Heart attacks, high blood pressure and the threat of stroke or sudden death are a huge fear for many Americans. After decades of being told that eating salt and saturated fat is the cause of heart disease, it still holds the title as the number one cause of death in the USA. Furthermore, cholesterol-lowering drugs have done little to change this situation or to mitigate our fear.  Since the ideas and efforts of modern science have done so little to help in this area, it is of extreme value to look to other medical traditions for guidance.  East Asian Medicine has a deep understanding of the natural function of our bodies and can often describe the reasons for health disruptions more clearly.

To understand all of this better, you must first know what cholesterol is and it’s function in the body.  Many people don’t know what cholesterol is and they only know good vs. bad and that we supposedly ingest excess cholesterol when we eat saturated fats.  This falls on the current medical system because they tend to not explain things very well.  But there’s a much broader picture to cholesterol.

Around 90% of cholesterol in circulation in our blood is produced by our liver. Cholesterol is called “the building block of life” in some western medical literature. This should be interpreted to mean that cholesterol is of great importance. It is the raw material required for the body to create every single cell membrane and every hormone. Healthy cells in all tissues require cholesterol. Hormones are the second global signaling system in the body operating in tandem with the nervous system to regulate all functions. They are really important.  Without cholesterol, you will cease to function.

So it is a questionable assumption that cholesterol, a vital substance produced by the body, is either a mistake or the cause of heart disease. Since it is present in arterial blockages and heart disease, why is it there? This is where another system for understanding how the body works, East Asian Medicine in this case, can provide the answers.
In the case of heart problems, heart attacks are caused when the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become blocked by accumulations that build slowly over time.  These accumulations are known as plaque.  There is some understanding in western medicine that these accumulations are caused by inflammation, but instead of considering the cause of the inflammation, allopathic science has concluded that because cholesterol is present at these sites, IT is the cause of the problem.  This is why the use of statin drugs is the go-to method of treating elevated cholesterol.  Statins are designed to disrupt a chemical pathway in the body to turn off the production of cholesterol by the liver. Turning off this same chemical pathway also turns off the production of sex hormones.  And many men taking these drugs can then become testosterone depleted.

There are two measurements in allopathic medicine that actually do apply to all human beings – body temperature and pH. For all chemical processes to function optimally, both of these are maintained within very close ranges. Although in western science there is no recognition of the “temperature” of blood, it too operates in a very narrow range. Increased temperature of the blood is the cause of heart disease (hint: think inflammation).

As defined by East Asian Medicine, sugar is a heat toxin. This means that it is pure yang energy and very hot. With every American now eating an average of 150 pounds of sugar per year, their blood sugar levels are constantly high.  A heat toxin in the blood means the blood is too hot and the walls of arteries begin to become scorched.  As with any burn on the skin, the body reacts to cool these internal burns. On the exterior, thin fluid is the coldest substance to be mobilized which makes water-filled blisters. On the interior, thick fluid is the coldest substance to be mobilized, cholesterol being the most readily available, forming the accumulations (internal blisters) known as plaque.  As long as the blood is too hot from sugar, this cool, thick fluid continues to be delivered to the site. Cholesterol is therefore our savior because it prevents holes from forming in the walls of our arteries due to the excessive heat.  Unless the heat toxin is withdrawn, it continues to scorch and accumulations continue to grow, eventually blocking the vessel causing a heart attack.

An equal contributor to blood heat is our emotional state.  East Asian Medicine describes that our emotions are contained in our blood.  Heart equals blood equals emotions.  When we are unable to express challenging and difficult emotions, they remain in the blood and, just like sugar, become heat toxins. The same blood vessel damage that occurs when cholesterol comes to the rescue, occurs when emotions are not expressed leading to blood heat.

In today’s world we are faced with a constant barrage of expectations, demands, fear-mongering and rage. We feel helpless in the face of our harsh world with its interpersonal divides driven by technology and politics. We feel anger and frustration about being manipulated and abused by corporations in our consumerism-driven society. We feel fear and sadness about job insecurity and not being valued in our quest to earn a living for our family. And we’ve been taught not to fight back against these challenges, to sit there, be quiet and take it, instead of losing a job. And we find it increasingly challenging to discern fact from fiction, since lying tends to be an accepted part of our power structure. We push down and hold inside all of these feelings and they become hot rage which we still can’t express. This is toxic heat in our blood that can cause heart disease.

Estimates are that 70% to 90% of all heart attacks are experienced by men. It is logical to conclude that this difference is due to the message men have gotten in our culture that they need to be tough, suck it up and not express their feelings. Men feel heartbreak and failure too and when it is not dealt with, it becomes heat in the blood.

Calcification of arteries is another inflammatory condition of the blood vessels. As with cholesterol, the accumulation of calcium is a protective response of the body to damaging heat. As long as the heat is present due to sugar consumption and suppressed emotions, the body continues to contain the damage it inflicts.

Heat is another word for inflammation and / or acidity. There are two medical measurements that confirm heat in the blood. C-reactive protein (cardiac reactive protein) measures a protein released when there is inflammation . A CRP test is a very sensitive gauge of inflammation. Calcium scans are not recognized as inflammation indicators, but the only reason the body would accumulate calcium anywhere other than bone is to cool heat. Why is calcium a cooling agent? Calcium is alkaline. With a pH greater than 7.5, it neutralizes acidic substances with pH less than 6.5. Once again, the body mobilizes the cold substance, calcium, from bone to cool hot (acidic) blood and patch the vessel damage. Both bone loss and an accumulation of calcium in the arteries can be attributed to this process. This is not a mistake.  It is a RESPONSE to try to contain life-threatening damage.

One might then ask, what can be done to minimize the accumulation of both cholesterol and calcium in our blood vessels and lessen our fear of heart and blood vessel disease? There are two areas to pay attention to.

First, your emotional life. Cultivating the ability to express what you currently feel is a key way to move towards expressing old, heat-causing emotions. Journaling is a wonderful way to express your emotions without the messiness of confrontation. This quiet and private realm is a place where we can begin to express feelings to ourselves. This takes practice over time, it does not happen with one day, one week or one month of effort. You are learning a new skill and the more you practice, the easier it becomes. This is a skill for ongoing use in life.  Expression eliminates emotional heat.

The second area of cultivation is your belief system about food.  Allopathic medicine, with its focus on disease rather than  health, has unfortunately taught us to believe that the food we eat does not matter, it is all just calories. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are miraculously and perfectly designed to produce energy from food and oxygen with the efficient processes of digestion and respiration.  We are part of our planet’s biome and are genetically equipped to digest its naturally occurring plants and animals. Food-like substances, those products of industry we call processed food, are fragmented assimilations of whole foods. The body does not just pull calories out of these substances, but instead views them as confusing and toxic. It then wisely reacts to protect us from these toxic substances with its powerful immune system. This reaction is called the inflammatory response. Inflammation is never a mistake.

The closer we adhere to eating food that does not create a protective immune reaction, the less chance there is of calling on the other protective responses of cholesterol and calcium accumulation in our blood vessels. Simply put, a non-inflammatory diet does not include foods that trigger this response.  Items that do incite an inflammatory response include sugar, wheat (in some people), excessive consumption of cold and raw food, animal based milk products and excessively heated delights like chilies and hot sauces.

Learning how to navigate our emotions and our eating habits can be a challenge for many people.  But to make it easier, consider adding in acupuncture and herbs to help dampen the inflammation and drain the heat.  This doesn’t mean that you can still live recklessly.  Dealing with emotions and eating a more body friendly and heart healthy diet, is still necessary.  But using things like acupuncture can help to speed up the healing process and keep your body functioning optimally.  You’ve only got one body and one life, so make the best of it.

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