If you're like most people, the suggestion of getting your blood taken may be less than appealing to you. That being said, having regular blood testing done is an important way to help prevent further pain and anguish down the road. Cardiovascular disease continues to remain as one of the leading causes of death in North America. Currently, one in every three deaths is from heart disease and stroke (approximately 2,500 deaths per day). Cardiovascular disease is also very expensive -- together heart disease and stroke hospitalizations cost both the USA and Canada more than $474 billion in health care expenses and lost productivity annually.
There are many risk factors for Heart Disease, and high cholesterol has been a well-documented risk factor for heart attack and stroke for decades. However, not ALL cholesterol is bad. One form of cholesterol -- HDL (high density lipoprotein) -- actually provides healthy cardio-protective benefits. LDL (low density lipoprotein) is often known as the lethal cholesterol, hence the target of most cholesterol lowering strategies. That being said, how many people do you know who currently take, or have taken a cholesterol lowering medication at some point in their life? If I could see a show of hands chances are almost everyone would have their hand up!
However, despite the enormous use of cholesterol lowering 'statin' medications (i.e. #1 drug of all time -- Lipitor), heart disease continues to be one of the leading causes of death, even continuing to affect those on pharmaceutical treatment. In fact, one recent study has shown that 75 per cent of people who have heart attacks have normal cholesterol. This begs the question, is cholesterol really the key factor in heart disease? Leading researchers believe not. Thankfully, top researchers all over the planet have honed in on key cardiovascular biomarker blood tests that can provide a more comprehensive assessment (and ultimately best customized treatment). It is time for a functional medicine approach to treat and prevent heart disease. Here are my seven heart tests that can save your life:
Hs-CRP is a powerful biomarker to help identify inflammatory processes in the body especially those affecting the cardiovascular system. Cholesterol plaque injures blood vessels, triggering inflammation and raising CRP levels in your blood. Women with high levels of CRP may be up to 4x more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke. A high CRP is most dangerous if you also have another risk factor: a waist circumference of more than 35 inches, indicating the presence of belly fat. It is a critical screening test for anyone with a family history of heart disease or at high risk. Optimal range should be 1.0 mg/ml or less.
Fibrinogen is a protein in your blood that helps blood clot. But too much fibrinogen can cause a clot to form in an artery, leading to a heart attack or stroke. Having too much fibrinogen may also mean that you have atherosclerosis. It may also worsen existing injury to artery walls. Your doctor may check your fibrinogen level if you have an increased risk of heart disease. Smoking, inactivity, drinking too much alcohol and taking supplemental estrogen -- whether from birth control pills or hormone therapy -- may increase your fibrinogen level. A normal fibrinogen level is considered to be between 200 and 400 mg/L.
3. Fasting Insulin
With Type 2 Diabetes remaining at startling levels, more care is needed to pick up early warning signs of this preventable illness. Fasting insulin provides a powerful view as to how the body manages blood sugar levels. Evidence shows that a chronically elevated level of Insulin feeds inflammatory processes in the body creating higher risks for Cancer & Heart disease as well. Optimal range should be less than 8.4 uIU/ml.
Homocysteine is a substance your body uses to make protein and to build and maintain tissue. But too much homocysteine may increase your risk of stroke, certain types of heart disease, and disease of the blood vessels of the arms, legs and feet (peripheral artery disease). If you want to ensure your arteries are strong and healthy, then this is an important test to run. Optimal range for Homocysteine is 6.0umol/L or less.
5. Lipoprotein A
Unlike the traditional cholesterol blood test, which measures total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides, the advanced test also looks at particle size. This is important because some particles are big and fluffy, so they tend to bounce off artery walls as they travel through the body. Others are small and dense, meaning they can penetrate the artery lining and form clumps of plaque. (Think beach balls versus bullets.)
The Lp(a) blood test analyzes a specific type of cholesterol that can triple heart risk. In essence, elevated levels of Lipoprotein A stops clot busting mechanisms -- essential for reducing dangerous formation of clots that can cause dangerous blockages. Sizing up your particles gives a clearer picture of heart risk than the conventional test: Having a lot of large particles cuts risk, while small ones raise it. The more Lp(a) you have, the worse it is too -- it makes LDL particles extra sticky, so they cling to the lining of blood vessels, causing plaque and clots. Optimal values should be less than 20 mg/dl.
If you have an interest in aging well and reducing your risk of chronic disease, this is another 'must have' on your blood test list. Hb-A1C is a powerful test shedding light on how our body has been handling sugars. Elevated HbA1c levels indicate a long term inability to handle sugars, essentially 'caramelizing' inner organs and tissue. This of course increases our risk for Diabetic complications but also poses a 5x increased risk for heart disease. Optimal values for Hb-A1C are 3.5 -5.5 %.
7. Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) Testing
Genetic testing is quickly becoming one of gems of preventive and anti-aging medicine. Single nucleotide polymorphisms (or 'SNP's') are an important area in genetic testing that is able to provide a glimpse into our genetic susceptibilities -- thus opening an entire new realm to preventive medicine. Most commonly, these variations are found in the DNA between genes. They can act as biological markers, helping scientists locate genes that are associated with disease.
When SNPs occur within a gene or in a regulatory region near a gene, they may play a more direct role in disease by affecting the gene's function. Researchers have found SNPs that may help predict an individual's response to certain drugs, susceptibility to environmental factors such as toxins, and risk of developing particular diseases (i.e. Heart disease, Cancer, Diabetes, Alzheimer's, etc.) SNPs can also be used to track the inheritance of disease genes within families. If specific SNP's are identified, a customized treatment program can be created to provide the utmost individualized care before a problem arises.
To your health,
Dr. John Dempster, ND, FAARFM, ABAAHP
This post also appears on http://thedempsterclinic.com/blog/
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