Jackie McKool

A Holistic Connection Between Obesity, Lack of Sleep and Cardiovascular Disease



This is the 4th in a series of 9 blogs stemming from a recent Fox News article 1 about the rise in Cardiovascular Disease, and the driving forces behind it according to the American Heart Association (AHA). We will be taking a look at the contrasting wholistic approach to cardiovascular disease – prevention and restoration using natural approaches.

To review, the AHA states that there are 3 primary driving factors that contribute heavily to cardiovascular disease: hypertension, diabetes and obesity – of which is the driving factor of the other two. Drilling down towards the root cause, which is the foundational approach to wholistic health, and the major difference between wholistic and conventional medicine; we dug deeper into obesity, since it was determined by conventional medicine to be the driver of cardiovascular disease. In this same article by Fox News, Renato Apolito, M.D., the medical director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at Hackensack Meridian Jersey Shore University Medical Center stated:

“Obesity is very commonly associated as a driver of hypertension, diabetes, sleep apnea and hypertriglyceridemia,” he said. “Some of the greater causes of obesity are lack of exercise and a heavy reliance on processed and fast food,” he noted.

“I suspect that as our standard of living goes up, our reliance on processed and pre-prepared food — in addition to lack of exercise and lack of sleep from our hectic work lives — will drive up obesity as the common denominator leading to all the other risk factors mentioned,” Apolito predicted.

“All of those factors put together would lead to an increase in coronary artery disease, heart failure and stroke.”

The first week we addressed obesity and the connection it has to cardiovascular health, and how to overcome this major driver towards cardiovascular disease. “A Holistic Approach to Heart Disease” The 2nd week we addressed the reliance on the food-like substances we consume, “Cardiovascular Disease – the Reliance on Packaged & Processed Foods” in particular: packaged, processed and fast foods as one of the main factors driving up the obesity rate, which in turn is driving up the other two factors — hypertension and diabetes — causing the rise in cardiovascular disease. Last week we addressed the second factor contributing to obesity – lack of exercise, ”A Holistic Approach to Exercise and Cardiovascular Disease” the importance of it, and viewing exercise from a holistic perspective.
This week we will address the 3rd factor contributing to the rise in obesity by comparing conventional medicines approach, versus the holistic approach, including the root causes and how to overcome them – our poor sleep habits.

Medicines Answer to Poor Sleep


While I appreciate conventional medicine, and the American Heart Association’s observation, and perhaps even research into the causes of cardiovascular disease, and obesity and its causes – processed and packaged foods, lack of exercise and now lack of sleep — where they fall short is addressing these causes by explaining the “why” and providing clear solutions to actually reverse these challenges, using natural approaches by getting to the root cause. According to the AHA, cardiovascular disease is the number one chronic, degenerative disease in America. And they are basically saying that it is self-induced when they say that obesity is the number one driver, and the things that drive obesity are poor diet, lack of exercise and lack of sleep. Do these not sound like things that are self-induced? And if they are self-induced, they can be changed by self!

But this is where the wheels come off the bus every single time when conventional medicine tries to address self-induced, chronic degenerative diseases with a medical approach. Primarily drugs and/or surgery.

I remember about 12 years or so ago now, when I first moved from Charleston, SC to a small town in western, NC to practice chiropractic, I was in a bit of culture shock. The obvious awareness of how the disease management of the patients in North Carolina was so different, almost shocking, from the ones I saw in Charleston. In this practice in North Carolina, I had the sole responsibility of doing case intakes for all new patients. I can’t tell you the number of patients, when I reviewed their medication list on their intake form, indicated that they were taking anti-depressants. It was appalling actually. Especially when I asked them if they were depressed (I was wanting them to think for themselves a little bit). They looked at me like why in the world would I ask them that before they would reply with a puzzled “no.” Then I asked them why then were they taking anti-depressants and I stated the name of the drug. Truthfully, I don’t know that they even realized that was the kind of medication they were taking. Their reply was “to help me sleep.”

As this pattern became more obvious, I became so angry on the inside – the medical professionals in this area were creating a bunch of zombie-like people in our community.And, they truly were apathetic and monotone in their demeanor. It desperately broke my heart. It primarily did so because no one was taking the time to uncover the root cause of the patient not being able to sleep. Instead they were just given a drug to knock them out – a psychotic drug at that.

The Connection to Poor Sleep and Obesity – Holistically


It could be very easy to disregard the connection to chronic poor sleep habits and obesity, simply because of lack of understanding. “What does poor sleep habits have to do with the number I see on the scale, my pants size getting larger, or that unattractive figure I see in the mirror? Isn’t obesity just about how many calories I consumed today, or not exercising?” Yes. But that is just part of the picture. We have been conditioned to just use the scale and calories as our measuring stick when it comes to weight. But let me ask you, “how has that been working for our society?” The answer, obviously is, it hasn’t. And the main reason is because we are also so very conditioned to just look at the symptom, in this case excess weight, and address that symptom with the proverbial drug, or even surgery, never taking into consideration the root cause.

Lack of sleep has a direct negative impact on the majority of chronic degenerative diseases. If you are not getting your proper sleep, it stresses the adrenal glands, two triangular glands that sit one on top of each kidney. They perform a whole lot of vital functions. One of the main things the adrenals do is release a hormone called cortisol, which is the body’s natural anti-inflammatory. It responds to all stresses to the body—mental/emotional stress, chemical stress, and physical stress. Lack of sleep is a physical stress to the body.

It’s a cyclical problem—if we don’t give our bodies enough rest, our adrenal glands can’t perform properly, and if our adrenal glands aren’t performing properly, we might not be sleeping well. We also might have blood sugar imbalances, blood pressure issues, reproductive hormone problems, thyroid challenges, emotional issues and yes, excess weight. All of which the adrenals influence – directly or indirectly —just to name a few.

Follow me as I draw the holistic connection for you between poor sleep habits and obesity:

  • For starters, think of these 2 words as interchangeable: stress=inflammation.
  • There are 3 types of stress: mental/emotional, physical, chemical (as in the foods we eat).
  • Chronic stress of any or all kinds draws on the adrenal glands – the gland that releases the hormone cortisol.
  • Adrenals also regulate the brain chemicals serotonin, dopamine, GABA, melatonin, leptin and ghrelin (leptin and ghrelin are appetite regulator hormones)
  • The adrenal glands and the thyroid (the metabolism hormone) share the same master endocrine gland – the anterior pituitary (I like to think of this gland as the “mom” and the adrenals and thyroid are the bad and good “child” respectively!)
  • When there is long-standing chronic stress to the body, the adrenals (the bad kid) are over-working and wearing out the pituitary (mom).
  • The pituitary short changes the thyroid (good kid) – the metabolism regulator, and it doesn’t work optimally.
  • The adrenals then also don’t regulate the sleep hormone, melatonin and the appetite hormones leptin & ghrelin properly.
  • The body doesn’t sleep well, and its appetite regulator is shot
  • Now, not only are the adrenals having to respond to chemical stresses, but in addition, they are also having to respond to a physical stress to the body – not sleeping well.
  • Body weight increases, and lack of sleep increases
  • The vicious cycle continues.

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Holistic Solutions to Sleep


I encounter people on a daily basis who tell me they do not have energy and want to know what they “can take.” First, if you are one of these people, and your objective is to restore your body back to good health using natural approaches, this is the wrong question to ask. You should be asking yourself “what is the root cause of why I don’t have energy,” not “what can I take?” The first question I ask is about their quantity and quality of sleep: you won’t have energy if you are not sleeping enough and/or sleeping well.

The only time the body is able to heal and repair itself, build new cells, etc., is when it is sleeping. The body does its best healing and repairing between 10:00 p.m. and midnight. If you are not asleep between these hours, you have just lost the most essential time for your body to heal and repair. We truly should be in sync with the cycles of the sun and the moon rising and setting. In winter, when the days are shorter, we could really be asleep even earlier.

So, what can you do?

  • For starters, remove the TV and computer from the bedroom.
  • Do not watch TV or use the computer—including cell phones—30 minutes before you want to be asleep.
  • Plan to be asleep no later than 10:00 p.m. at night.
  • Get a minimum of seven hours of sleep—nine is better.
  • Remove the offenders that stress the adrenal glands. Cigarettes are the leading toxin you could be subjecting your body to. In second place is diet soda, and a close third is regular soda. And of course, caffeine and sugar are no, no’s before bed.
  • Stop eating at least 2 hours before bedtime
  • Turn the thermostat down to cool the room
  • Darken the room as much as possible

I like to suggest to folks to supplement with a quality melatonin (not something you would get at a discount department store, drug store, or dollar store), along with a calming herb like ashwagandha, lemon balm, valerian root, holy basil, or L-theanine. If you are on sleep meds, taking anti-depressants, or any other medications, check with your pharmacist first to see if there could possibly be any drug interactions.

Perhaps you are a “night owl” and can’t fathom falling asleep until well after midnight and not rising until well after the sun does. If so, I suggest setting an alarm clock for just a half-hour earlier than you normally get up. Place it across the room so you literally have to get out of bed to turn it off—and then stay up once you are out of it! Also, turn the temperature down at night—a cooler room is much better for the body to fall asleep. If possible, use a thermostat with a timer to start warming your room or house up a bit come morning.

Take the time to observe why you can’t fall— or stay asleep. Consider your diet when it is closer to bedtime; are you consuming caffeine, especially in the form of coffee or chocolate? Try to adjust your habit to eliminate caffeinated drinks and foods right before going to bed. Is your mind racing about the things you need to do the next day? Try putting a little notebook by your bed to jot those thoughts down, get them out of your head, and deal with them in the morning. All of these things combined can help make for a much better night’s sleep for you.

In Summary


This concludes the third primary cause of obesity. The other two were consuming packaged and processed foods, and lack of exercise.

As we wrap up addressing the three primary causes of obesity, next week we will move back up the pathway from the root cause of cardiovascular disease to next explore our lack of time management leading to a hectic life-style which lends to the three primary causes of obesity. Ultimately, and ideally you will see that cardiovascular disease can not only be reversed but prevented once you know the why and the common-sense action steps you not only can take, but it is vital to your health and your life, to take.

Looking for a great beach read this summer? How about digging your toes in the sand, or swinging in the hammock with a copy of “Are You Being Deceived About Truth Wellness?”

Did you miss some of these earlier blogs? These could give you some great insight — especially as you pursue your health journey:
“A Holistic Approach to Heart Disease”
“Cardiovascular Disease – Our Reliance on Packaged & Processed Foods”
“A Holistic Approach to Exercise and Cardiovascular Disease”
Click “Here” to be sure not to miss any informative and health saving insight by Dr. McKool

(1)To reference the Fox News article go here.

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