag of chips why not eat a medium pear at 88 calories and 5 grams of fiber or a large apple at 90 calories and 4.5 grams of fiber.   
  • Meal:  Maybe it’s time to try some new additions to your meal like 1 cup of lentils or black beans at 15 grams of fiber, baked beans at 10.4 grams of fiber, 1 medium baked potato with the skin at 5.0 grams of fiber, or a sweet potato without the skin at 5.5 grams of fiber. 

By incorporating some of the changes and additions we’ve looked at you could see the following improvements in your overall fiber intake: 

  • A breakfast of cereal and toast could go from 1 to 3 grams of fiber to 9 to 21 grams of fiber. 
  • A mid-morning snack could go from 1 gram of fiber to 4 to 5 grams of fiber. 
  • A sandwich at lunch could go from 1 to 3 grams of fiber to 4 to 15 grams of fiber. 
  • A mid-afternoon snack could go from 1 gram of fiber to 4 to 5 grams of fiber. 
  • A dinner meal could go from 5 to 7 grams of fiber to 9 to 15 grams of fiber.  

Just by making some simple changes in your food selection you could go from 9-15 grams of fiber to 30-61 grams of fiber.  Just think of the impact this would have on your overall health while you are reducing your LDL cholesterol.   

Step 3 – Take a Supplement.  There is some controversy in the use of fiber supplements so I add this step with caution.  If you are not willing to make the simple changes I have outlined in Steps 1 & 2, then talk with a qualified physician who can give you some guidance in this area.  Typically, one tablespoon of an over-the-counter fiber supplement has 15 grams of fiber.  Most people take their supplement at night after their evening meal.  

Supplements are not meant to be used as a laxative which is where most of the controversy occurs.  They are only meant to be used as a supplement for those who are not getting the proper amount of fiber from their diet.

Two Important Notes!

Proper water intake is fundamental to this whole process of fiber intake.  On the one hand, fiber can be extremely useful in preventing constipation.  But, fiber taken in the absence of adequate water intake can also be binding to cause severe constipation.  Proper water intake is the number one key to improving your overall health and wellness.

Due to its complexity, laboratory technicians have not yet been able to ascertain the exact fiber content of many foods.  Because of this, you may find discrepancies from one fiber source to another.  Add to the fact that there are varying sizes of fruits and vegetable, as well as growing conditions, and you can begin to understand why there might be some variations in the number of grams of fiber listed for different food items. 

If you are not use to eating high fiber foods then make your changes gradually to allow your body to adjust.  Anyone with a chronic disease should always consult their physician first before they alter their diet. 

As you can see, increasing your fiber intake can have a positive effect on cholesterol reduction.  With guidance, and using some simple steps to incorporate more fiber into your diet, you can get Randy from American Idol to say, “It’s the Bomb, Baby!” 

Together we can work to save a million lives!

Dan Hammer

The information contained in this blog is for general information purposes only and never as a substitute for professional medical advice or medical exam.  The information contain in this blogging website has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease without the supervision of a qualified medical doctor.