fasting blood sugar testThe fasting blood sugar test will actually tell you more about your risk of heart disease than your cholesterol profile. Are you surprised?

Don’t be! While this is not a “cholesterol test,” it IS an important marker for heart disease risk!

Sugar is intimately involved with inflammation, and as we know, it is inflammation that is the real culprit in heart disease, cholesterol is just along for the ride!

According to Dr. Mark Houston associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University, for every additional point above 75 on your fasting blood sugar reading, your risk of heart disease goes up!

This is due to the fact that high blood sugar levels in your blood are an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

The impact of elevated blood glucose levels

Sugar is a killer, a serial killer, where your health is concerned. Medical science is just now starting to figure out how damaging sugar can be in your system when the levels are high.

There are a number of reasons for this:

  • High blood sugar causes increased insulin (which is a pro-inflammatory hormone)
  • Elevated sugar levels make your blood more acidic and it tends to clot more readily
  • Sugar causes stiffening of arteries and blood vessels
  • Sugar decreases the oxygen carrying capacity of your blood
  • Nitric oxide is vital for heart health and high sugar levels lower it
  • High sugar levels also cause glycation which is a hardening of tissues in your heart and arteries

For all the reasons above, it’s important to know what your blood sugar levels are, so that if they are high, you can make the necessary changes that will bring the level down and reduce your risk of heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure.

How is the test performed?

A fasting blood sugar test, which is also called a fasting plasma glucose, or FPG test, measures your blood glucose level after you have fasted for at least 8 hours.

It’s a very accurate test, and does not vary by age or how physically active you are. It tends to be a physician favorite because it’s easy to do, cheap, and you get the results relatively fast.

The test is done first thing in the morning (so you can get the results by the afternoon), after at least an 8 hour period with no food, and nothing to drink but water.

A nurse or physician assistant will draw your blood and send the sample to the lab. When the results come back your doctor will discuss with you what the results mean, in terms of your risk for both heart disease and diabetes.

Levels for these tests are expressed in “millgrams per deciliter” (a deciliter is one 10th of a liter). Thus a reading of 100mg/dl is read as 100 milligrams per deciliter.

The threshold for normal fasting sugar levels should be below 100mg/dl, but some experts, most notably Dr. Mark Houston, feel the safe level is 70 -75 mg/dl!

What do the scores mean?

Doctors use what are called “reference ranges” to determine exactly what these tests indicate. All of this is of course relative to the results taken of sample populations to determine what is statistically healthy and what is not.

There are cut off points beyond which a clinical diagnosis is made, and these would appear to be splitting hairs so to speak, but of course the line must be drawn somewhere.  Whatever the result, you will have a much better idea of where you stand, and what you have to do to protect your health in the long term.

If your blood sugar measures between 100 mg/dl to 125 mg/dl, the doctor will probably order a follow-up test to eliminate error. This test result indicates “pre-diabetes” and your doctor may want to discuss steps you can take to bring your sugar levels down and prevent diabetes.

If you score 126mg/dl or above, the doctor will want to test you again to eliminate the chance of some anomaly that might have caused an inaccurate reading. If a follow-up test scores the same result, this will confirm that you are diabetic!

Of course it may seem silly to say that if your result on this test is 125mg/dl you don’t have diabetes and at 126 mg/dl you ARE diabetic, but they had to make a cut off point somewhere.

What is important is that if you are in the range 100-125 you need to make changes to your nutrition and exercise habits to get your blood sugar down to healthy levels.

Insulin is a factor too!

When your blood sugar levels spike, your body produces insulin to lower the sugar level. So if your fasting blood sugar test indicates higher than normal blood sugar levels, you can be sure your insulin levels are high as well.

Insulin is a very pro-inflammatory hormone that causes a lot of problems in your body when it is chronically elevated. This is another reason why you would want to get your sugar levels down to what is considered healthy.

Insulin causes inflammation and damage to the endothelial lining of your arteries, which is how the process of atherosclerosis begins. Thus your sugar levels have a direct bearing on the development of heart disease.

Connection with heart disease

If your blood glucose levels are chronically elevated, a process called glycation comes into play, which causes tissues like the heart and blood vessels to lose elasticity and become stiff.

This stiffening process, along with the damage from inflammation, makes you susceptible to heart attacks, high blood pressure and strokes.

To make it really simple and clear, elevated blood sugar=heart disease! This connection is far more important than cholesterol which does not directly cause heart disease. High blood glucose levels are also a factor in many other chronic diseases as well.

The fasting blood sugar test, by measuring how high your blood sugar is on average gives you a clear indication that your risk for heart disease is elevated, which in turn gives you a chance to lower your risk and avoid heart disease, by bringing your blood sugar levels down.

cholesterol lowering foods

 

Cholesterol lowering foods have a lot more benefits than just promoting good cholesterol levels. Foods to lower cholesterol often have antioxidant and anti inflammatory benefits as well. These foods will help you lower cholesterol naturally, maintain a stable weight, fight disease, and add healthy years to your life!

Some of these foods you will be familiar with, and some may be knew to you, but the point is that you will have a wide variety of tasty foods to choose from, and they will result in better cholesterol numbers as well as reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes.

Good cholesterol levels can be promoted in many ways, and your diet is a huge factor in what your cholesterol profile looks like. Focusing on cholesterol lowering foods is a great strategy because the reductions in cholesterol numbers will happen automatically just by eating certain foods.

Cholesterol lowering foods:

Foods to lower cholesterol work in several ways:

  • Foods with high fiber
    • Fruits like apples, pears, coconut, guava, grapefruit, berries, figs, apricots
    • Vegetables like greens, sprouts, squash, eggplant, green beans, and peppers
    • Whole oats, beans, legumes, lentils, peanuts
    • Nuts and seeds of all kinds
  • Foods that provide beneficial fats
    • Chicken, turkey
    • Free range grass fed meat, salmon and cold water fish
    • Avacados, olives
    • Nuts, nut butters, seeds, seed butters
  • Foods that provide antioxidant protection
    • Spices like curcumin (curry), cloves, cinnamon, oregano, nutmeg, chilli powder
    • Nuts such as peanuts, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds
    • Onions, garlic, chilli peppers
    • Dark skinned vegetables, fruits like grapes and berries

These are ALL cholesterol lowering foods, and they work in different ways. They all contribute to better nutrition, digestion, and antioxidant status. These are healthy ways to achieve good cholesterol levels, rather than depending on toxic medication that often have severe side effects.

The foods listed above help lower blood sugar, which in turn lowers insulin (a very important aspect of heart health). some cholesterol lowering foods bind with bile acids containing cholesterol and help flush it from the body. They protect blood vessels from the effects of inflammation due to the antioxidants they contain.

This is the most important relationship between cholesterol and diet, not just how much cholesterol is contained in the foods you eat. Blood glucose levels affect your cholesterol profile, so any foods which lower blood sugar are beneficial in promoting good cholesterol levels.

Some of these cholesterol lowering foods also raise HDL! This is especially important because it is the HDL/LDL ratio that determines your risk of heart disease. So raising HDL is critical to protecting your cardiovascular system from the effects of inflammation.

When we talk about foods to lower cholesterol, these are ideally foods in their raw and natural state. Some foods do have to be cooked for safety, but when you can eat foods raw and unprocessed, so much the better.

Good cholesterol levels are generally defined as total cholesterol between 160mg/dl and 180mg/dl, with an HDL level of over 45mg/dl. Cholesterol CAN be TOO low, which is dangerous as well because it is associated with increased risk of serious illness, even heart disease!

The point of all this is that using cholesterol lowering foods to reduce cholesterol levels will allow you to do it naturally, so that your body will optimize it’s cholesterol production rather than using drugs to artificially lower it.

To sum up one again the 3 benefits of cholesterol lowering foods:

  • Foods that provide fiber to bind cholesterol and eliminate it from your body
  • Foods that provide beneficial fats to balance hormones and inflammatory pathways
  • Foods that provide antioxidants benefits to protect against free radicals and oxidative stress

The relationship between cholesterol and diet really depends on the above three factors. A diet that fails to do those things, is associated with high cholesterol levels, because your body is not functioning optimally.

Cholesterol lowering foods can do all of these things and more. They will promote longevity and good health, allowing you to avoid the devastating effects of cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. Yes foods to lower cholesterol can do all that, so enjoy them in good health.

By – Eve Pierce

Heart disease is a huge concern in the US at present. On average, 600,000 people per year die in this country as a result or to put it more starkly, 1 in 4 per annum; a quarter of the country’s annual deaths.

healthy-heartIt is America’s most significant killer and incidences of the condition are on the rise. But, for many, the facts of heart disease are shrouded in mystery. What exactly causes it? Is there any way it can it be avoided? Are the causes obvious, or are there causes that are lesser known?

And most importantly; what can be done in terms of lifestyle and dietary change, to ensure that the illness is avoided? For those seeking to promote longevity in their lives, it is vital to address these issues, in order to maintain a healthy heart and to live a long and fulfilling life.

What is Heart Disease?

Considering how often the phrase is used in society, it is often one of the most misunderstood medical terms. Heart disease does not simply refer to heart attack (though coronary disease still remains the most common; killing on average, 385,000 people per annum).

It can refer to a whole range of conditions affecting the heart, including heart rhythm problems and infections. Alarmingly, few Americans are aware of the symptoms; which is a contributing factor to the high rate of death among sufferers. Symptoms include:

  •     Shortness of breath.
  •     Pain in the upper body, particularly in the arms, neck, back or upper stomach.
  •     Cold sweats, dizziness or nausea.
  •     Chest pain.

It is a good idea to be aware of the symptoms, but a far better idea is to be aware of the preventative measures that can be taken to ensure that heart disease never occurs.

Causes of Heart Disease

As might be expected, major contributory factors are diet and lifestyle. A major cause of heart disease has been attributed to foods that are high in polyunsaturated oils and processed carbohydrates; foods which are still sadly all too prevalent in the US. In addition to this, food that is high in processed salt content, and trans fats are considered to be large contributors to heart disease.

Exercise (or lack of) is also a considerable factor, as is smoking. However, there are some lesser known and rarer causes; such as spasms of the arteries caused by certain drugs and medications, trauma to the chest and even other diseases, such as Kawasaki disease.

Recent research has also uncovered other interesting suggestions of lesser known causes, such as the link between cardiovascular disease and baldness in males. However, all experts agree that, with appropriate adjustments to lifestyle and eating habits, heart disease can be avoided by a significant proportion of the US population.

How to Avoid Heart Disease and Promote Longevity

When making lifestyle changes, sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start. When making plans to change your way of living to avoid heart disease, an excellent place to start is with diet. Avoid fried foods and anything that contains trans fats. Start cutting down on processed table salt, which can cause problems for those people with elevated blood pressure

Avoid adding unnecessary amounts of salt to your cooking and avoid eating heavily salted products, such as potato chips and fries. When considering introducing exercise into your life, aim for little and often, at the start, rather than less frequently but more intensively. When you become more fit, you can increase the intensity of your exercise as appropriate.

Experts recommend taking a brisk walk for ten minutes, three times a day; at least five days of the week. Sometimes, introducing this can be as simple as opting to walk to the local store rather than drive there; or choosing to walk the dog three times a day, rather than once. If you are a smoker, try quitting (smokefree.gov has great tips to get you started) and it is also advised to cut down on alcoholic intake.

Healthy Heart; Happy Head

Focus on developing a positive attitude when changing your lifestyle for the better. For those who are used to viewing exercise as unpleasant and fast food and candy as a ‘treat’, having the willpower to make the changes can be tough. Rather than focusing on what you’re missing, think forwards and visualize where you want to be in the future; fit, healthy and heart disease free.

Lowering triglycerides can significantly improve heart health! Your body is an totally integrated system. Knowing the cause of high triglycerides and learning how to reduce your levels will decease your risk of heart disease.

lowering triglyceridesWhile cholesterol is most often blamed for heart disease, recent scientific evidence does not support the theory that cholesterol causes cardiovascular disease. Fully half of all heart attacks occur in patients who have what are considered normal cholesterol levels. The evidence more strongly points toward triglycerides.

Triglycerides are a major factor in heart disease. An estimate two thirds of heart disease cases are at least partly a result of abnormal triglyceride levels.

There are two types of high triglycerides:

  • Familial (genetic) – usually over 400mg/dl this is not
    thought to be a cause of heart disease
  • Insulin resistant – usually 150-400mg/dl this is dangerous,
    associated with pre-diabetes and increased risk of heart disease

What are triglycerides and why are they important?

Triglycerides are lipids that are made from fats or carbohydrates you eat and are stored in the body. The higher their levels, the greater your risk for heart disease, which is why lowering triglycerides is so critical for your cardiovascular health.

Here is why elevated triglycerides are dangerous, and why lowering triglycerides is so important.

  • They are deposited in various organs including the heart
  • They can alter gene expression and increases heart disease
  • They can cause insulin resistance leading to diabetes
  • They can accumulate on artery walls causing plaque buildup
  • They thicken blood causing strokes and other circulatory
    problems
  • They contribute to abdominal obesity

What is a normal triglyceride level?

Before you go about lowering triglycerides, you need to check your levels to get a baseline so that you can tell how effective your efforts to lower them are!

The guidelines of the American Heart Association recommend that a normal triglyceride level is under 149 mg/dl.

However the Life Extension Foundation recommends an even lower level of 80-100 mg/dl measured in a fasting state.

The “fasting state” is when you have not eaten for at least 12 hours.

Unlike cholesterol, you really don’t have to worry about triglycerides going too low, so lowering triglycerides will have positive benefits for your health.  Doing the right things will bring the levels down naturally, to what is optimal for you.

Cause of high triglycerides

Just what causes these levels to become too high?

There are several factors:

  • Eating carbohydrates that raise your blood sugar rapidly
  • Problems with carbohydrate metabolism
  • Heavy drinking
  • Insulin resistance (poor insulin sensitivity)
  • A diet that consists of over 60% carbohydrate
  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise – low physical activity
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic Syndrome
  • Kidney disease
  • Certain prescription medications (estrogen, birth control pills, tamoxifen, steroids, beta-blockers, and diuretics)

Lowering triglycerides

Lowering triglycerides really comes down to two things, restricting sugars, and getting regular exercise. Of course there is more to it than that, but those are the two most effective things.

Most people eat too many refined carbohydrates, and that is the cause of high triglycerides.

A “low glycemic diet” high in fiber will help in lowering triglycerides. This is because fiber slows down the entry of sugars into the bloodstream. Rapid entry of sugar into the bloodstream causes insulin to rise, and this promotes inflammation which in turn causes triglyceride levels to go up!

Nutritional supplements such as circumin, and green coffee extract, can also help by lowering inflammation, and helping the body manage blood sugar levels more efficiently.

Exercise also helps in lowering triglycerides  because it increases insulin sensitivity, maintains lean muscle, and mobilizes fatty acids to be burned for energy.

Below are some short simple steps for lowering triglycerides:

  • Limit your carbohydrates to mostly fresh vegetables – go easy on fruits
  • Eat what is known as a low glycemic diet
  • Avoid over consuming grains, and eating sweets
  • Eat lean proteins
  • Use nutritional supplements as you need them
  • Get some kind of brisk exercise each day

That’s pretty much it! Lowering triglycerides willboost heart health and improve the health of your entire cardiovascular system.  It’s probably the best things you can do to put yourself on a path to better health!

Green Tea and Cholesterol have been the subject of many research studies that indicate that it a highly beneficial substance for its ability to lower cholesterol naturally, and also provide antioxidant protection to your entire body!

cup of green teaThis age old herbal wonder has been used as a folk remedy for many different conditions in Asia, and has now become popular all over the world as a health sustaining drink.

Drinking tea can be a very healthy habit to get into IF you are drinking the right kind of tea.

What are the benefits for managing cholesterol levels?

Studies have shown that green tea and cholesterol have an inverse relationship, that is higher consumption of green tea results in lower cholesterol levels. Keep in mind that high chlesterol levels are often the body’s way of compensating for deficiencies (like vitamin-d for example), so when a substance seems to lower cholesterol levels it may indicate the body needs that substance to be healthy.

Here is a short list of benefits:

  •     Lower triglycerides
  •     Lower LDL cholesterol
  •     Raise HDL Cholesterol
  •     Boost antioxidant activity
  •     Lower inflammation
  •     Boosts levels of the super antioxidant SOD
  •     Lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer

Lower triglycerides

Green tea can lower triglycerides which in turn will lower LDL cholesterol. This effect on blood fats has been well documented. In addition the antioxidant benefits prevent LDL particles from oxidizing and this is very important for avoiding the artery damage that causes heart attacks.

Lower LDL cholesterol

LDL or “low density lipoproteins” are a big risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Green tea effectively lowers the levels of LDL in your body, removing a serious risk factor for the causation of arterial plaque, heart attacks, and strokes.

Raise HDL cholesterol

By raising HDL levels, green tea further protects arteries from damage caused by oxidized LDL. HDL itself is an antioxidants, and it has been shown that when several antioxidants combine in the body, they have a synergistic effect when combined.

Lower blood pressure

Green tea has a positive effect on blood pressure by promoting function of your arterial lining, which is what regulates blood pressure. This is preferable to the use of prescription drugs which can have serious side effects.

Research done in Japan on over 1,300 Japanese men indicated that green tea and cholesterol were inversely related, the more tea they consumed the more they were able to lower cholesterol naturally.  It can be part of a more natural approach to cholesterol mangement that avoids the serious side effects of using statins. This alone makes the tea worth serious consideration.

Those men who drank 9 cups per day or more had levels of cholesterol that were significantly lower than those drinking 0-2 cups per day. Tea drinking in Japan is a popular custom, and the Japanese are the longest living people in the world on average. While it’s true that the Japanese and Chinese do many healthy things diet and exercise wise, tea drinking is among the healthiest of them all.

Form and dosage

One to ten cups per day will provide benefits for your cardiovascular system, or you may find it more convenient to use in supplement form, consuming one (350-500mg) capsule per day of 95% extract of green tea.

Green tea and cholesterol will continue to be the subject of ongoing research, and it’s likely that this research will uncover even more benefits from using this age old herbal substance. One thing is for sure, and that is that you will get multiple health benefits by enjoying this age old Asian remedy!

What are normal triglyceride levels and how do they relate to your cholesterol levels? What are the causes of high triglycerides, and how does lowering triglycerides help your cholesterol profile?  These are important questions, and the answers will put you on a path to better cardiovascular health.

What are triglycerides?

Most fats in your body are in the form of triglycerides. They are fat molecules that are created from the fats you eat and also from sugar you eat that is converted to fat and stored in your body. Their levels correspond directly with the risk of heart disease, and thus you can lower your risk by lowering triglycerides.

Although you can have your levels triglyceride levels tested separately, they are typically tested when you get your cholesterol levels profile checked. This is standard when having blood tests done in conjunction with say an annual physical.

What are Considered Normal Levels?

Normal levels of triglycerides are defined as:

Below 150 mg/dl, (Milligrams per Deciliter )

but some experts feel that optimal levels are closer to 50mg/dl, or below, because above 60mg/dl abnormal particles begin to appear in the blood.

This elevates heart disease risk as these particles help form the plaque that narrows arteries and causes heart attacks. Thus normal triglyceride levels are actually closer to the 60mg/dl mark.  The standard of of below 60mg/dl, will lower cholesterol naturally and drastically reduce your risk of heart disease.

Elevated Triglycerides Are Bad

These fatty molecules collect in your organs (and your arteries) and damage them. They have a negative effect on gene expression and promote heart disease. They also increase the tendency of your blood to clot, which increases your risk of strokes. This is even more of a problem in people with diabetes.

Belly fat is mostly made up of triglyceries, and fat in this area of your body is associated with sharply increased risk of heart disease.  Abdominal fat is big risk factor for heart disease, strokes, senile dementia, and other diseases that involve chronic inflammation.

They can also build up in artery walls and are involved in the development of athleroschlerosis. Thuys they are considered one of the primary causes of both elevated cholesterol levels, and the process of plaque development in your arteries.

Causes of High Triglyceries

The typical causes are:

  • Excess sugar  (in the form of starchy carbohydrates, alcohol, candy, pastries, ect.)
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Lack of exercise or physical activity

All of the above issues are related and making inprovements in one area will help with the others as well. For example, exercise will lower blood sugar which in turn will lower triglycerides. Metabolic syndrome is really a collection of symptoms related to obesity.

The remdy for these issues is a healtheir lifestyle which is outlined in the steps below.

Lowering  Triglycerides

Lowering triglycerides is just as important as optimizing cholesterol.  Several strategies are effective for reaching normal triglyceride levels, and they mirror the things you would do for optimizing cholesterol as well.

They are:

Lowering your sugar intake, including processed carbs and alcohol

  • Exercise – 3 times per week for at least 15 minutes per session
  •  Niacin (vitamin B3) at dosages of 250-500 mg with food
  • Fish oil 4000 mg/day of concentrated fish oil
  •  Eat high fiber foods such as oat bran and raw nuts

Fish oil alone can result in a reduction of triglycerides of 50%, and combined with a low sugar diet and regular exercise it is possible to reach normal triglyceride levels naturally, without using any medications.

There is also new evidence that a class of compounds called tocotrienols can help safely lower both low density lipoproteins and triglycerides. Using natural nutritional and lifestyle approaches should always be your goal, because medications carry dangerous and unwanted side effects which can cause serious health problems and even make some conditions worse!

It’s pretty safe to say that achieving normal triglyceride levels is one of THE most powerfully effective strategies for optimizing your cholesterol profile and protecting yourself from cardiovascular disease!

What are optimal cholesterol numbers? Doesn’t this contradict the latest theory that cholesterol does NOT cause heart disease. The truth is that it is a “factor” but not the “cause”!

cholesterol numbersHow do we establish what the optimal levels for LDL and HDL are? These are important questions because the idea that cholesterol specifically causes heart disease is so deeply ingrained in the average person (and most doctors as well).

This is a difficult question to answer definitively because the issue is just so complex. I can tell you what some of the guidelines are, and of course they vary from one source to another. There is a generally accepted “optimal range” for cholesterol numbers.

Here are the guidelines issued by the American Heart Association.

 

Desirable Borderline Risk High Risk
Total Cholesterol 200 or less 200-239 240 and over
HDL 60 or higher 40-59 40 or less (men)
HDL 60 or higher 50-59 50 or less (women)
LDL less than 100 130-159 160-189
Triglycerides less than 150 150-199 200-499

 

 

 

 

 

Keep in mind that these guidelines somewhat reflect the influence of the drug industry and their attempts to increase their market for cholesterol lowering drugs called “statins.”

The recommended cholesterol numbers keep being adjusted downward, in my opinion in order to get doctors to prescribe more statin drugs which of course boots revenues of the drug industry.

In addition, there are other tests which are called “inflammatory markers,” that have a direct bearing on your risk for developing heart disease, and these tests should also be used to more accurately determine what your overall risk of cardiovascular disease is.

Once you know your level of risk based on the latest tests and analysis of particle types, then you can target your lifestyle strategies (exercise, diet, and stress reduction) to protect your heart health. This should always be the end point of ANY testing…a program to address whatever risks the tests have identified.

What really DOES Causes Heart Disease?

Here’s a simplified explanation. Heart disease is caused by inflammation. That is what actually damages the lining of your arteries. As Dr. Stephen Sinatra likes to say “Cholesterol is found at the scene of the crime, but it’s not the perpetrator!”

When arteries are damaged, your body uses LDL to try and repair the damage, kind of like patching holes in a wall. Obviously the LDL did not cause the damage, but gets attached to the artery walls and accumulates eventually clogging the artery. This is called an “occlusion.”

When the LDL particles that stick to your arteries become oxidized and thus inflammatory, the process of arteriosclerosis begins. This is where the small highly inflammatory LDL particles called HP(a) come in.

So again, the cholesterol did not initiate the process of heart disease, but it IS an important factor in the progression of heart disease. With that out of the way, lets move on…

Focus on Particle Size and Type, Not Just Cholesterol Numbers

The real focus should be on the type and particle size NOT just the levels. According to Dr. Stephen Sinatra, an integrative cardiologist who is board certified by the American College of Cardiology, if your LDL particles are large and fluffy then you really don’t need to worry so much about your LDL levels.

However if the LDL’s are small dense highly inflammatory particles, then your risk is greatly elevated. There is a test that measures for these small inflammatory particles (HP(a)), called the Lipoprotein Particle Profile (LPP) test.

The LPP test measures the level of HP(a) which is a small dense LDL particle which is very toxic and inflammatory to the blood, potentially causing your blood to become “hyper-coagulated” which is another word for sticky and more likely to clot.

The takeaway message is that if you have this dangerous inflammatory LDL particle, then obviously the higher your total cholesterol numbers, the more of this dangerous particle you have, and the greater your risk. Simply stated, high levels matter when you have dangerous LDL particles in your blood.

So in closing, optimal cholesterol numbers are totally dependent on particle size and type. If your cholesterol particles are the small dense inflammatory type, then you need to make a greater effort to lower your levels.

If your LDL type is large and non-inflammatory, then your total levels are not something to be overly concerned about. You should take the time to consult with an integrative cardiologist to determine how best to manage your heart health.

What is Cholesterol

What is cholesterol? Among other things it is a very much misunderstood substance that people have been unnecessarily frightened of. They have been told repeatedly by “experts and authorities” that it’s a dangerous substance, that must be lowered in your body before it kills you!

what is cholesterolIn this information website, we will try and demystify this perfectly natural substance and disprove once and for all that it causes heart disease! We will also provide good solid information and easy to implement strategies that will help you prevent heart disease instead of just “lowering cholesterol.”

Let’s start with a discussion of  what is cholesterol…

Cholesterol is a fat (also called a lipid) that is made in the liver. It’s part of a class of compounds called steroids which are made in the bodies of all animals. This substance is vital to your body, is transported through the blood, and is contained in the external layers of all cells.

The origin of the word cholesterol originally comes from the word chole which means bile in Greek. The other part of the word derives from the Greek word stereos meaning stiff or solid. This waxy fatty substance is necessary for your cells to maintain their structural integrity.

This is why it is absolutely vital for life, and in fact your body actually manufactures this substance for use in all of your cells. Statin drugs interfere with the production of cholesterol which is why they cause so many side effects.

What is cholesterol used for?

There are many functions for this amazing substance:

  • It is used in creating the myelin that coats and protects your nerves somewhat like the insulation on a wire.
  • It is used for synthesizing bile acids which your body needs for digestion.
  • Your body uses it to make sex hormones (androgens and estrogens) and also in the synthesis of the adrenal hormones such as cortisol and aldosterone.
  • It’s used in to metabolize vitamins A, D, E, and K (the fat soluble vitamins)
  • It is used in the reactions that synthesize vitamin D from sunlight.
  • It’s essential for maintaining the outer structural layer of your cells and also for keeping the cell membranes permeable so that certain molecules can pass through the membrane and enter the cell.

In order to travel through your bloodstream, it needs to have a protein coating and thus becomes something called a “lipoprotein.” They are called lipoprotiens because they contain both protein and fat.

The four main types of these lipoproteins are:

  1. LDL or low density lipoproteins often called bad and are associated with an increased risk of heart disease when they are high
  2. Chylomicrons (triglycerides) consisting of approximately 90%  fat
  3. HDL or high density lipoproteins (often referred to as the “good cholesterol”) HDL is thought to “protect” the arteries from damage by carrying away LDL particles so they can’t build up on your artery walls.
  4. VLDL or very low-density lipoproteins (often referred to as a very bad form of lipoproteins) These particles are considered to have the highest risk of contributing to heart disease because they are small dense highly inflammatory particles that can damage artery walls.

The role of triglycerides…

Triglycerides are fat molecules that come from the fat in the foods we eat, or can be synthesized from carbohydrates that are not burned for energy. These triglycerides are stored in your body and released to be burned for energy when your body does not get enough food to meet it’s energy needs. The truth is that it is triglycerides that really increase the risk of heart disease!
Hypertriglyceridemia is a term used to refer to high levels of triglyceries in the blood and researchers now know that this is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. High glycemic carbohydrates can raise levels of triglycerides and greatly increase risk of heart disease.

While this area is still somewhat controversial, it’s clear that triglycerides have a major role in heart disease and they are increased by sugar consumption. It makes sense for this reason to keep your intake of sugar and high glycemic carbohydrates low to avoid setting yourself up for cardiovascular disease.

A Complex Question…

Doctors have been taught to calculate your risk of heart disease using ratios of these lipoprotein particles. They have also been given guidelines for what the “safe” and “dangerous” levels are.  Now these guidelines have been called into question, as new information has changed what the medical community “thought” they knew!

Even though the question of  what is cholesterol is a complex one, you will see that terms like good  and bad cholesterol are misleading and inaccurate. All of these forms of this vital substance have their necessary roles. Instead we should be looking at the effects of chronic inflammation and how we can neutralize it, because it is really inflammation that causes heart disease!

References:

Curr Cardiol Rep. 2011 Dec;13(6):544-52. doi: 10.1007/s11886-011-0220-3.
The role of triglycerides in atherosclerosis. Talayero BG, Sacks FM.
Source: Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115, USA. btalayer@hsph.harvard.edu