Can an Animal Based Diet Prevent Heart Attacks? - Part 4
The last topic to discuss is the phenomenon within our physiology called oxidative stress. This is a big buzzword in health circles and it plays an important role in the development of a heart attack. As you can guess we are going to show how an animal-based diet helps reduce oxidative stress and prevents heart attacks.
Up to this point we have laid the foundation of what causes a heart attack, shown how burning fat and ketones are best for your heart, and discussed how an Autonomic Nervous System imbalance can lead to a heart attack. Now let’s add the last piece, oxidative stress, to the equation. Here is where we are in the series:
Part 1 – The Foundational Imbalances That Cause Heart Attacks
Part 2 – Cholesterol, Fat Burning, Ketones, and Metabolic Flexibility
Part 3 – The Autonomic Nervous System Imbalance
Part 4 – (This post) Toxins, Oxidative Stress, and Nitric Oxide
Part 5 – The Evolutionary Mismatch Behind It All
What is Oxidative Stress?
We must define oxidative stress by first talking about what causes it. It is caused by an excess of what are called free radicals. Free radicals are a necessary part of physiology and are made just by us burning molecules of food for energy. The problem is when we get excess free radicals in our bodies, and we can get them from more places than just the internal process of making energy.
Our physiology is all about the exchange of electrons from one molecule to another. Molecules like to have an even number of electrons on them, they like to be paired as this makes them stable. If they don’t have an even number, then they are unpaired and the molecule that has an uneven amount of electrons is called a free radical.
It is given this name because this free radical will do anything it can to become paired, including steal an electron from another tissue or molecule in the body. When it steals an electron it can cause dysfunction, damage, or inflammation to that part of the body. You can see why having an excess of these would be a bad thing.
Free radicals must be made in order for us to make energy, much like a car has to make a waste product of exhaust when burning fuel. Luckily, we have built-in mechanisms to help take care of these free radicals and they are called antioxidants. Our body makes antioxidants like glutathione and superoxide dismutase that are very good at neutralizing free radicals (1).
What Causes Oxidative Stress?
It is thought that eating plant foods that have so-called antioxidants will also help decrease the amount of oxidative stress that we have by taking care of free radicals, but research has shown that this is not true (2,3,4). In one study, removing antioxidant rich foods like fruits and vegetables caused oxidative stress markers to go down. (5) Could this mean that intake of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables increases oxidative stress?
Now we have to discuss what causes an excess of free radicals in the body. Like I said, just the process of breaking the chemical bonds of our food and harvesting the energy stored in that bond to make energy for our bodies will produce free radicals. However, there seems to be a difference in the number of free radicals made and inflammation or oxidative stress produced when we are burning different foods for fuel. Research has shown that eating and using carbohydrates as a fuel source will lead to more oxidative stress and inflammation (6) than we would have if we at a high fat, high protein diet (7). We have already seen that eating antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables does not reduce oxidative stress and may increase it, now we have a second reason why an animal-based diet high in fat and low in c