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How Antioxidant Nutrients Protect Against Heart Disease

© Richard A. Passwater PhD

This article discusses the very latest findings on how antioxidant nutrients prevent heart disease, and then forms the background for a series of articles that explain in lay terms, "how" this occurs. An important point of my new book, The New Supernutrition, is that heart disease is not caused so much by what you eat as by what you don't eat. [1] It is difficult for the average person to understand that the nutrients such as beta-carotene, vitamins A, C and E, and the mineral selenium are more important to heart health than how much cholesterol is in their diet. Merely presenting the evidence is not sufficient as the public needs some easy-to-understand mental images so they can grasp the concept.

From time to time, I have pointed out current research showing that antioxidant nutrients protect against heart disease. However, by the time I cover the research findings, I have no space left for a scientifically correct -- but plain English -- explanation of how these nutrients provide their protection. I have had to be content with using general descriptions of how antioxidants prevent the free-radical damage that causes heart disease.

This has served well for explaining how the nutrients prevent the damage to the artery linings that starts the heart disease process. However, since the public has been taught an oversimplified -- and incorrect -- concept concerning cholesterol, the action of free radicals on the lipoproteins that transport cholesterol in the bloodstream is hard for some to visualize.

Now I have been dealing with this "communications" problem for more than twenty five years. The terms "free radicals" and "lipoproteins" have become buzzwords that have helped many understand some pretty complicated biochemical processes. The first time that the term "free radical" was introduced to the general public was in an article about my 1960's research which appeared in the Ladies Home Journal . [2] Prevention brought my free-radical research to the attention of the lay nutrition audience in 1971. [3] And, I was first to describe high-density lipoprotein (HDL) -- the "good" cholesterol -- and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) -- the "bad" cholesterol -- in my 1977 book, Supernutrition For Healthy Hearts. [4] But now it is time to discuss the structures of lipoproteins and lipoprotein receptors and the role of antioxidant nutrients.

More "New" Evidence
So much for the introduction to this series. By the way, there are so many new and interesting topics to write about, that I won't present the entire series in consecutive installments. One thing I have learned from lecturing is to make my point early or I will lose my audience. I often begin my lectures with my point, which is opposed to the general practice of building up to the point. This is how I will present this series. I will now present the conclusion, and leave the background and explanations for the later sections.

Some of the high-lights are:

    1) Several new studies show that antioxidant vitamins prevent heart disease.

    2) We now know how HDL removes cholesterol from the interior of a cell, even though the HDL receptor is attached to the cell membrane.

    3) Lipoprotein(a) [Lp(a)] is one of the best markers of heart disease risk, and it in turn is controlled by vitamin C.

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About The Author
Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D. has been a research biochemist since 1959. His first areas of research was in the development of pharmaceuticals and analytical chemistry. His laboratory research led to his discovery of biological antioxidant...more
 
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