What You Need to Know to Prevent Heart Disease

What do rheumatoid arthritis, gastrointestinal disease, toxins, hormones and low vitamin D have in common with heart disease? They can all cause heart disease! These very issues may explain why people who “looked” healthy have had a heart attack or stroke.

Cardiovascular disease is a major progressive lifelong disease affecting the lives of one out of two men and one of three women. While cardiac events typically occur at about age 55 in men and 65 in women, the disease begins silently in adolescence and slowly progresses in middle age. Childhood obesity and the younger generation’s sedentary lifestyle make it necessary for children to have their cholesterol, lipids and blood pressure checked.

But preventing heart disease requires much more than simply screening for high cholesterol. In fact, 50% of heart attack victims have normal cholesterol levels. Elevated cholesterol and high blood glucose are obvious factors in obesity, diabetes and heart disease, but they’re hardly the whole picture.


Frequently prescribed pharmaceuticals like statins can increase the risk of diabetes by 48%, and diabetics have a 78% increased risk of heart disease! While drugs like Avandia (rosiglitazone)—the nation’s best-selling diabetes medication—may be effective for advanced diabetes, they are not cures and often cause substantial side effects. Since 1999, upwards of 47,000 cardiac deaths have been associated with Avandia complications.


While genes are cardiac risk factors in 20% of cases, 80% of cases are dependent on lifestyle and environment. Almost all CVD is directly related to inflammation, the direct result of obesity, poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyle and stress.

Cholesterol is not the problem. Inflammation creates the plaques that cause atherosclerosis and heart disease. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis have a 59% increased risk of dying from a heart attack compared to the general population and a 52% increased risk of stroke death.

Gastrointestinal Disease

Food allergies, gastrointestinal infections, gluten sensitivity and irritable bowel syndrome are inflammatory diseases, so it’s not surprising that these conditions also increase the risk of cardiac disease.


Tulane University’s Dr. Andy Menke notes that even miniscule lead exposure (2 mcg/dl) presents a 55% increase in CVD, an 89% increase in heart disease and a 151% increase in strokes! An estimated 39% of the U.S. population has serum levels in that range.

Cardiologist and Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical School Dr. Mark Houston linked mercury toxicity with heart attacks, cardiac arrhythmias, atherosclerosis and kidney problems.

Plastics containing Bisphenol A also increase the risks of CVD, diabetes and liver problems. Putting plastic containers in the microwave or dishwasher tends to dissolve the plastic, leaving us eating harmful plastic-laden meals. Polychlorinated biphenyls and chlorinated pesticides are also associated with diabetes and cardiac problems.

The bottom line is that toxins can cause CVD and increased mortality. Specialized testing can determine your toxic load. Despite the link between toxins and CVD, pharmaceutical companies and physicians maintain a laser focus on cholesterol as if it were the only game in town! Does your cardiologist test for lead or mercury?


The relationship between stress, heart disease and sudden death has been recognized since antiquity. An interesting revelation reported in the Journal of Sexual Medicine (2012) found men can decrease the risk of a heart attack by having sex with their wife rather than a girlfriend.

Autopsy reports in nearly 6,000 sudden-death cases revealed up to 93% of those who died during sex were thought to be engaging in extramarital sex, Baylor College of Medicine’s Professor Glenn Levine reported (Circulation, 2012).

Stress causes an imbalance in the neurotransmitters. Research frequently shows obesity, hypertension, anxiety, metabolic syndrome and insulin-resistance are associated with high levels of norepinephrine, low epinephrine and low cortisol.

All hormones affect heart health. Low testosterone in men increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, chest pain, diabetes and arthritis, while normal levels of testosterone can decrease cholesterol, angina (chest) pain and inflammation, a common cause of CVD, while increasing bone and muscle mass and libido. Normal testosterone levels in both men and women also result in more energy and well-being and less pain. Low thyroid function can also increase cholesterol and hypertension.

A healthy lifestyle with balanced hormones and decreased inflammation can help prevent heart disease. Finding the root cause of inflammation can help you live a heart-healthy life.

Dr. Sharon Norling practices Advanced Functional Medicine in Westlake Village. Call 818.707.9355 or visit DrSharonNorling.com.