Turns out, there is a cure for a broken heart.
I’m not talking about some emotional issue. I’m talking about an exciting new breakthrough that can “regenerate” damaged heart tissue.
And the real reason I’m excited about this… it builds on an argument I have made for years. The immune system is the real target for heart disease.
As I’ve written before, chronic inflammation in our blood vessels creates tears that our immune system cells rush in to fix. In repairing these issues, the immune cells use cholesterol to make patches… also called plaques.
When we have a heart attack, an artery that feeds oxygen-rich blood to the heart tissue gets blocked. That’s from a buildup of these plaques. And without oxygen, the tissue starts to die. It’s similar to what happens when an artery gets clogged in our brains, causing a stroke.
Our hearts have an intricate system of lymphatic capillaries. These are the smallest vessels that transport lymph. Lymph is a fluid that carries things like white blood cells and other immune cells that fight disease and repair damage.
We know two things: First, when heart cells lose oxygen, they send out chemical distress signals. That includes signals of dying. Immune cells rush in via the lymph vessels and act like triage, clearing out the damaged cells. Unfortunately, this rush of immune cell action causes something else – scar tissue. Scar tissue in the heart doesn’t work properly. It won’t contract and essentially leads to a weaker heart.
Second, we know that lymph vessels can grow new networks. That means improved movement for immune cells in and out of damaged sites.
So researchers at the University of Oxford in the U.K. recently tried out a theory. They wanted to see if they could keep the immune cells at the damaged tissue long enough to repair it but not so long as to cause scar tissue.
The crazy part… it worked.
The researchers tested it on some mice. They altered the mouse hearts to simulate a heart attack, then injected half the subjects with a protein called VEGF-C. That stands for vascular endothelial growth factor C. They tested it at various times during recovery to find the best timing.
VEGF-C stimulates our lymph system to form new networks of vessels. So when added at the right time, the mice grew new lymph vessels in their hearts that carried the immune cells out before they caused scar tissue.
The mice receiving the treatment had their hearts return to nearly perfect pumping status. But those who didn’t get treatment lost about half their pumping ability.
Now, I know what you’re thinking… Why on earth are we looking at mouse models? What does this all mean for me?
First, as I wrote above, I’m excited that doctors finally realize the real root to heart disease. Targeting the immune system makes sense, since that’s what does the most damage. Yes, we need immune cells to repair our cells, but chronic inflammation and scar tissue cause more harm over time.
This is the reason I always encourage folks to keep inflammation in check. We know inflammation causes everything from heart disease to type 2 diabetes and dementia. Following a diet rich in whole foods and antioxidants, exercising regularly, and avoiding processed foods (like artificial sugars) are all part of a low-inflammation lifestyle.
Second, this type of procedure to inject a protein could come to humans. The researchers predict it will take about five to 10 years. Imagine going to the hospital with a heart attack, getting a shot, and walking out without any lasting damage to your ticker. That’s unheard of today.
Finally, I’m really focused on this study because it’s another novel way to use our immune system to help us.
I’ve written extensively about something called immunotherapy. That’s a type of cancer treatment where doctors use your immune cells to fight cancer cells. It’s got a great success rate for previously hard-to-treat cancers.
I wrote the book on it. The Living Cure covers everything you need to know about cancer, immunotherapy, and how to find the best treatment centers. You can access it here if you’re a subscriber or click here to order your own copy.
What We’re Reading…
- Did you miss it? Our issue about the “cholesterol myth.”
- Something different: Earth is full of diamonds. About a quadrillion, in fact.
Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
July 18, 2018