The True Cause of Heart Disease

In All Health Watch, Cognitive Health, Featured Article, Heart and Cardiovascular, Heart Disease

Conventional wisdom tells us that high cholesterol is the cause of heart disease. But Dr. Dwight Lundell is fighting to expose this dangerous mainstream myth.

Dr. Lundell is a pioneer and leading expert in this field. He has enjoyed a long and a distinguished career, leading his peers to new breakthroughs. He spent 25 years as a cardiovascular surgeon and performed over 5,000 heart surgeries.

His experience in cardiovascular and thoracic surgery includes certification by the American Board of Surgery, the American Board of Thoracic Surgery, and the Society of Thoracic Surgeons. He was a pioneer in “Off-Pump” heart surgery, reducing surgical complications and recovery times. He’s in the “Beating Heart Hall of Fame” and has been listed in Phoenix Magazine’s “Top Doctors” for 10 years.

He has been recognized by his peers as a leader and has served as Chief resident at the University of Arizona and Yale University Hospitals. He later served as Chief of Staff and Chief of Surgery.

He was also one of the founding partners of the Lutheran Heart Hospital which became the second largest heart hospital in the U.S.

Dr. Lundell recently agreed to grant us an in-depth and revealing interview about the pioneering work he is currently conducting. It’s our privilege and pleasure to share that exclusive interview with you today.

NHD “Health Watch”: You are the author of a controversial heart-health book called The Great Cholesterol Lie. The book challenges conventional wisdom and accepted medical theories. What’s been the response to this book?

Dr. Lundell: The response to the book has been overwhelming. I regularly correspond with people from around the world who are enjoying better health from the new understandings they gained from learning about inflammation and heart disease.

NHD “Health Watch”: That’s good to hear. It’s a seminal book that charts your professional journey as a cardiac surgeon. And, more importantly, reveals your gradual discovery of the true cause of heart disease.

If you could go back in time to when you were a young cardiac surgeon… what would you tell yourself and would you take a different path?

Dr. Lundell: I was dedicated to treating heart disease and passionate about saving lives. It was my responsibility to provide patients with a second chance.

As a young cardiac surgeon in the 1980s coronary bypass operation was the only effective treatment for people afflicted with severe coronary artery disease. So, as you can imagine, this was a very exciting time. Our ability to help people increased and the risks of surgery decreased as techniques and technology improved.

The scientific consensus at that time was elevated cholesterol levels in the blood cause a gradual deposition of cholesterol in the lumen of the blood vessel so two treatment forces were obvious: lower the levels of cholesterol in the blood or do an operation to detour the blood around the accumulated plaque thus restoring flow and heart function.

Rather than looking at more effective ways to lower blood cholesterol, there was relatively little research going on as to what was causing plaque. Everyone settled on the idea that it was as simple as controlling fat and cholesterol.

Then new research was in part driven by industry and not basic science. As balloon angioplasty emerged as an alternative to open heart surgery, the companies that produce the balloons became concerned by high rates of re-stenosis. They began funding studies to understand exactly what was happening biologically to cause the re-stenosis. (Re-stenosis means a re-narrowing of the artery after angioplasty or a stent has been inserted.)

This stimulated a lot of research and culminated in the seminal article published in 1999 in the New England Journal of Medicine announcing that “atherosclerosis [is] an inflammatory disease.”

NHD “Health Watch”: How did you discover that the true cause of heart disease was inflammation?

Dr. Lundell: I was excited to understand this new research because in the operating room I had observed the classic signs of inflammation around the coronary artery and was very disappointed that surgery, although effective at relieving symptoms and extending life, was not a cure for heart disease.

Many brilliant scientists and university centers continued to do more research that confirmed the basis for coronary disease was chronic inflammation. Sadly the attention was all directed at finding a therapy rather than looking at the cause of chronic inflammation.

Research is hugely expensive and was largely funded by drug companies who were making billions of dollars from the prescriptions for statin drugs.

One of the many side effects of statin drugs is that they seem to have a mild anti- inflammatory effect. Because of the size of the industry and how entrenched the cholesterol theory had become, the focus continues to be on treating everyone with statin drugs rather than understanding the cause and the ability to control chronic inflammation.

The makers of statin drugs have been so skillful at influencing science and controlling public policy that prescribing statins is the standard of care. Anyone questioning or disagreeing with these policies is labeled as a heretic and disregarded.

NHD “Health Watch”: Why were you so convinced inflammation was the culprit? You were so convinced that you made a major life – and career – change based on that conviction.

Dr. Lundell: I knew that I did not have enough influence to change any of the policies or practices from inside mainstream medicine. Taking a lesson from the drug makers with their direct to consumer advertising I decided to write the book and hopefully people would learn and make the changes needed to truly prevent and cure heart disease.

NHD “Health Watch”: You describe inflammation very powerfully in your book as a battleground. Can you give our readers an overview of what inflammation is?

Dr. Lundell: Inflammation truly is a battleground. For most of human history we died because of infection and trauma. Our immune system and our inflammatory systems are designed to aggressively respond to these two challenges.

If we get invaded by bacteria or injured in some way, our immune system recognizes the challenge and marshals all of the body’s resources to respond to defeat the invader and heal the wound.

We all have experienced the classic signs of inflammation: warmth, swelling, redness, and pain. Acute inflammation is the response to acute injuries. Chronic inflammation is the response to chronic smaller injuries and so we do not always get the four classic signs.

NHD “Health Watch”: You’ve taken the bold step to speak out against statin medications. But playing devil’s advocate for a moment… surely there are some situations when statin medications are effective?

Dr. Lundell: Statin medications have proven to be somewhat beneficial to a small group of people; that is a middle aged man with a previous heart attack. They have never been documented to benefit any woman of any age with any condition. They have not been documented to help people who have not had a previous heart attack of any age or gender.

There may be some people who would take great offense at the previous paragraph – especially the makers of Crestor and cardiologists who support treating almost everyone with statin drugs.

They might quote the Jupiter study which was touted as proving Crestor would reduce heart attack rates by almost 50% in otherwise healthy people. Happily, this month in The Archives of Internal Medicine, four peer reviewed articles gave a scathing rebuke to the Jupiter study – the methodology, the conflict of interest by most of the authors, the early termination of the study which almost always provides false results, and the conclusion that statin drugs were beneficial in this population of patients. At last I am getting reinforcements!

NHD “Health Watch”: That’s a good point to make – and you make it well. So, if statin meds aren’t effective, why are they so dangerous?

Dr. Lundell: Statin drugs are dangerous not necessarily because of the side effects which can be disabling or fatal, but because they divert our attention from understanding and preventing heart disease and merely treat it with statins, allowing us to think that this is beneficial.

Even some of the foremost cardiologists in the country who have written extensively about inflammation as the true cause of heart disease offer no solutions except taking statin drugs. $30,000,000,000 in worldwide sales of statin drugs has a lot to do with it.

NHD “Health Watch”: Can you please explain how inflammation is the real cause of heart disease?

Dr. Lundell: Inflammation is the real cause of heart disease because cholesterol would never be retained in the wall of the blood vessel and start causing plaque unless it was consumed by activated white blood cells.

The white blood cells recognize it as an invader because it was either oxidized or changed by having a sugar molecule attached. The biological and biochemical mechanisms demonstrating this have been well established.

NHD “Health Watch”: Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of all this. What is the connection between inflammation, obesity, and heart disease?

Dr. Lundell: To understand the connection between inflammation, obesity, heart disease and degenerative neurological disorders, and to prevent or reverse these conditions, we need to look at the factors that commonly cause chronic inflammation.

Chronic inflammation is our body’s response to chronic injuries, that is, small injuries that occur repeatedly and prevent healing from proceeding.

There’s no doubt that we live in a complicated environment with many chemicals and toxins that can injure us on a daily basis. Some of these can be prevented and some cannot because we must live in our environment.

NHD “Health Watch”: What are the most common factors that damage heart health? And how can we prevent them?

Dr. Lundell: The four most common things that injure us repeatedly and can be changed easily are:

1) The excess consumption of simple carbohydrates and refined grains.

Every time we consume that delicious sweet roll loaded with sugar and flour we raise our blood sugar. Every time we raise our blood sugar to high we injure the delicate lining of our blood vessels. There is no more obvious or sad proof of this than to look at the patients who have type II diabetes that lose kidneys, vision, and limbs and die prematurely of heart disease.

2) The excess consumption of vegetable oils which contain large amounts of omega 6 free fatty acids. We have been advised to avoid all animal fats and consume instead the supposedly healthy polyunsaturated fats from soybeans and corn. We do need some omega 6, but unfortunately we are getting as much as 20-25 times more in our diets. These fatty acids are metabolized into chemicals that cause chronic inflammation.

3) Deficiency in omega 3 three fatty acids from fish. Omega 3 is a very powerful natural anti inflammatory agent documented in extensive medical literature to reduce sudden death from heart attack; stabilize vulnerable plaque; and prevent and reduce Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions. Some 80% of the population of the United States is deficient in omega 3 because we do not eat enough fish or take fish oil supplements.

4) Oxidative stress. This simply means the presence of more free radicals than antioxidants. Oxidative stress has been clearly demonstrated to be detrimental to human health and is associated with multiple degenerative diseases, especially those of the brain and nerves, and is definitely associated with heart disease.

NHD “Health Watch”: How can we stop and reverse inflammation?

Dr. Lundell: To stop and reverse inflammation, we need to change our diets as mentioned above. Increase our consumption of antioxidants especially those from colorful plants. Protein is another critical building block that allows us to make our own antioxidants.

Coffee is the largest single source of antioxidants in the American diet. Since we drink so much of it, a high quality organic coffee such as Asantae Java, which has more antioxidants than any other, is a great choice.

We continually hurt ourselves by consuming added sugar and refined sugars in chips, cookies, baked goods, and other seemingly irresistible snacks we all seem to love.

Avoid vegetable oils as much as possible especially those that are hydrogenated. Recent Meta-analysis clearly demonstrates in very large studies that consumption of dietary cholesterol and saturated fats have no relationship to heart disease.

In Chapter 7 of my book, The Great Cholesterol Lie, there’s a list of essential nutrients and vitamins that work synergistically to combat inflammation. Be sure to get pharmaceutical quality either locally or online. I created a product called HeartShot marketed by Asantae that is a once-daily drink containing all the items listed in the chapter with increased Vitamin D.

NHD “Health Watch”: Do you have any final words of wisdom to share with our readers?

Dr. Lundell: This is a war, a battle against inflammation inside our bodies. It’s a battle zone in our current culture and it’s a war of information that is fought by challenging incorrect philosophies that have made heart disease a terrible epidemic – one that should not exist in the first place.

There’s a cure for heart disease, but let me be clear: I cannot cure heart disease. Only you can. Anyone and everyone who follows the recommendations in my book will be able to save more lives than I ever could as a heart surgeon.

To your health,
Ian's signature
Ian Robinson,
Managing Editor,
NHD “Health Watch”