It should be very encouraging that the average cholesterol numbers for Americans has dropped over the last twenty years. A recent study found that trend even in those that did not take cholesterol lowering drugs. That was surprising to many experts considering the explosion in obesity during that same time period, and the presumed connection between excess dietary fats, excess body fat and blood cholesterol. This good news must be tempered, however, by another alarming fact: despite all the advances in medicine, statin drugs, stents and balloon angioplasties, and bypass surgery, heart disease remains the number one killer of Americans. And, as our American lifestyle has been exported around the world, it has become the number one killer worldwide. How can these seemingly inconsistent facts be reconciled?
Chronic inflammation is increasingly becoming recognized as the underlying cause of heart disease and most of the chronic diseases associated with aging. Even the manufacturers of statin drugs are now touting their inflammation lowering properties. It is this inflammation that damages the lining of arteries leading to plaque build-up and atherosclerosis.
In looking at heart disease risk factors, I like to think of cholesterol as an accomplice; not quite an innocent bystander but not the mastermind behind the crime. It would be irresponsible to suggest that cholesterol had no role in heart disease, but more than 60% of heart attack victims have normal cholesterol. What makes cholesterol dangerous is not the total number, nor the total LDL (bad) cholesterol. It is the particle size that really matters. The smaller and denser the LDL particle, the more easily it can fit in between the cells lining the inflamed artery wall and form plaque.
What can you do to assess and reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke? The biggest risks are for those with a family history of heart disease, are smokers, overweight, sedentary and have high blood pressure. But don’t wait for symptoms. The majority of those that discover they have heart disease, do so when they have their first heart attack. And, one in three first time heart attacks are fatal. So your first symptom could easily be your last.
Get your blood pressure checked, have your doctor check inflammatory markers (C-reactive protein and homocysteine), a cholesterol sub-particle test (VAP or LPP test) and have a carotid IMT scan or Coronary Calcium Score done. Then make a commitment to a healthier lifestyle by eating more fruits and vegetables and exercising regularly. Several nutritional supplements can also improve heart health:
- Omega 3 (fish oil) – helps reduce triglycerides and inflammation.
- Coenzyme Q-10 – energizes heart muscles and reduces harmful free-radicals. It is depleted by statin drugs.
- L-Arginine – improves blood flow, keeps arteries flexible and helps to build muscle.
- B vitamins and folate – reduces inflammation, specifically homocysteine
- Tocopherols and tocotrienols – forms of vitamin E that reduce inflammation and raise HDL (good) cholesterol
Make an appointment to have an Advanced Cardiovascular Screening performed at Alternity Healthcare today.