In the 6th Feb 2002, I made a promise to a subscriber who wrote in with a question about cholesterol and other matters relating to helping prevent heart disease. I promised him that we would prepare a special report on this subject. However, due to pressure of other commitments that report was unable to be completed in the time frame anticipated.
Instead of producing a separate report on this subject we have decided to make it into a seriers of blogs. So, here's the first part.
I am sure that you already know that Heart Disease is the biggest single killer in the Western world. We are constantly reminded of this and urged to take action to avoid becoming a statistic. But is the 'mainstream' approach "cutting back on saturated fats and cholesterol" the right one? New evidence is emerging constantly which seriously questions 'accepted' strategies.
Future issues of this newsletter will examine the 'official' approach and show how we are being constantly misled. For now we will examine what you need to do in order to find out if you are at risk of a heart 'event'. In the next issue we will consider natural protocols that have been shown to be effective in removing you from the risk areas... if you are within them.
I intend concentrating for the moment on those 'markers' of potential heart disease that can only be picked up by having your blood tested. I will largely ignore the issue of blood pressure which is also another marker. The reason for this is that most people know if they have a blood pressure problem and can easily have it checked.
Before starting I think that we should review the statistics on heart disease which is always sobering and helps put the subject into perspective.
The statistics quoted are those published by the American Heart Association. Although these are American figures they are indicative of western countries whose population has a similar lifestyle and diet to the USA. One notable exception in the western world is France whose people eat quite differently. Their statistics for heart disease are much better.
Here are some facts taken from the US 1998 statistics:
- 60.8 million Americans have one or more forms of cardiovascular disease.
- 40.6 percent of all deaths in the USA in 1998 were as a result of heart related disease.
- 1 out of every 2.5 deaths was from heart disease.
- Almost a million people died in the US in 1998 from heart disease. (949,619). To put this into perspective, an additional 541,532 people died from cancer, another 97,835 by accident and 13,426 from AIDS.
- There are currently 4.5 million survivors of a stroke still alive many of them who will have recurrent strokes.
- 12.4 million people alive in the US today have had a heart attack and are... high risk.
These statistics are quite staggering and indicate how high the risks really are. Having a fatal heart attack is one thing but having a non fatal debilitating stroke is something else. This data reinforces the need for everyone to be aware of the risks and make an effort to avoid being one of the statistics.
In early 2002, we stated that many of the human tragedies that result from heart disease could be avoided, if people have a better understanding of:
- What causes heart disease.
- The knowledge to assess if you are a potential 'heart disease' candidate.
- What to do if you are at risk.
You cannot rely upon your physician to protect you. They are already overworked dealing with patients that are already sick! Preventing heart disease in the first place is your own responsibility, no one else's!
One of the purposes of this newsletter is to help give you the necessary knowledge, in plain language so you can assess your potential risk and take steps to minimize it. This information is up to date as at March 2002. We are going to examine the latest 'predictors' of potential heart disease, all of which are very useful as advance indicators of pending heart problems.
When research develops new 'predictors' and other studies reveal that there are better treatment and prevention protocols than those currently discussed in this newsletter we will issue an updated newsletter.
The first step is to arrange a blood test
As mentioned earlier the first step in finding out if you are in the risk categories is to have a blood test. This is best done through your physician but it is not essential. You can often have these tests carried out by a local medical laboratory.
I have listed out the four most important blood tests below that you should have. There are also others such as Lipoprotein (a) and Apoliprotein A1 and B. They are useful tests if you find that your Cholesterol levels are out of line and you need additional data. Ask your physician about them if your cholesterol tests come up poor.
Note: If you are arranging these tests through your physician suggest that she/he also carries out other standard tests at the same time for Liver Function, Renal Function, carbohydrate metabolism, and if a male over 40 a PSA test and of course any other tests they may recommend.
Below is the list of the four tests for predicting your risk factors for heart disease:
- Cholesterol. Both LDL and HDL.
- C-Reactive Protein.
What are they?
I will now attempt to explain in as brief and simple terms as possible what these four substances are. This will be followed with an explanation of what are considered 'normal' levels of each and what is optimum. This will help you put the results into perspective and thus be able to discuss them with your physician in an intelligent manner.
Many people are of the misconception that the amount of cholesterol that you have in your bloodstream is directly related to your diet. Whereas diet is one of the factors in influencing cholesterol levels it is a relatively small one as over 80% of your blood cholesterol is manufactured by your liver.
A lot of people do not fully appreciate how essential cholesterol is for good health. It is a non soluble waxy substance which your body needs for making hormones, cell walls and nerve sheaths. It is transported around your body in two different forms.
One form is called LDL or the 'bad' cholesterol, and the other is HDL or the 'good' cholesterol.
LDL transports the cholesterol to your cells whereas HDL travels around in your bloodstream picking up excess cholesterol and taking it back to your liver for reprocessing. Sort of like a garbage collector! Too much LDL creates the risk of clogging up your arteries which can lead to heart failure or stroke. Likewise not enough HDL will result in the same problem due to inadequate 'housekeeping'.
Therefore, the most important figures to examine when looking at your test results is not your total cholesterol but rather the ratio between the LDL and HDL readings and the levels of each type. You want the LDL as low as possible and the HDL as high as possible.
Unfortunately many physicians focus too much on Cholesterol, and prescribe a statin drug for lowering cholesterol and ignore the other crucial factors of which Triglycerides are one.
Triglycerides are a major risk factor in heart disease. Excess levels will thicken your blood, make it 'sludgy' which in turn leads to a risk of clotting that in turn can cause a blockage which triggers off a heart attack or stroke. Make sure you have this test done.
A word of caution. Triglyceride levels are directly influenced by what you eat prior to your test. Make sure that you schedule your test for the morning and only drink water prior to having the blood sample taken.
Studies have established that around 10% of coronary deaths and an even greater proportion of deaths related to strokes are caused as a direct result of excessive homocysteine. In these cases the victims were within the 'safe' limits of their blood lipid readings including cholesterol.
Homocysteine is an abnormal protein created by the metabolization of the amino acid methionine. In most people it is normally cleared out of the arteries quickly and is therefore not a problem... but with some people it does not and as such it should not be overlooked as it is a genuine marker of potential heart disease.
Interestingly, elevated levels of homocysteine result not from what you eat but rather from what you DON'T eat. Studies have shown that a deficiency of nutrients and in particular the B group of vitamins prevent your body from producing the enzymes needed that remove homocysteine from your blood.
This is quite a new test and a very important one. In the coming years it will become much more 'mainstream'. Very briefly...the presence of C-Reactive Protein in your blood indicates the presence of inflammation in your blood. Studies have shown that high levels of this inflammation is an accurate predictor of future heart problems, and according to papers presented at the American Stroke Association held on the 14 - 16th Feb 2001 it was shown that elevated levels of this marker more than double the risk of a stroke.
Have it checked out as part of your blood testing.
Understand What Your Results Mean
I will list out below the 'normal' acceptable levels set by mainstream medicine for each of the three above substances. Alongside the 'normal' levels I have also listed other levels which are considered by experts in this area of medicine to be the optimal levels.
Total Cholesterol. 'Normal' - Up to 199 mg/dL 'Optimal' - Between 180 - 220 mg/dL
LDL Cholesterol. 'Normal' - Up to 129 mg/dL 'Optimal' - Under 100 mg/dL
HDL Cholesterol. 'Normal' - No lower than 35 mg/dL 'Optimal- Over 50 mg/dL
'Normal' - Up to 199 mg/dL 'Optimal' - Under 100 mg/dL
'Normal' - Up to 15 micro mol/L 'Optimal' - Under 7 micro mol/L
'Normal' - Up to 4.9 mg/L 'Optimal' - Under 2 mg/L
With this information you will now be able to arrange your blood tests and assess if you are within a risk category.
Next time, we will have a look at some of the natural measures that you can take to normalize or optimize the levels of the above four heart disease/stroke indicators naturally.