The Silent Menace that Melts Your Heart & Batters Your Brain Health with Dr. Mark Houston

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

One interesting statistic, most people, men and women, 68% in fact, have their first heart attack at having had no previous symptoms. Today, we’re going to talk about inflammation and how devastating this can be to your heart and brain if left unchecked.


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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome back to the brain warrior's way, Tana and I are here with Dr. Mark Houston, we are having such a great time. Mark is an internist, a cardiologist, he's an associate clinical professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University. He's published widely and he's also written seven books including The Hypertension Handbook a What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Heart Disease.

Today, Mark, I want to talk about inflammation, which comes from the Latin word "to set afire." And it's like you have a low-level fire in your body destroying your organs. Talk about the connection between inflammation, heart disease, and brain disease.

Dr Mark Houston: Actually most of us who don't follow an optimal lifestyle with our nutrition and exercise and so forth, are basically volcanoes getting ready to erupt.

Tana Amen: Amazing.

Dr Mark Houston: So, that subliminal fire that you're talking about is they're rumbling away, it's subclinical, asymptomatic, and then you have your first heart attack and you realize, or your first stroke, that you've been inflamed for a long time.

One interesting statistic, most people, men and women, 68% in fact, have their first heart attack at having had no previous symptoms.

Tana Amen: Amazing.

Dr Daniel Amen: Wow.

Dr Mark Houston: So, we are missing a very good opportunity to diagnose and intervene earlier, I'm talking decades earlier. I mean, we're like in your teenage years to start an effective program to reduce the inflammatory vascular disease that's the primary ideology for heart disease. But at the same time, as you know, if we reduce inflammation in the vascular system, you're going to reduce inflammation in the brain. Those two are highly connected.

Tana Amen: So, Dr. Houston, we often tell our community, you know, you got to get your important numbers checked for this reason. What are your favorite markers to check for this?

Dr Mark Houston: So, for inflammation, the best certified study is from Harvard with Dr. Paul Ridker, and that's high sensitivity c-reactive protein. It's sort of a mother of all risk factors and if it's elevated, by itself, it is a significant risk factor and risk marker.

In other words, we know it's associated with coronary heart disease and stroke, but in addition, with CRP itself has 35 different mechanisms by which it causes heart disease so that's a bad actor.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr Mark Houston: The precursors for high sensitivity CRP are called interleukins, interleukin 6, 1B, and another called TNF-Alpha. They all kind of come in from various places, the heart, adipose tissue, vascular tissue, and the gut, the liver. And the liver spits out this c-reactive protein, so that's one I do.

Another new one is called myeloperoxidase or MPO, which is a great marker for oxidated stress and inflammation. Another one is plaque 2, Lp-PLA2, which actually can predict, very accurately, a stroke or a heart attack before you have it.

So I use those three.

Dr Daniel Amen: Say that one again, because I haven't heard of that.

Tana Amen: Yeah, me either.

Dr Mark Houston: Lp-PLA2, plaque 2.

Tana Amen: Okay.

Dr Mark Houston: It's an inflammation marker that says you have a vulnerable plaque in your coronary arteries.

Tana Amen: Excellent.

Dr Mark Houston: Or in your carotid arteries and it puts you at high risk for stroke or heart attack.

Tana Amen: So, you said two things that I find very interesting in talking to our people. One of which is they frequently say that their physician refuses to order certain lab tests because they're just out of the norm. That's one thing we deal with a lot and the second thing is people often say well why do I have to eat clean or do certain things because isn't that my liver's job is to detoxify me, right?

So, you just really touched on that and I'd really like you to clarify why this is true and what they should do about doctors who won't order labs?

Dr Mark Houston: Well, you know, the data is clear. The studies are clear. And I think if your physician doesn't allow you to get optimal medical care based on current medical guidelines and risk factor reduction, you just need to go somewhere else.

Tana Amen: Thank you.

Dr Mark Houston: Or get your labs done and then give them to your doctor and let him try to interpret them. But that becomes a problem because they don't know how to interpret the labs frequently.

Tana Amen: Right, so we often say that your physician is not your mother, your father, or your boss, you need to find one who's your partner.

Dr Mark Houston: Correctly. Absolutely.

Dr Daniel Amen: Which are the worst pro-inflammatory foods and, which ones are the best? To deal with inflammation.

Dr Mark Houston: Okay, I would rank these from worst starting with refined carbohydrates number one, trans fats are pretty close to that.

Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Dr Mark Houston: Then you would probably put in omega-6 fatty acids and then we get into the controversial, which is saturated fats.

Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Dr Mark Houston: And I'll go back to that in a moment, and then you drop down to the really good ones. Which are monounsaturated fats, olive oil, nuts, soluble products. And probably the best, which is the omega-3 fatty acids. Often deemed polyunsaturated fats.

Now, the saturated fats, I just finished reviewing the literature on that related to heart disease and inflammation if you'd like me to give you the little on minute synopsis of that.

Tana Amen: Yes, please.

Dr Daniel Amen: Absolutely.

Dr Mark Houston: Yeah, so, here's the myth dispelled. Not all saturated fats are bad. It depends on their carbon link. A C10 or less would be a short chain fatty acid, those are beneficial and have no adverse effects on cardiovascular disease. C12, 14, 16, and 18, which are lauric, myristic, stearic, and palmitic.

Tana Amen: So that's like coconut oil and chocolate, correct?

Dr Mark Houston: Exactly. And that's another one I'll bring up if you'll remind me about the coconut oil myth.

Tana Amen: Right, okay.

Dr Mark Houston: Those, so medium chain would be c12 and long chain is 14, 16, and 18. Those typically have adverse effects on coronary heart disease risk, insulin resistance, diabetes, endothelial dysfunction, and all other kinds of problems. So, I think, based on current studies, we need to avoid C12 through C18. One caveat, C18 has a genetic snip that allows you to convert that to a monounsaturated fat. If you don't have that snip though, you're going to keep that saturated fat in your system.

Tana Amen: Okay.

Dr Mark Houston: So, that's the bottom line on that one. And the coconut oil is another myth. If you go to the literature and look at coconut oil, it's 92% long chain or medium chain fatty acid. It's mostly lauric and myristic, okay? And others that are higher on the chain. Very little in the way of medium chain or short chain fatty acids. So the data with coconut oil is not there. There's no data, you cannot find it that it shows any benefit related to coronary heart disease.

Tana Amen: Now, what about the brain because we had heard that it actually is good for brain health?

Dr Mark Houston: I think that, I would say this. When I talk about the vascular system and the periphery, it's really the same system in the brain.

Tana Amen: Okay.

Dr Mark Houston: There's no difference. And, now, neural tissue, that's your expertise, not mine, and that's maybe something that would be different. It might respond different because of the membranes so it's a tough question to say that what you do for the heart may be exactly the same for the brain because you're looking at really two different questions. Vascular and neural and honestly I don't know the answer to that.

Tana Amen: So using it as a fuel as opposed to how it's affecting the vessels? Because what I had heard is that.

Dr Daniel Amen: Well, alcohol is another example where there are plenty of studies that show that a bit can be helpful for your heart, but it's my experience looking at scans, so that's what we do here at Amen Clinics, we have a database of 125,000 scans, and moderate drinking is associated with lower overall activity in the brain. So, it may be good for your heart but you're not going to be thinking that well.

Dr Mark Houston: Yeah, yeah.

Tana Amen: Okay, so that's good to point out. Now, based on that though a lot of companies are coming out with these MCT oils. What about that?

Dr Mark Houston: Yeah, so if you define an MCT as carbon 10 linked or less, they're going to be probably beneficial for both cardiovascular and brain.

Tana Amen: Okay.

Dr Mark Houston: But once you get past a C12, it gets a little dicey.

Dr Daniel Amen: And C12.

Dr Mark Houston: For, at least, cardiovascular. Pardon?

Dr Daniel Amen: Because you had said C12 is a medium chain, would you stay away from the C12 carbons and opt for what's less than that?

Dr Mark Houston: I would tend to go more with C10 or less, it's no question you can do some C12s because they're medium chains so they're not as bad, but when you get to the 14, 16, and 18, those typically have some pretty bad effects, not just on lipids but also on other risk factors and CHD risk.

Tana Amen: So like palmitoleic acid and those types of acids in meat, in like industrial raised meat and things like that are definitely things to stay away from?

Dr Mark Houston: Yeah. And the other thing that's important for your audience to know is if you're on a saturated fat diet with the C14, 16, 18 and you then substitute isocalorically, that means the same number of calories per day, with a polyunsaturated fat or a monounsaturated fat, you dramatically reduce your risk for coronary heart disease by anywhere from 6 to 18%.

Tana Amen: Okay.

Dr Daniel Amen: So, what is the fat in beef? In a new york steak?

Dr Mark Houston: Most, beef depends on the, how the beef were feed, obviously.

Tana Amen: Right, grass fed vs industrial.

Dr Mark Houston: So corn fed vs grass fed, you're going to have a totally different constituent in the red meat. Grass fed being much better because you're getting more omega-3s. But if you're doing corn fed beef, it's going to be saturated fats and that's not a good thing. And then the processed red meats are even worse.

Dr Daniel Amen: So, but saturated fat with high C carbons?

Dr Mark Houston: Yeah, the long chains. That's the 14, 16, 18. That's what you're going to get from the corn fed and the other, to fatten up the beef. But if it's grass fed, it's going to be omega-3s mostly.

Dr Daniel Amen: So it will be better?

Dr Mark Houston: Yeah.

Dr Daniel Amen: Alright. Inflammation, so important.

Tana Amen: That was really good. We learned something new.

Dr Daniel Amen: Dr. Houston's book, What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Heart Disease, pick it up. I mean it'll make a huge difference for your heart but also for your brain and also to learn more about Dr. Houston's work. Stay with us.