Does Cholesterol Really Count in Women’s Health?

For nearly 50 years women have been told (1) they are not as likely to have heart attacks as men and (2) they need to prevent heart attacks by keeping cholesterol levels low. The result has been that women don’t usually get treatment as quickly, even if they go to the emergency room, but women still have to take elaborate combinations of medications to keep cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugars under control. But what if the real culprit in women’s heart disease were something entirely different?

That’s what some of the latest research is finding, at least for women who are overweight. Before overweight women ever have high cholesterol and long before they develop heart or vascular disease, scientists have found that they experience elevations in a substance called serum neutrophil elastase.

The fundamental heart disease risk factor you probably have never heard of (and your doctor hasn’t, either). Chances are you, and your doctor, have never heard of serum neutrophil elastase. What this substance does is (1) to make arteries and air passages inflexible to stop germs from coming inside the body and (2) to increase production of the other chemicals generated by the immune system to cause inflammation, especially inflammatory chemicals produced by the white blood cells known as neutrophils.

Why elasticity is as important as being “clog” free. When your blood vessels are less flexible, your blood pressure goes up. When your immune system churns out more inflammatory chemicals, more white blood cells go to your arteries and find cholesterol, but because your blood vessels are less flexible, they tend to get stuck. It’s a combination of cholesterol and migrating white blood cells that form the plaques that cause atherosclerosis, and in turn, heart attack and certain kinds of stroke.

The research tells us that if you could stop the process before cholesterol becomes important, then you might be able to prevent heart disease and other diseases of circulation, as well as diseases caused by stiffness in the bronchial passages, such as COPD. But how do you do that?

Helping blood vessels stay elastic with hawthorn. Medical science has been so fixated on treating cholesterol that it hasn’t developed treatments that control serum neutrophil elastase. Fortunately, Mother Nature provides some herbal treatments that stop the action of this substance, such as hawthorn.

Hawthorn extracts have been studied in over 500 laboratory and clinical trials. They do lower cholesterol and blood pressure, but their effect on serum neutrophil elastase is probably more important. Researchers have also found that even if heart attack and stroke occur, hawthorn helps minimize damage, by keeping the production of inflammatory chemicals in check as cells “wake up” when blood flow is restored.

Special value in women’s health. Especially if you are a woman, and especially if you have an issue with weight, hawthorn extracts may be very useful to you. They won’t interfere with any other treatments you choose to take for high cholesterol or heart health, but they may take care of the underlying health problems that lead to heart disease.

Selected References:

Cuenca-Lopez MD, Brea D, Galindo MF, Anton-Martinez D, Sanz MJ, Agulla J, Castillo J, Jordan J. Inflammatory response during ischaemic processes: adhesion molecules and immunomodulation. Rev Neurol. 2010;51:30-40.

Pittler MH, Guo R, Ernst E. Hawthorn extract for treating chronic heart failure. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;1:CD005312