Picture this. You stroll into your next doctor’s appointment. You exchange the normal pleasant chit chat, and then he turns to his computer and gets down to business.
He pulls up your latest blood test results to see how that cholesterol he’s been nagging you about is doing. And that’s when your doctor practically falls off his stool.
He sits there with a stunned smile on his face as you grin back and say, with a twinkle in your eye, “What’s up, doc?”
Because you ALREADY KNOW what he’s looking at. Practically PERFECT numbers.
Sounds like a dream, right? Well, according to two new studies, it might not have to be. Because researchers say they’ve uncovered a secret heart health weapon in your local grocery store.
And it’s one that could help you tame your cholesterol and head off heart disease at the pass. Are you ready for this? It’s beta-carotene. Yup, the stuff you find in CARROTS.
But don’t start stocking up on Bugs Bunny’s favorite food yet. Because it turns out there’s a catch. Don’t worry. If you’re a fan of delicious foods like juicy grass-fed steak and creamy Greek yogurt, it’s one you’re going to LOVE.
A sluggish enzyme could lead to high cholesterol
Now we’ve all heard of beta-carotene before, of course. It’s the “carrot compound” often credited with helping us hold on to our eagle-eyesight even as we age. Well, it turns out that very same nutrient is tops for hearts too.
But there’s a wrinkle. And if you are someone who struggles with high cholesterol, it could even help explain why.
You see, technically, it’s vitamin A that’s so great for your heart health. Your body takes beta-carotene and converts it into vitamin A. And that process requires a special enzyme called beta-carotene oxygenase 1. Since that’s quite a mouthful, we’ll just refer to it as BCO1 for short.
And that’s where the first study comes in. The researchers took a deep dive into blood and DNA samples from 767 healthy volunteers ages 18 to 25. And they confirmed that folks with higher levels of BCO1 had healthier cholesterol levels.
But they ALSO tracked down WHY those enzyme levels were so much lower in some folks than others. It turns out some of us are simply born with a less active version of the BCO1 enzyme. In fact, somewhere around 50 percent of us.
And because of that genetic variation, our beta-carotene conversion into vitamin A is a bit sluggish. And naturally, that means lower vitamin A levels.
The delicious secret to a healthy heart
Now I bet you’re starting to see the connection here. The logical conclusion is that the half of us with less hearty BCO1, and lower A levels, are more likely to have higher bad cholesterol. Plus, we’re more likely to develop heart disease over the years.
The scientists saw the link, too, of course. But they needed to confirm the theory. And that was a challenge because they couldn’t wait around for 70 years to see if heart disease ever developed.
So they came up with a clever solution. They flipped the script. The researchers took what they’d learned in their human study and rolled out a second study using mice instead.
When they gave beta-carotene to the critters, their suspicions were confirmed. The livers of the mice getting the extra beta-carotene were dumping fewer lipids into their bloodstreams.
The rodents that got the supplement had lower cholesterol. And they developed significantly less plaque buildup in their arteries.
The trouble is making like a bunny isn’t likely to do those of us with wimpy BCO1 much good. Since our bodies aren’t very effective at converting beta-carotene into vitamin A, we can’t count on eating baskets of bunny chow to impress our doctors.
But lucky for us, there’s a very simple and totally delicious solution. Skip the middle man and nibble on more foods that are rich in vitamin A including the lean meats and dairy you already love. Just don’t give those carrots the cold shoulder. There are still plenty of other good reasons to eat them too.