Would you be surprised to know that eating a high-fat meal and/or high-sugar meal causes your arteries to not work in a normal manner? Let’s say we start the day with either coffee with cream/sugar and donuts, or same coffee/sugar with eggs and toast with butter/jam. And then for lunch or supper, we eat meals with high-fat meat, bread and butter, a baked potato with sour cream and butter along with an alcoholic drink (or even ice tea with sugar). Then we finish the meal with a nice dessert.
Each of these meals can cause your arteries not to function properly by the end of the meal which could last for several hours!1 If you tend to eat this way, most of the day your arteries are constricted and not dilating normally in response to routine activities. The result, at the very least, is high blood pressure. This problem can be eliminated simply by cutting out the excess saturated fat and sugar, and adding probiotics or cultured foods high in bifidobacteria, in addition to eating plenty of vegetables throughout the day.
The above illustration of the diet-artery connection illustrates just one of the many ways to create a problem known as endothelial dysfunction, a condition that occurs when the cells lining the arteries, veins, and lymphatics don’t work properly.2 There are a multitude of ways to cause the vessels to not dilate or constrict normally, and to cause the lining to leak (let’s call it leaky vessel syndrome). Endothelial dysfunction is a precursor to atherosclerosis.3 Here is a short list of endothelial dysfunction triggers:
1. Smoking, polluted air,4 food, and water5 – All of these create excess free radicals which are a major cause of endothelial dysfunction.
2. High blood sugar and/or high insulin levels – High blood sugar results in glycosylation (think of it like a sticky sugar coating) of the insulin receptor substrate, which eventually leads to an inability of protein kinase B (Akt) to increase endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) enzyme activity, resulting in low nitric oxide (NO) and poor blood vessel function.6
3. Microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites), parts of microbes, and toxins made by microbes migrating from inside the intestinal lumen into the arterial, venous and lymphatic circulation – Microbes and their toxins activate white blood cells and they release bullets (anti-microbial peptides) named alpha-defensins that not only damage the microbes but the endothelial lining as well.
4. Stress – Stress increases cortisol, which can elevate blood sugar and insulin, again sugar coating receptors to result in low NO, and thus, endothelial dysfunction.
5 Aging – Aging decreases stem cells that help with repair processes, increases blood cortisol levels (see number 4), and decreases bifidobacteria levels in the colon. All of this leads to endothelial dysfunction.
6. Increased body fat, especially in abdomen – Even a modest gain of about 8 pounds (which can happen over a vacation) will cause endothelial dysfunction. “In normal-weight healthy young subjects, modest fat gain results in impaired endothelial function, even in the absence of changes in blood pressure. Endothelial function recovers after weight loss. Increased visceral (belly) rather than subcutaneous fat predicts endothelial dysfunction.”4
One of the mechanisms by which fat hurts the arteries is by releasing a cytokine known as resistin. Resistin has been shown to cause oxidative stress and decrease endothelial nitric oxide synthetase (eNOS) which is essential for nitric oxide (NO) production, itself essential for arterial health and function.
7. Physical inactivity – Merely by doing nothing, the process of ongoing free radical activity due to diet, stress and environment, will decrease nitric oxide (our natural vasodilator), superoxide dismutase (our own natural anti-oxidant) and citrate synthetase (the enzyme in our mitochondria involved energy production—essential to a healthy heart / blood vessel function). These natural sources of blood vessel protection return merely by walking briskly on a regular basis.5
8. Diabetes types 1 and 2 – Again, elevated blood sugar and either high or low insulin levels, as are seen in diabetes, will lead to endothelial dysfunction as described above.
9. Drugs which elevate or lower blood sugar and insulin – Many diabetic drugs can cause endothelial dysfunction by not maintaining steady levels of blood sugar and insulin. Insulin itself is one of the worst offenders.
10. Even children receiving second-hand smoke in a household with smokers, begin developing endothelial dysfunction at an early age.
- Rudolph TK, et al., “Acute effects of various fast-food meals on vascular function and cardiovascular disease risk markers: The Hamburg Burger Trial.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Aug;86(2):334-40.
- Endemann DH and Schiffrin EL, “Endothelial dysfunction.” J Am Soc Nephrol. 2004 Aug;15(8):1983-92.
- Davignon J and Ganz P, Role of endothelial dysfunction in atherosclerosis.” Circulation. 2004 Jun 15;109(23 Suppl 1):III27-32.
- Romero-Corral A, et al., “Modest visceral fat gain causes endothelial dysfunction in healthy humans.” J Am Coll Cardiol. 2010 Aug 17;56(8):662-6.
- Suvorava T et al., “Physical activity causes endothelial dysfunction in healthy young mice.” J Am Coll Cardiol. 2004 Sep 15;44(6):1320-7.
- Wautier JL and Schmidt AM, “Protein glycation: a firm link to endothelial dysfunction.” Circ Res. 2004 Aug 6;95(3):233-8.