Stopping Heart Disease: Seven Lifesaving Blood Tests Your Doctor Doesn’t Order!

By Steven V. Joyal, MD

Stopping  Heart Disease Consider a beautiful Sunday afternoon in springtime, the smell of flowers, trees, and grass emerging from a long winter.

Now, imagine the sudden onset of crushing pain across your rib cage, shortness of breath, and a cold sweat across your face and back. A beautiful spring day, interrupted by the classic symptoms of a heart attack!

If you don’t want this to happen to you, prevention is critical, and an important part of an over-all prevention strategy is to detect risk factors for heart disease early in the course of the disease. Although the symptoms of an acute heart attack may appear suddenly, the underlying disease (called coronary atherosclerosis) that ultimately results in a heart attack occurs over many years.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and about every 25 seconds one of us will suffer a heart attack.  Annual blood testing plays an important role in helping to identify risk factors early in the course of vascular disease. Regrettably, many doctors are not aware of several blood tests that offer great benefit at detecting cardiac risk factors beyond those detected with typical, routine testing. At your next physical, be sure to take this list of seven lifesaving blood tests with you so that you and your doctor can help identify heart disease risk factors early, rather than too late. 

1. HbA1c

Elevated blood sugar is a significant risk factor for heart disease, even if you don’t have diabetes. Routine testing usually includes a fasting blood sugar level, but a far more accurate measurement of your blood sugar control over a three-month period of time is the hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) test. This test is usually given only to diabetics, yet all of us need to fully understand the risks associated with high blood sugar.  If your HbA1c level is not optimal (over 5.7), you need to achieve better control over your blood sugar levels. Weight loss, exercise, and diet are three time-proven strategies of achieving better blood sugar control. Nutrients like cinnamon, soluble fiber, and the exotic-sounding Indian Ayurvedic herbal medicine Gymnema sylvestre can help, too.

2. Fibrinogen

Increasingly, scientists have discovered that inflammation plays a deadly role in most degenerative diseases.  Fibrinogen levels increase in response to inflammation in our body.  Recent studies suggest that elevated fibrinogen levels are an independent risk factor for heart disease and stroke in patients with decreased vascular circulation (peripheral artery disease).  If your fibrinogen levels are elevated, weight loss and physical activity can help. Also, consider fish oil, niacin, and folic acid, in addition to vitamins A and C, to support healthy fibrinogen levels.

3. Homocysteine

Elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, bone fracture risk, and cognitive function including depression.  If your blood tests reveal elevated homocysteine levels, B-vitamins like folic acid, B12, and B6 can help support healthy homocysteine metabolism.

4. C-reactive protein

Elevated levels of C-reactive protein indicate your body is under assault from inflammation. This important test can help you ward off some of the most lethal diseases before they begin.  Studies suggest that C-reactive protein is a risk factor for a host of diseases including cardiac disease, macular degeneration and arthritic conditions.  For those with elevated CRP, a low dose of daily aspirin can be helpful.  Also, natural therapies like fish oil, L-carnitine, and soluble fiber can help support healthy levels of C-reactive protein.

5. TSH

Our thyroid gland is the master metabolic regulator of our key body functions.  Signs and symptoms of a significantly overactive or underactive thyroid are easy to recognize for most physicians. Studies show that mild thyroid disease can increase the levels of cholesterol in the blood, contribute to weight gain, and increase the risk of heart rhythm disturbances.  A screening test for thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) starting at age 35, and every five years thereafter, is a good strategy to identify subtle thyroid malfunction early.

6. 25-hydroxy vitamin D

The remarkable benefits of vitamin D extend across the entire health spectrum. Produced in the skin during exposure to sunlight in the ultraviolet-B spectrum, vitamin D is also available as a low-cost dietary supplement (vitamin D3, cholecalciferol). Over thirty different cell types, including bone, vascular, brain, muscle, and immune system cells contain receptors for activated vitamin D. Recent scientific studies show that low levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of certain types of cancer (e.g. breast, prostate), cardiovascular disease, and even the flu. Despite the enormous health benefits associated with optimal vitamin D status, the vast majority of us are insufficient, with some research suggesting as much as 80% of the population may not have optimal blood serum levels. A simple blood test can detect your vitamin D status. If you avoid sun exposure out of concern over skin cancer and premature skin aging, the latest research suggests that you will need somewhere between 2,000-8,000 IU of supplemental vitamin D3 daily to achieve optimal serum levels.

7. Advanced lipoprotein profiling

The information you obtain with advanced lipoprotein testing provides a wealth of detail on important parameters of heart disease risk, much more than the standard cholesterol profile.  For example, we know that small, dense LDL-cholesterol particles are far more plaque-producing than large, fluffy LDL-cholesterol particles. A standard cholesterol test does not differentiate between small, dense LDL and fluffy, buoyant LDL. Another example is the so-called “good” cholesterol, HDL. Standard cholesterol tests do not tell us if you have more of the favorable HDL2 subclass of particles or the less favorable HDL3, while advanced lipoprotein tests evaluate for HDL2 and HDL3 cholesterol. Several different types of advanced lipoprotein tests are available based upon your individual needs.

Prevent Heart Disease by Reversing Your Biological Clock

Human cells have biological clocks called telomeres which cap the ends of chromosomes. The telomeres shorten in length everytime a cell divides and replicates. Eventually, the telomeres become too short for cell division and the cell dies. Shorter telomeres accelerate a cell’s biological clock and are considered markers of aging.

Telomeres, Biological Clocks & Heart Disease

The American Heart Association discovered a link between shorter telomeres in white blood cells (immune cells called leukocytes) and the development of heart disease. Researchers sought to determine the relationship between telomere length and the risk of high blood pressure in men and women between the ages of 30 to 80 years.

The telomere length was measured in 388 people with high blood pressure and 379 healthy people. What they found was that older people and people with high blood pressure had the shortest telomeres.

It makes sense. High blood pressure causes physical damage to the white blood cells circulating in the bloodstream. Damaged cells need to regenerate by initiating cycles of cellular division. The more a cell divides, the faster the telomeres shorten. The end result is an accelerated biological clock and aged immune cells.

Aged and dysfunctional immune cells can have devastating consequences. For instance, systemic inflammation increases and damages the arteries feeding the heart. Complications include higher blood pressure and an increased risk for stroke and heart disease.

Participants with shorter telomeres were found to be more than three times as likely to develop heart disease compared with those who had longer telomeres. Researches also found that if the healthy subjects developed high blood pressure over the course of follow-up they too had shorter telomeres.

Analysis of the data confirmed that both short telomeres and high blood pressure were independent risk factors for developing heart disease. To prevent heart disease you need to maintain healthy blood pressure and slow-down the biological clock by keeping telomeres long.

Maintaining Healthy Blood Pressure

The trinity of nutrients can help you maintain healthy blood pressure. Supplementing your diet with these three powerful nutrients is simple, safe, and effective. Remember to check with your doctor before starting any supplement, especially if you’re taking blood pressure medications.

1. Grapeseed Extract

Supplementing with 150mg/day of a high quality grapeseed extract was shown in several studies to reduce and stabilize pressure.

2. Milk Peptides

Spliting milk protein in half creates a small protein fragment (peptides) called CVH-15. The protein fragment inhibits certain blood proteins that increase pressure. Take 1500mg/day of milk peptides.

3. Pomegranate Extract

A true superfood, pomegranate has been proven to work without side effects. Eating pomegranate is good, but you still need to supplement with 100mg/day.

Keeping Telomeres Long

HIV researchers from the National Institutes of Health have been exploring methods for lengthening the telomeres in white blood cells. White blood cells with long telomeres live longer and could strengthen the immune system in HIV patients. They successfully identify one herb that significantly lengthens the telomeres in white blood cells.

Astragalus is an herb cultivated in Asia and has been used for centuries to strengthen the immune system and treat winter viruses. The researchers concluded that 500mg/day of Astragalus can significantly lengthen the telomeres in white blood cells.

The Life Extension Foundation has tons of information on how to prevent heart disease. Visit the web site today at http://www.lef.org and use the search terms “heart disease.”  You will learn about innovative strategies for maintaining a healthy heart.

Foods that Lower Cholesterol

The foods that lower cholesterol form the foundation for heart disease prevention & treatment.  Relying solely on prescription drugs is a dangerous strategy that could leave you at risk. 

Eating the right foods is often the key step to reaching your target cholesterol level.  I place foods that lower cholesterol into 3 categories: binders, inhibitors, and regulators.

Binders

Binders are foods that stop the intestinal absorption of cholesterol into your body.  Soluble fiber and phytosterols form large clumps of cholesterol that can’t pass through the lining of your gut and enter your bloodstream:

1. Food Sources of Soluble Fiber 

  • Oat/Oat bran
  • Dried beans and peas
  • Nuts
  • Barley
  • Flax seed
  • Fruits such as oranges and apples
  • Vegetables such as carrots
  • Psyllium husk

2. Foods Rich in Phytosterols

  • Sesame seeds
  • Corn
  • Soybeans
  • Unrefined vegetable oils
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes (alfalfa, peas, beans, lentils)

Inhibitors

Inhibitors are foods that prevent the liver from making cholesterol.  Unlike statin prescription drugs, inhibitors come from natural food sources and aren’t dangerous:

1. Foods Rich in Monacolins

  • Chinese Red Yeast Rice (mostly available in supplement form)

2. Foods Rich in Flavonoids

  • Grapefruit
  • Lemons/Limes
  • Tangerines
  • Pomegranate
  • All berries

Regulators

Regulators are foods that lower cholesterol by maintaining the cholesterol cycle.  Cholesterol normally cycles back and forth between the liver and the rest of the body.  Vitamin C and the trace mineral copper help to keep the cycle going and prevent the build-up of cholesterol:

1. Foods Rich in Vitamin C

  • Sweet red pepper 
  • Strawberries 
  • Oranges
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Collard greens
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cabbage
  • Tomato

2. Foods Rich in Copper

  • Oysters
  • Shellfish
  • Whole grains
  • Beans
  • Potatoes
  • Organ meats

Foods that lower cholesterol provide the foundation for heart disease prevention and treatment.  If you can’t reach your target cholesterol level, you only have two choices: take more drugs or eat the right foods. 

What are you going to do?

Life Extension offers the highest quality supplements for managing cholesterol levels.

Western diet accountable for nearly a third of the world’s heart attack risk

Western diet accountable for nearly a third of the world’s heart attack risk

An article published online on October 21, 2008 in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association estimates that the diet typically consumed in Western countries, consisting of high amounts of meat, fried foods, and salty snacks, is responsible for approximately 30 percent of heart attack risk worldwide.

Salim Yusuf, DPhil and colleagues analyzed data from the INTERHEART study of heart attack risk factors among 16,000 participants in 52 countries. Five thousand seven hundred sixty-one participants diagnosed with heart attack were compared to 10,646 participants without known heart disease. The subjects were interviewed concerning dietary intake, including healthy as well as unhealthy food consumption. The researchers identified three dietary patterns, which they labeled as Oriental, prudent or Western. Oriental diets were characterized by a higher intake of tofu, soy, and other sauces, the prudent pattern contained a greater intake of fruit and vegetables, and the Western diet included an increased amount of meat, eggs, salty snacks and fried foods.

While followers of a “prudent” diet had a 30 percent lower average heart attack risk compared with people who consumed few fruits and vegetables, those who reported a Western dietary pattern experienced a 35 percent greater risk of heart attack than those who consumed few or no fried foods or meat.

The Oriental pattern showed no effect on heart attack risk. While some components of an Oriental diet appear to help protect the heart, the researchers suggest that the diet’s high sodium content could modify this benefit.

“A simple dietary score, which included both good and bad foods with the higher score indicating a worse diet, showed that 30 percent of the risk of heart disease in a population could be related to poor diet,” concluded lead author Romania Iqbal.

“The objective of this study was to understand the modifiable risk factors of heart attacks at a global level,” stated Dr Yusuf, who is a professor of medicine at McMaster University and director of the Population Health Research Institute at Hamilton Health Sciences in Ontario, Canada. “This study indicates that the same relationships that are observed in Western countries exist in different regions of the world.”