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TAKE HEART… There May be a Better Answer

It seems to me that today’s medical science has a learning deficiency. I guess that there are a couple of ways to look at current developments in the whole cholesterol theory of heart disease arena. By now you probably realize that the standards for “acceptable” cholesterol levels were lowered again and again. At least, that is the way that the mainstream media reports it, and unfortunately, that is the way many physicians are reacting to it, even though the standards were really lowered only for those who are “high risk cardio patients,” whatever that means. I have already had people call me telling that that their doctors are increasing their medication dosages to lower their cholesterol more, even though they are not at high risk. The thinking here is that despite medicine’s best efforts at controlling cholesterol, heart disease is still running rampant. So, in their infinite wisdom, the “experts” have decided that, once again, we need to redouble our efforts and get that nasty cholesterol even lower. I say “once again” because the standards were previously lowered a couple of years ago. At that time, the thinking was that if we were able to meet the new standards, then obviously all of our heart attacks would simply disappear. And so, towards that end, millions more were told to eat a low fat, low cholesterol diet. After that effort failed, nearly every one of those millions were then prescribed one of the statin drugs to make their cholesterol fit within the new guidelines, or had their dosages increased if they were already on a statin. So, we can look at this situation as many medical scientists have, and come to the conclusion that because heart disease continues to run rampant that we need to have even lower cholesterol. Or, if we really wanted to sit back and think about it for a second, maybe there is a different conclusion to make. Maybe, if we have tried to lower our cholesterol, and that didn’t change the incidence of cardiovascular disease (in fact, it has risen over that time period) and we have lowered the standards, and that still didn’t make us suffer from heart attacks any less, then maybe, just maybe, cardiovascular disease isn’t really caused by our supposed elevated cholesterol levels! How many more times do the standards have to be lowered, without results, and how many more people have to be on medicine, suffering the often life-changing and sometimes life-threatening side effects, and just how rich do we have to make the drug manufacturers before we will open our eyes and see the truth? Don’t let the “medical establishment” intimidate you into not thinking for yourself. I encourage everyone reading these words to do something that our doctors have discouraged us from doing for many years now… think for yourself. As an impartial jury, look at the evidence and draw your own conclusions. What verdict do you hand down? I’m telling you all of this as a background to introduce a relatively new and not-well-publicized supplement to the market that may just be a much more reasonable answer for the heart attacks that we might suffer from. I think that it is actually possible that this supplement may save lives, including your own. But first, let’s have a little biochemistry primer about a very important function in the body that, when gone wrong, plays a vital role in clogging of the arteries and inducing heart attacks. When you have a cut and blood is “leaking” from your body, there is a process that happens that allows for the formation of a blood clot to stop the blood flow. This is a life-preserving process… truly a miracle of nature. Sometimes these cuts happen inside the body, within the blood vessels, and the same process occurs, again saving your life. Unfortunately, this process can go bad or go on unchecked, which can then directly lead to inappropriate clogging of blood vessels. The clot, also known as a thrombus, forms when platelets and red blood cells clump together. A blood protein called fibrin is the “glue” that holds them together. Fibrin is formed at the site of the clot from a protein that circulates throughout the blood called fibrinogen. There are more than 20 different enzymes that are needed for the formation of a clot, but there is only one enzyme that has the ability to dissolve fibrin (fibrinolytic) and help break up small clots. This enzyme is called Plasmin. Plasmin is formed from plasminogen through the action of another enzyme called tissue plasminogen activator, or TPA. Plasmin is produced in the lining of blood vessels, where its actions are needed. Unfortunately for us, as we age, our production of this thrombolytic enzyme decreases. To make matters worse, fibrinogen levels increase, even in healthy people, as we get older. Furthermore, obesity induces plasmin-inhibiting proteins and there is another blood protein called Lipoprotein-a [Lp(a)] that blocks plasmin. These circumstances together, lower amounts of the enzymes that dissolve clots and higher amounts of the substance that holds clots together, is what leads to the inappropriate formation of clots within our blood vessels. When we get clots in our blood vessels, then oxygen doesn’t get distributed to vital organs like the heart or the brain like it should. Sometimes, the result is a heart attack or a stroke. A major study involving more than 2,100 men found that those who had high LDL cholesterol levels (the thing that our doctors keep telling us has to be lower and lower) but low fibrinogen levels had only one-sixth the heart attack risk of men with high LDL and high fibrinogen levels. Fortunately, even though regular aging tends to diminish our clot-busting capabilities and certain of our habits accelerate this process, nature has provided us with a little help. A researcher at the University of Chicago Medical School discovered that a traditional Japanese food made from fermenting soy called Natto has the ability to dissolve clots. As it turns out, there is an enzyme named Nattokinase that can be taken as a supplement that will dissolve fibrin, the glue that holds together clots. Fibrin also plays a role in the “cross-linking” that occurs to make larger, more stable clots, the ones that end up clogging major blood vessels around the heart and the carotid arteries leading to the brain. Nattokinase helps break these links up too. There has been a fair amount of research done by Dr. Sumi, the scientist who discovered Nattokinase, and others in the past 10 years. Scientifically, Nattokinase has been shown to be absorbed well orally, and shows the same clot-busting effect as really powerful (and really expensive) prescription drugs that are used in the hospitals, if a patient gets there soon enough after a stroke or heart attack. (Interestingly, Nattokinases effect works regardless of how soon after an event it is taken.) One of the first questions I had about this new supplement was about whether or not it might induce abnormal bleeding, or the dissolving of clots that are of the life-saving kind. In essence, would someone taking Nattokinase not be able to make a clot if they cut themselves, or worse? The answer appears to be no. By all appearances, Nattokinase should be thought of as “clot-normalizing,” returning the clotting process back to normal, but not going too far the other way. Still, I would probably be cautious with someone on a blood thinning medicine like Coumadin or Warfarin until further studies have been conducted. With that being said, I think that Nattokinase is an excellent adjunct to all of those people making efforts to lower their cholesterol in order to be healthier as far as their heart and circulation are concerned. As you age, you are more likely to make inappropriate clots that may lead to clogging of the arteries. Being overweight, even a little, tips the scales more towards clotting too much. Anyone that suffers from any sort of chest pain or leg cramps that may be related to circulation is a good candidate to take it. Asking your doctor to check your Lipoprotein-a levels (a simple and inexpensive blood test) is important to do in additional to the traditional cholesterol tests that are done. If the Lp(a) level is elevated, regardless of what your cholesterol is, you would likely benefit from taking Nattokinase. There are several brands available on the market, and you are likely to find more and more over the coming months. Regardless of the milligrams of Nattokinase in the pill, the important thing is the amount of fibrolytic units (fu) in the supplement. A typical dosage would be 1200 to 2000 fibrolytic units once or twice daily. I have some patients who have reported having their angina (chest pain) that they got from exertion go away within a few weeks of starting their Nattokinase therapy. Even though caution is probably wise with using a supplement like this, it seems to me that it makes much more sense than continually trying to lower your cholesterol, when past efforts to lower cholesterol have netted us no gain what-so-ever.
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