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What tests are MORE important than cholesterol?

Posted May 13 2013 10:02pm

In the conventional practice of early heart disease prevention, cholesterol testing takes center stage. Rarely does it go any further, aside from questions about family history and obvious sources of modifiable risk such as smoking and sedentary lifestyle.

So standard practice is to usually look at your LDL cholesterol, the value that is calculated , not measured, then–almost without fail–prescribe a statin drug. While there are indeed useful values in the standard cholesterol panel–HDL cholesterol and triglycerides–they are typically ignored or prompt no specific action.

But a genuine effort at heart disease prevention should go farther than an assessment of calculated LDL cholesterol, as there are many ways that humans develop coronary atherosclerosis. Among the tests to consider in order to craft a truly effect heart disease prevention program are:

Lipoprotein testing–Rather than using the amount of cholesterol in the various fractions of blood as a crude surrogate for lipoproteins in the bloodstream, why not measure lipoproteins themselves? These techniques have been around for over 20 years, but are simply not part of standard practice.

Lipoprotein testing especially allows you to understand what proportion of LDL particles are the truly unhealthy small LDL particles (that are oxidation- and glycation-prone). It also identifies whether or not you have lipoprotein(a), the heritable factor that confers superior survival capacity in a wild environment (“ The Perfect Carnivore “), but makes the holder of this genetic pattern the least tolerant to the modern diet dominated by grains and sugars, devoid of fat and organ meats.

25-hydroxy vitamin D–The data documenting the health power of vitamin D restoration continue to grow, with benefits on blood sugar and insulin, blood pressure, bone density, protection from winter “blues” (seasonal affective disorder), decrease in falls and fractures, decrease in cancer, decrease in cardiovascular events. I aim to keep 25-hydroxy vitamin D at a level of 60 to 70 ng/ml. This generally requires 4000-8000 units per day in gelcap form, at least for the first 3 or so years, after which there is a decrease in need. Daily supplementation is better than weekly, monthly, or other less-frequent regimens. The D3 (cholecalciferol) form is superior to the non-human D2 (ergocalciferol) form.

Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c)–HbA1c represents glycated hemoglobin, i.e., hemoglobin molecules within red blood cells that are irreversibly modified by glucose, or blood sugar. It therefore provides an index of endogenous glycation of all proteins of the body: proteins in the lenses of the eyes that lead to cataracts; proteins in the cartilage of the knees and hips that lead to brittle cartilage and arthritis; proteins in kidney tissue leading to kidney dysfunction.

HbA1c provides an incredibly clear snapshot of health: It reflects the amount of glycation you have been exposed to over the past 90 or so days. We therefore aim for an ideal level: 5.0% or less, the amount of “ambient” glycation that occurs just with living life. We reject the notion that a HbA1c level of 6.0% is acceptable just because you don’t “need” diabetes medication, the thinking that drives conventional medical practice.

RBC Omega-3 Index–The average American consumes very little omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, such that a typical omega-3 RBC Index, i.e., the proportion of fatty acids in the red blood cell occupied by omega-3 fatty acids, is around 2-3%, a level associated with increased potential for sudden cardiac death (death!). Levels of 6% or greater are associated with reduced potential for sudden cardiac death; 10% or greater are associated with reduced other cardiovascular events.

Evidence therefore suggests that an RBC Omega-3 Index of 10% or greater is desirable, a level generally achieved by obtaining 3000-3600 mg EPA + DHA per day (more or less, depending on the form consumed, an issue for future discussion).

Thyroid testing (TSH, free T3, free T4)–Even subtle degrees of thyroid dysfunction can double, triple, even quadruple cardiovascular risk. TSH values, for instance, within the previously presumed “normal” range, pose increased risk for cardiovascular death; a TSH level of 4.0 mIU, for instance, is associated with more than double the relative risk of a level of 1.0.

Sad fact: the endocrinology community, not keeping abreast of the concerning issues coming from the toxicological community regarding perchlorates, polyfluorooctanoic acid and other fluorinated hydrocarbons, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PDBEs), and other thyroid-toxic compounds, tend to ignore these issues, while the public is increasingly exposed to the increased cardiovascular risk of even modest degrees of thyroid dysfunction. Don’t commit the same crime of ignorance: Thyroid dysfunction in this age of endocrine disruption can be crucial to cardiovascular and overall health.

All in all, there are a number of common blood tests that are relevant–no, crucial–for achieving heart health. Last on the list: standard cholesterol testing.



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