Heart Disease

What you need to know to Before Disaster Strikes

Heart Disease Kills More People Than Any Other Disease.

Heart attacks, the earliest symptom for most people afflicted with coronary heart disease (CHD), are no laughing matter. Many of us have the misfortune to know someone who has perished to CHD or has suffered a heart attack.  The facts and figures surrounding heart attacks and CHD are scary.  Some of the most frightening are that:

  •  Over 370,000 people are killed annually by CHD in the United States. [1]
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. [1]
  • Every year, about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack. [2]

Unfortunately, with this great cause of mortality looming in the background, there’s the common misconception that cholesterol is solely to blame.  In fact, cholesterol has become a dirty word in the last few decades.  Misunderstanding surrounding cholesterol has attributed it to just about every heart attack since it was put on the forefront of the national health discussion.  In the process, it’s put certain foods containing saturated fats (like meat, eggs, butter and nuts) on the defense.  Myths still persist today that cholesterol is destroying your health and is the one and only cause of heart disease.  In fact, there is a whole body of research that has been put forth over the last fifty years that suggests otherwise. 

Most cholesterol panels and standard blood tests run by conventional medical doctors will tell you nothing about your risk of suffering from a heart attack, stroke or heart disease.

Truth Bombs

When it comes to CHD and heart attacks, as with any disease, we know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  This is especially important to functional medicine practitioners.  That’s why we get a little frustrated when we see conventional still practitioners using cholesterol tests as the only indicator of heart attack risk. 

We understand, based on the most recent medical research, that this paints both an inaccurate and incomplete picture of the patient’s risk of heart attack.  In fact, this practice can be downright misleading; suggesting that a patient with “normal” cholesterol numbers is not at risk for heart attack, when other indicators would suggest they are actually at high risk. 

Sadly, this is true in most cases and the numbers surrounding this fact don’t lie: A 2009 study by UCLA concluded that almost 75 percent of patients hospitalized for a heart attack had cholesterol levels indicating they were not a high risk for a cardiovascular event, based on current national cholesterol guidelines. [3]

Luckily for us, there has been a great deal of research completed that gives a much clearer picture of what makes you susceptible to a heart attack.  Based on this, we now know what to look for and have assembled risk assessments (combining and interpreting a number of different tests) which are able to predict if you or your loved ones are at risk for this silent killer

We use the following assessments to get a far more accurate read on your risk of heart attack than cholesterol tests alone do: 

  • Blood Pressure
  • Biometrics
  • Lipid Testing
  • Carotid Intima-Media Thickness (CIMT)

Keep reading to understand more what each of these assessments tell us to give you an accurate reading the most accurate reading on your heart attack risk possible.

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is a simple, straightforward measurement that we use to measure whether or not you have hypertension.  Hypertension, or high blood pressure, and is a good, baseline indicator of your risk for heart attack.  Hypertension causes wear and tear on the arteries that supply blood to your heart.  This leads to a slow narrowing of your arteries from an excess buildup of cholesterol and fat (otherwise known as atherosclerosis).  This narrowing of the arteries can cause a situation where clots become likely to form.  These clots can then block blood from reaching the heart, causing a heart attack. 

Did you know that high blood pressure can often be improved or even reversed with simple diet and lifestyle changes?

Blood Pressure Fact

Biometrics

Biometrics are distinctive, measurable physical characteristics used to describe your individual body and can oftentimes have a direct correlation to your health or risk of disease.  These characteristics can change over time, which makes them excellent for tracking your health over a long period.  Recent research has been able to determine which biometrics point to your risk of heart attack. 

The most important biometrics we measure for heart attack risk include body fat percentage, hip to waist ratio and visceral fat.

Body Fat Percentage

Body fat percentage is a measure of your total fat mass divided by your today body weight.  Body fat includes your essential body fat and your stored body fat.  Your essential body fat consists of the amount of fat you need to stay alive and reproduce.  For men, essential fat is around 2 – 5% and for women, it’s around 10 – 13%.  Average folks will typically have body fat percentages ranging from 18-24% for men, and 25-31% for women [4].  Individuals with body fat percentages above these levels are medically classified as obese. 

Body fat percentage is important when it comes to measuring heart attack risk because we know that excess fat releases inflammatory proteins into the blood stream that can play a role in cardiovascular disease.  We also know that body fat is much more important than scale weight or Body Mass Index when it comes to predicting heart attack risk [5].  There’s more to the story than this as we’ll discuss later, but for now, know that body fat percentage is a key biometric we look for when assessing heart attack risk.    

There are a number of ways to measure body fat percentage, some more accurate than others.  These include air or water displacement, density measurements, bioelectrical impedance analyses and anthropometric methods. 

Waist-To-Hip Ratio

Your waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is the ratio of the circumference of your waist to that of your hips.  In other words, the larger your WHR, the larger your waist is compared to your hips.  Someone with a large WHR would have a large midsection relative to their beltline.  Conversely, someone with a small WHR would have a slim midsection and wide hips. 

The WHR is important because it indicates if an individual has abdominal obesity or excess visceral fat.  Men with WHR > 0.9 and women with WHR > 0.85 are considered to have abdominal obesity [6]

Why is visceral fat as measured by WHR important?

There are two different types of fat we carry around on our bodies: cutaneous fat and visceral fat.  Cutaneous fat is located just below the skin while visceral fat is found in the abdomen and around our organs.  Visceral fat is the fat of concern when it comes to heart attack risk.  The liver metabolizes visceral fat into “bad” cholesterol, or low-density lipoproteins (LDL) that collects, hardens and narrows the arteries.  In other words, the more visceral fat you are carrying around, the more likely you are to suffer from a heart attack

The WHR is a quick, relatively simple measurement that only requires an individual’s waist and hips are measured and gives a good indication of heart disease risk.    

Lipid Testing

Beyond blood pressure and biometrics, lipid testing is an important piece of the heart attack risk puzzle.  This provides an excellent look inside your body which enables us to see in more detail some of the biochemical aspects we know to be important to your cardiovascular health.  Some of the most important components we look at in advanced lipid testing include:

  • Triglycerides – These are a type of fat found in your blood. After you’ve eaten, your body manufactures these with any calories it doesn’t need right away.  The triglycerides are then stored in your fat cells and released later by your hormones for energy.  If you regularly eat more calories than you need (especially from carbohydrates), you’ll likely have high triglycerides which increases your risk of heart attack.  
  • Low-density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – Nicknamed “bad” cholesterol, LDL cholesterol is the main source of plaque that causes your arteries to harden and put you at risk of heart attack.
  • High-density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol – Nicknamed “good” cholesterol, HDL cholesterol “cleans” LDL cholesterol from your arteries. In general, the higher your HDL cholesterol, the better, especially when compared to LDL cholesterol. 
  • Lipoprotein (a) – Lipoprotein (a) is a particle that transports your triglycerides and cholesterol through your bloodstream and has been recognized recently has an important marker for your heart attack risk.  

1. High Cholesterol is not the primary cause of heart disease.

2. Diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol do not cause heart disease.

3. Consumption of “heart-healthy” vegetable oils are linked to heart disease and cancer.

4. Statin Drugs don’t reduce the risk of death for most people and have dangerous side effects.

50 Years of Heart Research Facts

Carotid Intima-Media Thickness Test (CIMT)

A CIMT scan uses ultrasound to detect heart attack risk before symptoms occur.  The CIMT scan determines the thickness of the two inner layers of your carotid arteries (the intima and media) and gives us a good indication of your health and your heart attack risk.  If increased thickness is found in either the intima or media by the CIMT scan, then it gives us a good indication that there may be plaque forming in your arteries.  We can then recommend an aggressive approach to manage your risk factors for heart attack.  The scan is quick – lasting about 10 minutes – and completely non-invasive.  No preparation is required and you don’t need to worry about any radiation or injections. 

Final Thoughts

Now you know that there is more to the heart attack story than just total cholesterol.  You should understand that that there a wide variety of factors to consider and measure when it comes to heart attack risk.  We can help to both measure and mitigate these risks for you, and your loved ones, so you can enjoy many happy, healthy years together. 

Contact us today to determine which tests you should consider to determine your heart attack risk – before it happens.

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