Tuesday, July 8, 2008

How Do You Know if You Have a Healthy Heart?

The 3 Critical Factors You Need to Know

The role total cholesterol plays in heart disease has come into question. For decades, the research stated that clogged arteries are caused by high cholesterol. However, now we know it is not as simplistic as that.

Now there's other important players' high-sensitivity C reactive protein (CRP), homocysteine and your HDL/LDL profile.

The CRP Factor
CRP measures inflammation within the body, which is a valuable predictor of heart disease. One recent research study proved this. In a three-year study of more than 28,000 healthy postmenopausal women, 122 of the women had a heart attack, stroke, angioplasty or coronary bypass.

When comparing blood samples from these women to 244 similar women who had no heart problems, those who started out with the highest CRP levels were four times more likely to have heart disease than those with the lowest blood level. That was even true for women with undesirable LDL ('bad' cholesterol) under 130 mg/dl.

How does CRP differ from cholesterol? While cholesterol tells us about a person's propensity to develop plaque, it doesn't tell us which plaque is likely to rupture due to inflammation. Plaque that ruptures can lead to stroke and heart attack, and whether a plaque ruptures depends on inflammation. Unlike cholesterol, CRP provides us with this valuable information.

The Homocysteine Factor
Elevated level of homocysteine (a metabolite of the amino acid methionine) has recently been identified as a risk factor in heart disease. That's because homocysteine can attach to LDL cholesterol, making it stick to the artery wall, leading to thickening and narrowing of the arteries.

Among the 15,000 doctors participating in the Physicians' Health Study, those with an elevated homocysteine level had a heart attack rate three times as high as those with lower levels over a period of just 5 years.

What causes an elevated homocysteine level? One factor is a deficiency in vitamins B 6, 12 and folic acid. That's because the enzymes that process homocysteine require these B vitamins.

The Cholesterol Family
Most health expert's report a total cholesterol level below 200 mg/dl is recommended. Yet, this alone does not provide us with enough information. More importantly, the ratio between high-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol) and low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) needs to be reviewed. A ratio of 4:1 or better will improve your chances of lifelong heart health.

How Can You Promote Heart Health

To Get Started

  • Talk to your physician about a blood work-up, including CRP, homocysteine, total cholesterol, which includes both LDL and HDL numbers.

Clean Up Your Diet

  • Cut the fat -- try not to use fat as a flavoring agent. Instead of butter, use lemon juice and herbs to season vegetables. Extra virgin Olive Oil is always a great choice.
  • Reduce your meat consumption -- if you're concerned about getting your protein, try experimenting with different soy & tofu products.
  • Add more phyto-nutrient-rich plant foods such as broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, etc.
  • Increase your consumption of heart-healthy fish, such as salmon and tuna.
  • Choose leaner meats such as the loin, sirloin and round. Cut any visible fat off the meat, and it's a good idea to remove the skin from poultry.
  • Up your fiber intake by increasing fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Get enough essential fatty acids (e.g.: flaxseed oil, fish oils, etc)

Maintain a Reasonable Body Weight
Believe it or not - if you are presently overweight, even a modest weight loss can significantly reduce your risk for heart disease, as well as other degenerative diseases.

So keep your body moving - walking, running, swimming, or even bike riding are great ways to keep your heart healthy, and keep off those extra pounds

Supplements That Can Help

  • MSM (methylsufonylmethane) - which is a naturally occurring sulfur compound, is the one nutrient that is most likely to lower CRP, the blood marker for inflammation.
  • Antioxidants -- to keep your 'bad' cholesterol from being oxidized, which increases the incidence of heart disease. Include antioxidants as Vitamin C, E, Grape seed extract, Resveratrol, Alpha-lipoic acid, Beta-carotene and Selenium.
  • CoQ10 -- besides being an antioxidant, CoQ10 is a powerful heart energizer that promotes healthy blood pressure, improves valve function, lowers cholesterol levels, and boosts energy output of your heart. The result? It keeps your heart pumping efficiently. Plus, it hastens recovery after surgery.
  • Liver Enhancing Nutrients -- such as Milk thistle, Schizandra, Artichoke, Dandelion, and PhosphatidylCholine. You need a healthy liver to properly process cholesterol.
  • Vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid -- to maintain healthy homocysteine levels. Elevated homocysteine levels promote atherosclerosis by directly damaging the artery and by reducing the integrity of the vessel wall. Elevated homocysteine levels are an independent risk factor for heart attack, stroke and vascular disease.
  • Vitamin B6 also provides additional cardio-protecting properties. In addition to helping to lower homocysteine levels, it also helps to inhibit platelet aggregation and lowers blood pressure.
  • Red Yeast Rice Extract --this traditional Chinese herb, also known as Monascus purpureus rice, helps to lower blood cholesterol levels in two ways. It contains monacolins, which are potent inhibitor of HMGCoA reductase, the enzyme responsible for synthesis of cholesterol in the liver. Red yeast rice also contains unsaturated fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce serum lipids
  • Niacin (as Inositol Hexaniacinate) -- this form of niacin helps to lower blood cholesterol without causing any of the usual niacin toxicity reported in scientific research including uncomfortable flushing, headaches and stomachache. It exerts a multi-factorial effect: it helps to lower LDL cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol, as well as helps to decrease triglycerides and fibrinogen levels (fibrins are a clot forming protein).
  • Garlic -- this valuable herb has a profound effect on our circulatory system. It may lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood, inhibit platelet aggregation (stickiness), and increase fibrinolyisis, which results in slowing of blood coagulation. Garlic has been found to be mildly antihypertensive and provides noticeable antioxidant activity.

By making these simple changes,
You will have a straight path to heart health

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