Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States?
Even if you didn’t know that- you probably do know two important factors that influence heart disease: cholesterol and blood pressure.
There are two types of cholesterol-carrying lipoproteins, HDL (high density lipoproteins) and LDL (low density lipoproteins). A lipoprotein is basically a protein that transports lipids around the body. Our bodies need both HDL and LDL in order to be healthy, but LDL cholesterol is often called the “bad” cholesterol.
The reason LDL gets such a bad rap is because it carries cholesterol throughout the body to the areas that need it. If you have too much LDL in the blood stream cholesterol can start being deposited in the arteries, instead of where they are needed.
Take a look at our buddy below and you will see red colored blood vessels. These blood vessels are called the arteries, while the blue ones are called veins. The red arteries carry the oxygenated blood which is distributed throughout your body. The veins then bring the blood back to the lungs to be re-oxygenated and then back to your heart.
If you have too much LDL those red arteries can have plaque that can cause a blockage. If the plaque blocks off an artery entering the heart (carrying the oxygenated blood) a heart attack may occur. Plus, while that passage remains blocked a section of your heart will be deprived of oxygen and start to die.
What About HDL?
HDL is considered good because it has a greater amount of protein which allows it to literally suck up excess cholesterol. HDL travels around the body collecting this excess cholesterol and then transports it to the liver where it is disposed of.
So How Does a Vegetarian Diet Help?
A change in diet can actually lower LDL while keep HDL cholesterol steady or increasing it. Studies have shown that a good vegetarian diet is a great way to achieve this goal!
An example of this is the EPIC-Oxford study which showed that vegetarians had 14 points lower LDL cholesterol while only 2 points lower HDL cholesterol.
Vegans also had excellent cholesterol levels in this study with the average LDL cholesterol being 49.9 points lower than their meat eating counterparts.
Now, this type of cholesterol drop won’t come from converting to being a vegetarian and then eating high fat and processed foods. It comes from making a commitment to eating clean and healthy foods- giving your body what it wants and needs.
We have talked about the dreaded high cholesterol-but what role does blood pressure play in heart disease?
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is when the force on your blood vessels is too high.
Your blood pressure is measured by two different pressures- your heart when pumping blood and when at rest. .
Imagine a fast flowing narrow river with high walls on either side. If there was a very heavy rain what would happen? It would create more pressure against the narrow rock walls.
On the other hand, if it was a wider river it would flow a bit faster, but it wouldn’t have the same pressure of the narrower river.
This is rough imagery- but essentially, the more blood your heart pumps and the more resistant your vessels are-the higher your blood pressure will be.
Why does this matter?
High force on the walls of your arteries can actually cause tears. Although microscopic, these tears are dangerous in that they become perfect little pockets for particles in the blood stream- such as cholesterol- to get trapped in.
Once trapped, plaque can build up narrowing and hardening your blood vessels-essentially perpetuating the problem. This type of buildup can cause not only plaque blockage, but also blood clots which can be just as dangerous. When a plaque or a blood clot block off a coronary artery a heart attack can occur.
It’s been shown over and over that vegetarians have lower blood pressure than their meat-eating counterparts. Why exactly has yet to be conclusively determined. It could be due to a number of factors including the higher potassium and lower sodium and saturated fat intake or to the lower blood viscosity and BMI that vegetarians commonly have.
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/255644.php http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc/ http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Understanding_Cholesterol.htm http://www.veganhealth.org/articles/dxmarkers#lipids http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/AboutHighBloodPressure/What-is-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_301759_Article.jsp http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/WhyBloodPressureMatters/Heart-and-Artery-Damage-and-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_301823_Article.jsp http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbp/ http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/news/20140224/vegetarian-diet-may-help-lower-blood-pressure-research-suggests http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/03/10/lowering-blood-pressure.aspx