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LDL Cholesterol, Blood Clots, and the Atkins Diet

Posted Aug 29 2012 6:08pm
The Atkins Diet Fixes the Risks for Heart Disease and Blood Clots

Cholesterol is a hot topic. It’s been that way for many years now. The media, the medical community, the pharmaceutical industry and even nutritionists and dieticians have demonized it to the point to where many believe that getting rid of the cholesterol and saturated fat in our diet will solve all of our health problems.

That theory is why a low-carb diet is often frowned upon by many medical authorities and why those new to low carbing are often confused and misguided about what they should or shouldn’t eat. What tends to empower this theory over others is it has the backing of the U.S. Government. To most people, that makes it sound official. If the government says it’s true, then it must be true. Cholesterol and saturated fats are the demon, not carbohydrates.

The truth is that cutting down on dietary fats and increasing complex carbohydrates doesn’t necessarily lower cholesterol levels, so in walks statins to the rescue. According to these same authorities, statins can save us from the heart disease that a low-fat diet fails to deliver.   

Now, it is true that the more low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol you have running around in your bloodstream the higher the potential for heart attack and coronary artery disease, but the problem of plaque buildup, blockages and the resulting inflammation is far more complex than just lowering dietary fats and upping your complex carbs. While eating more whole grains and less saturated fat might work in theory, it doesn’t work in real life.

Heart disease begins when an artery’s walls suffer repeated injuries. These injuries allow small, dense LDL cholesterol to make its way into the inner lining of the arteries. That sets the stage for heart disease, but it doesn’t actually cause it. Without artery injury, plaque cannot form. The presence of plaque is an attempt by the body to heal itself of the damage.

Arterial injury is thought to occur in a variety of ways:
  • chemical abnormalities in the blood
  • inflammatory stresses involving the immune system
  • high blood pressure
  • tobacco smoke
  • a virus or bacterial infection
  • diabetes

Since many people who turn to a low-carb diet for help with their overweight and obesity have metabolic issues such as pre-diabetes, high blood pressure and inflammation, it’s quite possible that those who are new to low-carb dieting do have damaged arteries and some degree of plaque buildup. In addition, those with metabolic syndrome also experience more LDL cholesterol circulating in their blood, but that isn’t the end of the story.

Depending upon the type of LDL cholesterol involved, high circulating insulin (your basal insulin levels I’ve talked about before) and its accompanying insulin resistance are associated with a high degree of cholesterol synthesis by the liver and decreased cholesterol absorption by body cells.

That isn’t about diet though. The path that actually leads to heart disease requires an immune system response. As long as the LDL particles are not chemically altered or damaged, it doesn’t matter if they tuck themselves into a damaged artery lining in an attempt to heal the injury. The body won’t consider them to be a threat! The body knows what LDL particles are for. Plus, the goal of the body is always to survive. ALWAYS!

There are two ways that LDL particles become chemically altered or damaged:
  1. One way is through oxidation by free radicals.
  2. The other possibility is when they become irrevocably bound to sugar in a process called glycolation.

Both of these processes result in damaged LDL cholesterol and are, therefore, risk factors for coronary artery disease. When LDL particles are altered enough that the immune system doesn’t recognize them to be LDL cholesterol anymore, that non-recognition causes the immune system to begin an attack against the unrecognized particles.

This is similar to what happens if you have celiac disease. The immune system doesn’t recognize the gluten particles, so it launches an attack to defend the body against the perceived invader. Once again, everything is always about survival.

White blood cells called macrophages attach themselves to the artery wall and burrow into the lining. Their job is to eat and digest the damaged LDL particles. During this process, the white blood cells transform into foam cells and begin collecting cholesterol, fatty material and cell debris as a way to plug up the damage.

Although the plug makes the blood vessel lining bulge slightly into the artery, it is not large enough yet to restrict blood flow. However, once the first stage of plaque buildup begins and the mass firmly attaches itself, smooth muscle cells from deeper within the artery lining will migrate upwards.

If an individual is insulin resistant, which many of us are, high fasting insulin levels cause these muscle cells to migrate rapidly. With the help of insulin’s ability to stimulate the synthesis of collagen and other connective tissue, once at the area of plaque buildup, the muscle cells grow or merge with the macrophages.

That causes a greater degree of blockage, but notice that this speeded-up process is caused from high insulin levels. That means that lowering dietary fats and raising complex carbohydrates can actually be the catalyst for heart disease! This is the main reason why a low-fat diet doesn’t cure or correct cholesterol problems. It actually speeds up the process!

When enough foam cells accumulate, they form patchy deposits large enough to restrict blood flow. If plaque buildup continues, it can attract calcium crystals that attach themselves to the plaque mass. When that happens, the result is hard and brittle arteries.

Calcium buildup is the last stage in the process of heart disease because after that occurs, the plaque can crack, ulcerate, and release debris into the bloodstream, further narrowing the passageway. When I had my arteries checked out a couple of years ago, calcium buildup is what they were looking for. I had been following a low-carb diet for about three years when I underwent that procedure and the result?


In fact, the cardiologist was shocked. He couldn’t believe how clean my arteries were. My husband’s arteries – he was eating low-carb meals with me but not low-carb snacks – were classified as GOOD. Then the cardiologist turned to me and said, “But yours! Your arteries are VERY GOOD!” At which point, I explained that I follow a low-carb diet. His reply? “OH! That explains it then!”

Not all cardiologists are on board with the low-fat theory. Many of them fully support a low-carb diet. In fact, when my brother-in-law had a heart attack and double bypass several years ago, his wife was extremely upset and asked their cardiologist about the Atkins Diet. That doctor told her the same thing that my cardiologist did: The Atkins’ Diet is an extremely healthy way to eat!

For newbies, entering into a low-carb diet, eating lots of saturated fats can be frightening due to all of the theories, misconceptions and misinformation floating around the web and within the medical community. It becomes even more scary if you have experienced cholesterol problems in the past. The truth is that reversing artery damage is entirely possible, but you have to do it before your plaque reaches the stage of calcification.

Undoubtedly, that’s what made the difference between my husband and his brother. My husband ate a lower carbohydrate diet, giving his body the ability to clean up his arteries. They weren’t as clean as mine, but they were much cleaner than the average American. That means it doesn’t take eating only 20 net carbs a day to reverse the problem, but it does take a drastic enough decrease that insulin levels return to normal.

Artery recovery is not possible in the presence of hyperinsulinemia. High insulin levels speed up the process, as mentioned before. This is because elevated insulin levels encourage glycolation and excess LDL cholesterol formation, speed up the migration of smooth muscle cells from the artery interior, and increase synthesis of collagen and connective tissue.

Heart disease is when plaque builds up in an artery leading to the heart. However, any artery can be injured, laying the initial groundwork for damaged LDL particles to invade and begin the process of coronary artery disease. It can also increase your risk for stroke. To reverse the process of plaque buildup and thereby regain cardiovascular health, a diet that lowers basal insulin levels needs to be considered and implemented.

There are two major causes for blood clots in connection with stroke or heart attack risks. Everyone makes a variant LDL that carries an extra apoprotein A. This lipoprotein is similar to one of the body’s chief blood clot dissolving substances (plasminogen). Some researchers believe it increases the risk of a heart attack because it throws off the clot dissolving balance in the body. The body doesn’t do well when things get out of balance.

Most of us do not make very much of this substance, but the tendency to make too much is possible, and that tendency is genetic. When coupled with low HDL levels, high levels of plasminogen can be quite dangerous. For those who have this problem, controlling all of the other risk factors for heart disease is essential. You need to lower your triglyceride levels, raise your HDL cholesterol and keep your blood sugar normalized through proper diet and exercise. A low-carb diet does exactly that!

In addition, according to Dr. Eades in his Protein Power LifePlan book, eating saturated fat LOWERS the amount of plasminogen that the body makes!

Fibrinogen is a component of the body’s blood clotting system. It is NOT related to cholesterol or its carriers. It’s the substance that forms the framework on which the clot forms. So the more fibrinogen you have in your bloodstream, the more potential you have for clots to form. That raises the risk for stroke and heart attack.

When the body is injured in any way, fibrinogen begins to patch the injury with a blood clot. It uses red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets to construct a web of fibrous strands. For that reason, it’s hard to measure risk because fibrinogen always becomes elevated during injuries, sickness or psychological stress. Smoking also drastically raises fibrinogen levels. It also tends to run higher in anyone who has diabetes, high triglycerides, low HDL or excess weight – all of the things that a low-carb diet corrects!

The good news is that eating a diet that is low in carbohydrates is the best way to protect yourself against heart disease, stroke and heart attack. It is a high carbohydrate diet combined with palmitic acid (the worst form of saturated fats associated with heart disease) that causes the problem. Saturated fat in the face of low carbs does not.

While most people on the street would quickly say that saturated fats and cholesterol cause heart disease, they would be wrong. They are simply repeating what those they believe to be authorities over them have told them to believe. That doesn’t make it true. Your cholesterol level has little to do with your risk for heart disease, and problems with blood clots have NO connection with cholesterol or saturated fats.

The bottom line is that to get rid of the risks associated with blood clots and heart disease, you simply have to do everything in your power to correct your metabolic problems. It is elevated insulin, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol and unstable or elevated blood glucose levels that actually pose the danger. By following a low-carb diet, you can easily correct your metabolic problems and thereby lower your risks.
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