For those of you who are in your 40s or older, your physician probably would like to see a blood test every year or two. There are many numbers and markers on a complete blood panel. A simple blood test can often tell us about things that are happening that we can’t see. Sometimes finding out information this way can be lifesaving.
The numbers that we pay particular attention to have to do with predicting future heart health. The lipid profile and cholesterol numbers are some of the most widely paid attention to results on blood tests in the western world. Today’s references want to see an overall cholesterol number of 200, a low density lipid (LDL) number under 130, and a high density lipid (HDL) of above 40. If possible, it is better for your overall cholesterol number to be closer to 150, your LDL closer to 100, and the HDL 60 or above.
How much do these numbers really tell us about our future heart health? Is it possible there are other factors that can be better predictors of heart health that mainstream medicine has yet to incorporate?
Not just numbers
First and foremost, let’s clarify something important: These numbers are not something absolute. I have had clients who come in with cholesterol of 201 and are sure their demise is imminent. That’s nonsense! On the other side, clients come in with 198 or 199 and are really happy that they are under the red line. They are sure they have nothing to worry about. Well, that’s also nonsense.
Helpful as these cholesterol numbers may be, they are still only part of the full heart health equation. As a matter of fact, 50% of the people who have a heart attack in the United States of America (once every 40 seconds) DON’T have high cholesterol. And the reverse is true also – 50% of the people with high cholesterol, never have a heart attack. Think about that one!
Two years ago, a close relative of mine was able to brag about phenomenal blood work. His cholesterol was around 160-170 and his LDL was pretty close to 100. He works out most days of the week intensely. He would certainly describe his eating as mostly healthy in comparison to the Standard American diet (SAD). Nevertheless, he had a stroke. He was age 58 at the time. Thank G-d, he recovered very quickly and is back to normal. I bring this example in order to illustrate the fact that numbers on a blood test don’t necessarily tell us everything.
So, how can we know a little better what our risk of having a heart attack or stroke is?
Function of cholesterol
First of all, one of the most important jobs of cholesterol is to aid in the production of hormones. Cholesterol is stored in the adrenal glands, and other places in the body and is converted to steroid hormones. These steroid hormones perform vital duties to help the body function properly. Without steroid hormones we will have malfunctions with weight, intimacy, digestion, bone health and mental status.
In addition, cholesterol plays an important role in our body’s digestion. Cholesterol is used to help the liver create bile which aids us in digesting the food that we eat. Without the bile our bodies are unable to properly digest foods, especially fats.
When fat goes undigested it can get into the bloodstream and cause additional problems, such as blockages of the arteries, and can cause heart attacks and heart disease. Yes, you read that correctly—without cholesterol, one can have a heart attack.
For cholesterol to become harmful, it has to oxidize. Without oxidation, it won’t become a harmful plaque and end up clotting an artery. Let’s see what might be better predictors of heart disease.
- Check your blood test of CRP—C-reactive proteins. These are a sign of possible inflammation. Tell your doctor to include it on your test, they don’t always.
- Next, although not yet a readily available test, there is an inflammatory factor made in our microbiome called TMAO. There are only a few places to test for it, but if you want to diminish the amount in your body, simply cut way back on meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy. These foods contain choline which your gut bacteria then turns into TMA and TMAO.
- Questions doctors just don’t ask you:
- Is your diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legume, lentils, and whole grains?
- Do you keep your diet very limited in processed food, animal proteins, dairy, and eggs? If your diet includes a lot of green leafy vegetables each day, that is far better than taking a statin drug. These vegetables will keep the endothelial lining of your arteries working well and substantially diminish the possibility for plaques to build and inflame.
- Do you exercise? Even a 30-35 minute brisk walk daily does wonders to prevent all heart disease.
- Finally, if you want to know what’s going on inside, there is a pretty benign test one can take. It’s called a Cardiac Calcium Score. It has finally been approved by the American Heart Association (15 years too late). It uses a CT machine with no added iodine. Radiation is minimal. It will give you a good idea where you stand and enable you to take every measure needed to prevent heart disease—and yes, heart disease is a highly preventable and reversible disease that need not exist. So says Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland Clinic.
Low cholesterol, unless it is under 150 without statin drugs, guarantees nothing. Concentrate on what does matter which is maintaining good lifestyle habits. This will “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”