Preventing and healing cardiovascular disease through diet & lifestyle

May 15, 2016 at 11:29 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

Is dietary fat really a contributing factor to developing cardiovascular disease? This question has been debated over the past years by scientists, physicians, and diet advocates. In this article, Dean Ornish in Defense of the Dietary Fat – Heart Disease Link, Dr. Dean Ornish, MD, who has done extensive study on heart disease for the past 30+ years which includes diet & lifestyle changes, details some aspects of diet, cardiovascular risk factors, and research study outcomes.

Highlights of the article:

“We found a dose-response correlation at both 1 year[2] and 5 years[3]between the degree of adherence to both the lifestyle program as a whole and the diet, in terms of cholesterol milligrams and fat grams consumed, and changes in the arteries.” Dr. Ornish used PET scans on his patients to show that reduction in clogged arteries from diet & lifestyle changes.

“It has never been just about fat; it is a whole-foods, plant-based diet. It’s fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, soy products in their natural, unrefined form, that is low in fat, low in sugar, and low in refined carbs.”Though Dr. Ornish’s diet has been called “low fat” by some, it’s a healthy, balanced diet with unprocessed food in its pure form.

“The British Medical Journal published an article[9] saying that saturated fat is not linked with heart disease but trans fats are…If you actually look at the raw data (the most accurate because it is not subject to bias) in the report (they didn’t even put this in the abstract) there was a highly significant correlation between the intake of saturated fat and total mortality, cardiovascular mortality, diabetes, etc.”

Saturated fats come from animal products.

Some people suggest that eating better quality meats, like grass-fed meats are healthier. According to Dr. Ornish, “[the] only study done[15] that has even come close to that was to show that the omega-3 fatty acids were a little bit higher in grass-fed beef, but that is not the best way to get omega-3 fatty acids.”

“We found the same dose-response correlation between adherence and the degree of change not only in heart diseases but also in prostate cancer,[16] in gene expression,[17] and in telomere length[18] (the ends of our chromosomes that control aging). It was the same lifestyle intervention, and the more people changed, the better they got at any age.”

“We found an average reduction in LDL-C of 40% in the Lifestyle Heart Trial without drugs.” Here is the landmark study by Dr. Ornish: Intensive Lifestyle Changes for Reversal of Coronary Heart Disease. The objective: To determine the feasibility of patients to sustain intensive lifestyle changes for a total of 5 years and the effects of these lifestyle changes (without lipid-lowering drugs) on coronary heart disease. The conclusions: More regression of coronary atherosclerosis occurred after 5 years than after 1 year in the experimental group. In contrast, in the control group, coronary atherosclerosis continued to progress and more than twice as many cardiac events occurred.

In short, LDL is a type of cholesterol-carrying molecule that takes cholesterol to the cells and HDL takes cholesterol from the cells back to the liver. LDL typically is deemed as “bad” and HDL as “good”; however, every cell needs cholesterol in their structure to function. High LDL levels have been shown by some studies to contribute to cardiovascular disease, including stroke and heart attacks, and high HDL levels have been shown by some studies to contribute to reducing the risks for such health effects.

Dr. Ornish states: “We used to have this very simplistic view that HDL-C is good and LDL-C is bad, but several studies have shown that raising HDL-C actually increased cardiac events and increased premature mortality.[28] Not everything that raises your HDL-C is good and not everything that lowers it is bad. HDL is part of the reverse cholesterol transport mechanism, and it is like garbage men: If you are eating a lot of fat and cholesterol—”garbage”—(as most Americans are), your body has to make more garbage men to get rid of it. But when you reduce the amount of dietary fat and cholesterol by going on a really healthy diet, it is almost as if your body says, “Hey, not as much garbage, don’t need to make as many garbage men. We know that because in our studies, the HDL-C did go down a little bit, but the LDL-C went down way more and these patients reversed the progression of their coronary heart disease.”

He noted that some of the popular diets now, like Paleo diet, may claim to lower LDL or raise HDL, but these risk factors do not equate to disease prevention. There are not long-term studies done on these diets showing actual improvement in blood vessels 5 years down the road as the Lifestyle Heart Trial has done.

When asked why more doctors are not promoting healthy eating and lifestyle changes: “We [MDs] were trained to use drugs and surgery. We are reimbursed to use drugs and surgery, and so we use drugs and surgery….no matter how good the science is, if it is not reimbursable, it is not sustainable.” Dr. Ornish embarked on a “16-year journey to ask Medicare to pay for this program, which they are now doing in a new benefit category: intensive cardiac rehabilitation”.

If you’re interested in knowing your cholesterol levels, ask your doctor to run a comprehensive cardiovascular assessment that will test beyond the basic lipid panel, which typically shows only total cholesterol, HDL, and LDL. The comprehensive version shows different types of subparticles, like HDL2, HDL3, Lipoprotein(a), LP-PLA2, homocysteine, etc. which are important for determining cardiovascular health.

Lipoprotein(a) is the most significant indicator for cerebral infarction/stroke (Scientific American 1992;266(6):54-60 ) and an accurate measure for carotid atherosclerosis, which is an indicator for coronary artery disease (CAD).

LP-PLA2 activity predicts risk for 5-year cardiac mortality independently from established risk factors and indicates risk for cardiac death in patients with low and medium-high hsCRP (inflammatory marker) concentrations (Clin Chem. 2007 Aug;53(8):1440-7). It also is more strongly predictive of CAD risk than C-reactive protein (CRP) in postmenopausal women (Thomas H, Horne BD, Anderson JL, et al. Lipoprotein-associated phospholipase A2 may differentially predict the presence of angiographic coronary artery disease and coronary death across glycemic categories.)

Homocysteine is implicated in the development and progression of cardiovascular disease – coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, stroke, or venous thrombosis (NEJM 1997;337:230-6). Acute psychological stress, low folate, vitamin B6 and B12, high meat consumption, and low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) are a few risk factors that contribute to elevated homocysteine levels.

Genetic variants may also contribute to elevated homocysteine, i.e. MTHFR and COMP. These can be tested via genetic testing and treated by a healthcare provider. Typically, activated versions of folate and B12 are given. For more information on MTHFR, read here: MTHFR.

A few evidence based natural therapies:

  • to reduce Lp(a): a study of 51 patients on 120 mg/day CoQ10 had a 31% decline in Lp(a). Int J Cardiol 1999;68:23-29
  • to reduce homocysteine: address stress, lower meat consumption, address hypochlorhydria; take folate, B6, B12 (best to work a medical professional who can test your levels, i.e. naturopathic physician). A study done showed best benefit (50% reduction of homocysteine levels post-treatment) from a combination treatment of folate, B6 and B12 than from mono-therapy of the vitamins:  650 mpg folate, 12.2 mg B-6, 400 mcg B-12 (J Nutr. 1994,124:1927-33).
  • to decrease overall cholesterol, LDL & triglycerides, and increase HDL: niacin at a dosage of 2,000 mg/day, decreased cholesterol by 12.1%, LDL cholesterol by 16.7%, triglycerides by 34.5%; HDL cholesterol increased by 25.8%.” Am J Cardiol 1998;82:35U-38U

There are so many great natural therapies to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease. It’s best to work with a professional healthcare provider, i.e. MD, ND, DO, etc; however, NDs (naturopathic physicians) are the only primary care-trained providers who receive 40+ hours of nutrition classes and countless hours learning natural healing therapies (herbal medicine, mind body medicine, etc) in their curriculum. To find a naturopathic physician near you, look here: Find a ND.

Wishing you great health & happiness!

~ Venessa Madrigal, ND


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Zika Virus & Microcephaly

January 12, 2016 at 6:28 pm (Uncategorized)

For those of you who travel out of country, and now for those of you in Texas and around the US Gulf Coast – Zika virus has been documented in the United States! It’s an emerging infectious disease that is spread by mosquitos. It’s similar to illness that resembles dengue fever or chikungunya –  it presents as a mild fever, rash, and headaches.

Take extra caution to prevent mosquito bites, especially if you’re female and wanting to become pregnant soon. A link has been correlated with the infection and microcephaly (small brain size) in newborns. Consequences of microcephaly itself include neurologic and developmental disorders (eg, seizure disorders, intellectual disability, spasticity).

If you have traveled out of country and become ill, seek medical attention upon returning to the US. Medical doctors (MDs) and naturopathic physicians (NDs) can test for the virus; NDs can offer many options for aiding your body to rid itself of the virus and achieve optimal health. Oftentimes, multiple untreated viral infections, multiple rounds of antibiotics, stressful and unhealthy lifestyles can lead to chronic illnesses such as autoimmune diseases.

Here’s a list of the CDC’s recommended insect repellents: CDC Insect Repellents

Natural alternatives may be as effective and less toxic though it would be a good idea to take a CDC recommended repellent with you while traveling in case your natural alternative doesn’t end working well. Also, covering up your skin, even in hot, humid weather will help prevent bug bites. There are plenty of high-tech clothing options available that are moisture-wicking.

Alternative repellents:

Burt’s Bees Insect Repellent

All Terrain Insect Repellent

Links for articles for Zika Virus:

Medscape Zika Virus, US 01.12.16

Medscape Zika Virus, Latin America 12.16.15

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Health Benefits of Cinnamon – PCOS & Diabetes

October 22, 2013 at 12:56 am (Uncategorized) (, , , )

Cinnamon makes a world of difference in cookies, horchata, and, well, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Read on:

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Natural Doctors International (NDI) Brigade & Internship

August 8, 2013 at 10:00 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

My internship this summer with Natural Doctors International (NDI) has been full of surprises! I finished my second year in the Naturopathic Medicine (ND) program at National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM) in June, participated in the NDI brigade from July 5 to July 14, and will complete my 6-week internship at the end of August. Before I came to Nicaragua, I set an intention to be open-minded to whatever opportunity might arise and to submerge myself in the culture.


During the brigade, I was able to put my knowledge from my second year into practice by helping fellow brigade mates with performing physical exams and offering suggestions of herbal medicine. Being bilingual, I translated during the exams and intakes; I’ve continued to translate for Dr. Dawson Farr who also arrived in July to begin his one-year assignment with NDI. My Spanish skills were rusty before I arrived but have been improving daily; my host family is patient and they aid me in learning the language. I’m so grateful for their hospitality and I’ve observed that a family with very limited resources in an impoverished country can prosper in spirit.


As part of the internship, I have spent time with Dr. Farr in the NDI clinic in Los Angeles (town on Ometepe) and with local doctors at the hospital in Moyogalpa (a main town on Ometepe). At the clinic, we have seen patients with the flu, urinary tract infections, skin conditions, backaches, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer. Although these conditions are commonplace in the US, the treatment options are limited here based on donated supplies. It’s been a great experience to learn what Dr. Farr would typically recommend in the US and the alternatives based on our resources. My time at the hospital has been memorable. During the first hour of observing at the hospital, I witnessed my first birth! I was asked to hold the healthy baby girl while the nurses and doctor sutured the patient and used “sterile” water out of 3-liter soda bottles.. It was one of the most intense moments in my life.


Despite the limited resources, the people of Ometepe are so patient and thankful for the help of healthcare practitioners, especially of natural medicine. Just yesterday, a male patient in his 50’s came for a follow-up appointment. He came for his first time during the July brigade, received a very thorough intake, received 3 supplements, and returned with such high praises for how well the natural remedies have worked at lowering his blood pressure and improving his life. We have received so many blessings from our patients; they are very grateful for Dr. Tabatha Parker and NDI.


In addition to observing in the clinic and hospital, I have assisted in several ongoing and new projects with NDI. Besides office work, like updating inventory, submitting data to the Ministry of Health, and translating nutrition material for classes that will be taught to the women who house NDI brigade participants, we have left our mark here physically. A few weeks ago we started digging plots to start an organic garden and last week we painted a mural on the face of the NDI clinic. My time with NDI has been so fulfilling and I am so grateful for the support of my friends and family. The passion inside of me to become a conduit for guiding people onto their own healing path has been reinvigorated!

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Kava & Hepatotoxicity?

March 16, 2013 at 5:41 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

In my last lecture of Botanical Medicine 1 this past week, I learned more about Kava (Piper methysticum). Kava is known as “the happy herb” as it is a sedative, hypnotic, muscle relaxant, and analgesic. It is native to the islands of the Pacific Ocean and is widely consumed. There has been debate as to whether Kava is hepatotoxic (toxic to the liver). 

Here’s a link to HerbMed’s page on Kava with tons of links to articles on Kava:

A link to a recent research article theorizing that the hepatotoxic (toxicity to liver) effects of Kava are possibly due to concomitant factors like mold:

Another recent article concluding that “the reasons for liver failure possibly due to kava intake remain unsolved” and that it’s recommended to have periodic lab testings while ingesting kava. You can read the full article:

For those of you in Portland, you can check out Bula Kava – a kava bar!

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Traumatic Brain Injury

January 28, 2013 at 6:14 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

I want to share an “alternative” view to aiding in the healing process for those affected by traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), also known as post-concussive syndrome. This is spawned by an article my brother sent me from CNN regarding repeated TBIs:  One of the professors, Dr. Steven Sandberg-Lewis, at my school, National College of Natural Medicine, “empowers and teaches his patients to gain conscious influence over physiology through general biofeedback, neurofeedback (brain-wave biofeedback), and other therapies. These methods work well with conditions ranging from head injuries and chronic pain to mood disorders and attention difficulties”.

His profile:

Here’s an article he put out a few years back addressing TBIs, including diffuse axonal injury (DAI), neural plasticity, Low Energy Neurofeedback System (LENS):

More on TBIs from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke:

Recommended Readings per Dr. SSL:

rimmins C: Where is the Mango Princess? A journey back from brain injury. New York, 2001, Vintage Books.

Larsen S: The Healing Power of Neurofeedback: The revolutionary LENS technique for restoring optimal brain function. Rochester, 2006, Healing Arts Press.

Osborn CL: Over My Head: A doctor’s own story of head injury from the inside looking out. Kansas City, 2000, Andrews McMeel Publishing.

Stoler DR and Hill BA: Coping With Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: A guide to living with the challenges associated with concussion/brain injury. New York, 1998, Avery.

Thompson M and Thompson L: The Neurofeedback Book: An introduction to basic concepts in applied psychophysiology. Wheat Ridge, 2003, Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback.

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Cholesterol Doesn’t Cause Heart Disease

January 28, 2013 at 4:17 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

Hi all! I’m back to my blog after several months of trying to find my balance of school, work, and life.

A friend posted an article that I want to share. It’s quite appropriate because I’m learning about heart disease right now. It’s an article from a heart surgeon speaking on the topic of heart disease.
I found it interesting for several reasons discussed:
1) mechanism by which arteries (the system by which blood goes away from the heart; vein take blood back to the heart),
2) description of acute and chronic inflammation and how the foods we ingest can cause inflammation, and
3) call for change in diet: meat, veggies & fruits (Paleo diet???)
In health, 

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Spring Term 2012

April 15, 2012 at 4:22 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

Life continues…even when you’re in med school. I just finished my first week of spring term, which means I survived winter term. As a second year described winter term: “the black hole”. It was a bit of a black hole in the sense that I struggled a bit to find balance between school & personal life. School was intense as usual – about 25 units (& on a quarter system); life was a bit rocky – who knew changing your diet, somewhat dramatically, could have such an effect on mental and physical alertness. Thankfully my mental and physical stamina are much better; they’re even better than before I changed my diet (under a naturopathic physican’s care).

Essentially, I’m in the process of optimizing my system/enhancing my vitality.  I met a ND in November at a workshop in Applied Kinesiology; she resonated well with me and, therefore, I decided that she was who I wanted to work with to help my body heal. I wasn’t in a state of disease but I had been dealing with intestinal issues for almost the past 10 years, mainly lactose sensitivity, and chronic, low-level physical ailments for the past 5-10 years.

For someone who loves the outdoors and loves to be physically active, maintaining a low level of physical activity for the past 5 years has been grueling. I’ve been to many different practitioners, many of whom weren’t able to find the root cause of my issues, and some who were able to help my body but I didn’t have the funds to maintain adequate amounts of treatments. Now, being in the Pacific NW and being surrounded by great practitioners, like my ND, I decided that it’s time to optimize this body and that I’ll stick with whatever treatment plan that she developed for me so that I can be as healthy as I can now to prevent disease and so that I can go play & enjoy the outdoors.

Naturopathic medicine is great for assisting in the treatment of complex, chronic health issues and it’s great for preventing complex, chronic health issues.

Part of my treatment plan has been to reestablish the functioning of my intestines through diet and supplements so that I may better absorb nutrients and process those nutrients effectively & efficiently. My ND recommended that I try a modified version of the Paleo diet ~ essentially consuming only lean proteins, vegetables, and a small amount of fresh fruit. The Paleo diet was developed by Dr. Loren Cordain and has been further developed for athletic performance by Joe Friel.

The adjustment to eating much more lean protein and a greater variety of protein was the biggest challenge. For the past decade I only ate poultry and seafood. I had cut out eating beef & pork for “health reasons” and now I was being told that my body needed more lean proteins for health reasons. I decided to give it a try and my body has been loving it. I also cut out grains completely ~ no rice, pasta, bread (& I loved baked goods), oats, beer(!!!) or wine. My mental clarity and overall physical energy levels are better now than ever. I also cut out sugars, chocolate, and caffeine. Every once in a while I have “cheated” with either food or drink and my body reacts to it negatively ~ I’ll either get really congested or nauseous. Although this is called a diet I plan on making this a lifestyle change as I have felt the benefits of eating as my ancestors did many moons ago.

Here’s another great article written by a mentor, Dr. Daniel Newman, about eating clean foods:

Enjoy! and Happy eating!

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Oregon Death with Dignity Act

February 5, 2012 at 8:08 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

This is an assignment for my Ethics class.


The Death with Dignity Act was enacted by voting Oregonians in 1997 to allow people with certain terminal illnesses the legal right to expedite their deaths by voluntarily self-administering physician-prescribed lethal medications. Since the law’s inception, 525 people have died from ingesting the aforementioned medications. Patients who requested the end-of-life medications noted that their primary concerns of continuing without the medications were loss of autonomy and decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable.


The physicians that are entitled to offer the lethal medications are MDs and DOs “licensed to practice medicine by the Board of Medical Examiners for the State of Oregon”. I find this interesting for two reasons: first, it seems appropriate to me that NDs are not on the list of “entitled” physician, and two, it seems unfair that NDs are not “entitled”.  The philosophy of Naturopathic Medicine includes doing no harm, as is included in MD philosophy; however, NDs also value the body’s innate ability to heal. In my opinion, if the body is unable to heal after attempts to regain its vitality, then the body has run out of vitality and the time has come for the person to pass on. On the flipside, this Act is another example of the limitation to the ND profession. When NDs have the same practicing rights as MDs and DOs, I believe that the nation’s healthcare system will be relieved of many burdens, including granting the people alternatives to their well-being.


Death with Dignity Act. Oregon Health Authority Public Health website. Accessed February 5, 2012.



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Happy & Healthy New Year!

January 2, 2012 at 7:49 am (biochemistry) (, , )

I’m back! Let’s say that I got a bit overwhelmed with school and life for the last part of the term since my last post. A brief overview since October: I joined Leaders By Choice & went on a weekend retreat in early October; the Sunday afternoon I returned to Portland I learned that my paternal grandfather had passed away the night before; I flew home to Southern California on Wednesday of that week & returned Sunday; I had mid-terms; then class, study, class, study…; I had one week off for Thanksgiving; then finals! I was stressed mainly throughout the whole time especially during mid-terms; I was so anxious that I didn’t sleep well for about a week and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. After my near week-long panic-attack state I decided I needed to change several curricular and non-curricular aspects of my renewed lifestyle as a full-time student. This term has definitely been filled with change: change in how I approach studying, living on my own, dealing with emotional stress, and trying to stay balanced in all aspects of my life. I realized I wasn’t balanced and I thought of ways by which I could feel more balanced, like joining the local gym, practicing yoga more frequently, and socializing more with my classmates at school and out of school. The latter half of the term seemed to go more smoothly than the first because I wasn’t in survival mode; however, there was much studying to be done. The class that I was most stressed about was Biochemistry I because not only did I have to know the material…I also had to be able to apply that knowledge. Go figure! It was a difficult test but I passed it and the class, as I also did with the rest of my classes. First term done of my first year as a student of naturopathic medicine!

So, with one term completed, and many more to go, I look forward to a year full of learning not only the required material but more of what life has to offer. The more I live the more I realize I do not know and I become excited, and slightly overwhelmed, at how many things I would like to know more about and wonder when/if I’ll have the time to learn them. I think I might need more hands, a bigger brain, and more hours in the day. To the support of conscious evolution! Happy New Year!

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