Atherosclerosis, Hypertension, and LDL

by Dr. Elizabeth Owings, MD "Atherosclerosis is a leading cause of mortality and morbidity in countries which have a 'Westernized' diet and lifestyle. It is a form of arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, and represents the process of arterial damage and disease. The earliest signs may be found in infants if the mother had elevated cholesterol levels or elevated insulin levels. Atherosclerosis is firmly established by late teens. Lifestyle, control over diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, as well as genetic factors, influence how quickly cholesterol plaques are laid down and how stable they are. Generally, the process of atherosclerosis starts with cholesterol collecting in the lining of the blood vessel, and muscle cells grow and multiply in the blood vessel wall, making the vessel tighter and less flexible. Connective tissue components collect in the vessel wall, contributing to stiffness. These processes occur at gradually over decades, and may not even cause symptoms recognized by the individual. Finally, the unstable covering on a cholesterol plaque may rupture suddenly, causing an immediate clot which blocks off blood flow, triggering a heart attack or stroke.i

Atherosclerosis is accelerated by certain disease states, the most widely recognized of which is hypertension. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is generally defined as a blood pressure of over 140/90 on three separate measurements. The management of hypertension is important because hypertension is a risk factor in many other disease states, including heart disease, heart attack, stroke, eye disease, kidney disease and kidney failure.ii Hypertension occurs due to a myriad of factors, but is generally associated with endothelial dysfunction. Endothelial dysfunction may be a precursor of hypertension; or, subsequent to its development, endothelial dysfunction may occur in accelerated form. The endothelium is the name of the lining of blood vessels, and it is arguably the largest organ in the body, lining 100,000 miles of blood vessels and covering roughly a soccer field in surface area. This lining is responsible for producing nitric oxide, which then relaxes the blood vessel, allowing more blood to flow through it and lowering blood pressure. When the endothelium is dysfunctional, it does not respond to the need for blood flow, and the vessel remains in a constricted state. Additionally, this dysfunctional endothelium is more susceptible to cholesterol plaques, and these plaques are more likely to rupture, triggering a local clot, which occurs in most heart attacks and strokes. This clot can even travel to another area of the body. This is how an “ulcerated” plaque in a vessel of the neck can cause a stroke in the brain.

Endothelial dysfunction is worsened by diabetesiii, kidney failureiv, elevated LDL cholesterolv, elevated homocysteine levelsvi, smokingvii, lack of antioxidant consumptionviii, and high salt diet.ix It is endothelial dysfunction which signals the initiation and progression of atherosclerosisx, contributing to worsening high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, and erectile dysfunction.

Endothelial dysfunction, hypertension, oxidative stress, and elevated LDL cholesterol are interrelated factors which may accelerate atherosclerosis. Oxidative stress is a condition in which the natural antioxidants in the body are inadequate to reverse the damage done by free radicals. Free radicals are produced in the body by infection-fighting cells as well as in the natural processes of cell function. Measurable antioxidants in the body include Vitamin C and Vitamin E. In a plant-based raw diet (uncooked vegetables and greens), additional antioxidants are consumed and can augment the body's natural antioxidant systems. A number of supplements can be taken to increase antioxidant systems in the body. A diet high in processed foods (such as refined grains and sugars) creates free radicals and therefor increases oxidative stress. While it is endothelial dysfunction which signals the initiation and progression of atherosclerosis, it is only oxidized LDL cholesterol (ox-LDL) which is added to cholesterol plaquesxixii. Ox-LDL is central to the progression of atherosclerosis, because it directly promotes endothelial injury, attracts and traps specialized blood cells (monocytes) which subsequently form “foam” cells, which are active in plaque growth, smooth muscle overgrowth, and plaque rupture.xiii

Panoxol™, a patented combination of L-arginine, L-citrulline, horse chestnut seed extract, Ginkgo biloba, cayenne pepper, and red yeast rice, provides a novel non-prescription supplement to support the body's natural repair mechanisms. Combined with appropriate blood pressure control, diet, and exercise, this product can be expected to shift the balance toward a state of health. Each ingredient works at multiple points in the progression of endothelial dysfunction and atherosclerotic disease, and the combination is synergistic in effect.

L-arginine is an amino acid, which means it is found in protein, in dilute form. It is the precursor to nitric oxide and the only substrate needed to synthesize nitric oxide. Supplementing the diet with purified L-arginine helps increase nitric oxide levels, thus ameliorating endothelial dysfunction, as well as managing hypertension.xiv

L-Citrulline has been shown to both inhibit arginase (which would turn arginine into uric acid instead of nitric oxide) and to improve arginine stores better than arginine itself. The combination of citrulline and arginine have been shown to reverse endothelial dysfunction.xv In addition, it has been shown that the combination of citrulline and arginine enhances nitric oxide bioavailabilityxvi.

Horse chestnut is best known for improving ankle swelling and shrinking swollen leg veins. It has been shown to protect the endotheliumxvii, and also has an important role in stroke prevention and recovery. Aescin, the active ingredient, has been shown to prevent damaging inflammation and actually downregulates inflammatory genes and upregulates healing genes in a mouse model of stroke.xviii Inflammation is a major factor in the process of atherosclerosis.xix

Cayenne, a potent antioxidantxx which limits oxidative stressxxi, has been shown to improve not only atherosclerosis, but several contributory risk factors, such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.xxii

Red Yeast Rice improves cholesterol profile, as well as diminishing oxidation and limiting the expression of cell adhesion molecules, effectively making the endothelium less 'sticky' and therefore less likely form cholesterol plaque.

Ginkgo biloba is extensively studied. It is recognized as a neuroprotective supplement, protecting the brain from injury in cases of absent or diminished blood flow.xxiii It improves blood flow to the brain in patients who have experienced a hemorrhagic strokexxiv, and has been extensively studied and found helpful in both ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes.xxv In recent randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study of ischemia stroke, Ginkgo biloba administration tripled the likelihood of 4 month improvement to half the original NIHSS score.xxvi Ginkgo has been shown to limit inflammation as well as the insulin resistance so dangerous in the metabolic syndrome and Type II diabetes.xxvii It lessens the endothelial dysfunction caused by ox-LDL.xxviii It decreases atherogenic plaque formation.xxix It prevents the oxidative state.xxx It has been found to be a free-radical scavenger which actually increases microcirculation (in blood vessels too small for surgery or stents) in the elderly.xxxi In a laboratory (in vitro) rat model of atherosclerosis in Type II diabetes, EGb761 was found to be effective against atherosclerosis.xxxii It diminishes the formation of inflammatory “foam” cells.xxxiii xxxiv It decreases ox-LDL-induced oxidative functional damage in endothelial cells.xxxv It is apparent that Ginkgo addresses almost every aspect of atherosclerosis.

Combined with diet high in fresh vegetables, exercise, and appropriate blood pressure control, daily use of Panoxol™ can be expected to improve quality of life and decrease risks of cardiovascular disease."

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