The traditional view is that cardiovascular disease is caused by the buildup of atherosclerotic plaques that are in turn caused by high levels of plasma cholesterol resulting from dietary cholesterol. These atherosclerotic plaques are said to restrict the flow of blood, ‘clogging’ the arteries. Over time, part of the atherosclerotic plaque is said to break off, forming a clot, which gets trapped in the narrower arteries, thus inhibiting the flow of blood and causing a heart attack.
The problem with this theory is that atherosclerosis is not associated with cardiovascular disease. The Japanese have high rates of atherosclerosis, and are just as atheroslcerotic as Americans, but their rates of cardiovascular disease are much lower. Secondly, high levels of cholesterol do not cause cardiovascular disease in the majority of people. Many sub-groups of people such as the elderly, young and women show no link between plasma cholesterol and cardiovascular death.
So raised plasma cholesterol does not lead to atherosclerosis, and atherosclerosis does not lead to cardiovascular disease. However, it is worse because dietary cholesterol is not able to cause elevations in plasma cholesterol. The whole of the cholesterol theory of cardiovascular disease is actually pseudoscience based little more than propaganda. To explain cardiovascular disease we therefore need a new paradigm that is supported by evidence.
Plants are known to be protective of cardiovascular disease. However it is not know why this protection occurs. It is suspected that plants protect from cardiovascular disease because they inhibit free radicals. The new paradigm in cardiovascular disease suggests that it is not cholesterol that causes cardiovascular disease, but free radicals. Free radicals are generated in the body from poor diet, pollution and stress where they interfere with artery function.
Endothelial Dysfunction, NOT Atherosclerosis
The new paradigm suggests that it is not atherosclerosis that causes cardiovascular disease but free radical induced endothelial dysfunction. When free radicals are formed they interact with the endothelial lining of arteries and inhibit the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is required for the elastic relaxation of arteries when blood flows through them. Over time lack of nitric oxide causes endothelial dysfunction and the lack of elasticity in the arteries is permanently lost.
Plants Protect From Endothelial Dysfunction
Plants prevent cardiovascular disease because they protect the endothelial tissues from free radicals and maintain high levels of nitric oxide. As a result the elasticity of arteries is maintained and the arteries deform in response to blood flow as intended. Study after study attests to the beneficial effects of antioxidants of this endothelial flow mediated dilation that facilitates blood flow. Reducing the free radical damage is therefore pivotal in preventing cardiovascular disease.