vitamin-d-sourcesFew people are aware of the relationship between vitamin d and cholesterol, but it’s an important one and it shouldn’t be ignored. Although it’s called a vitamin, it’s actually a hormone and a deficiency of it can be life threatening!

It’s Actually a Hormone

Vitamin d refers to a number of is a fat soluble steroid molecules that are involved in the absorption of important minerals in your intestinal tract.

The two most important factors are:
vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) and vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol)

It’s also called the “sunshine vitamin” because it can be bio synthesized in your body when your skin is exposed to natural sunlight. This is especially important to people of African ancestry that live in temperate climates that have long winters.

Since their darker skin pigmentation filters out some of the suns rays, they are at increased risk of deficiency because of their skin filtering out natural sunlight (especially during long winters.)

For black people, supplements are a MUST! It appears that pretty much every disease that people of African descent suffer from disproportionately is linked with vitamin d deficiency. This is not widely known, but can still cause lots of health problems that could be avoided with wise use of supplementation.

The Cholesterol Connection

The human body is amazingly resourceful at bio synthesizing what it needs from what we put into our bodies. Thus when we have a deficiency of vitamin d the body will make it from cholesterol. This can cause your cholesterol levels to rise, because your body needs the extra cholesterol in order to synthesize this vitamin/hormone.

You have read in this blog that lowering cholesterol is not necessarily needed to prevent heart disease because it has been found not to be a direct causative factor. However if your cholesterol levels are elevated because of a lack of vitamin d then you need to take steps to supply your body with this nutrient by getting more sun exposure and taking supplements when you can’t get enough sun, such as in the winter.

Elevated cholesterol levels can indicate other problems in your body that you need to address. This is another reason why statin use can be problematic. It can mask the symptom (elevated cholesterol) that is being caused by another problem (like vitamin d deficiency).

Effects of Vitamin D Deficiency

  • increased risk of heart attack and stroke
  • depression
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • increased risk of cancer
  • increased risk of infection
  • increased risk of multiple sclerosis

Some Food Sources of Vitamin D

  • Cod liver oil
  • Butter from grass fed cows
  • Beef or Calves liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Cheese
  • Water packed tuna
  • Oil packed sardines

Supplementing Vitamin D

Supplementary forms of this vitamin can be found in any health food store. My favorite is Jarrow Formulas D3. I opt for 5,000 units per day in the winter and half that dosage in the summer. It is difficult to overdose on this vitamin, as long as you are not using a synthetic version of it.

The ideal situation is that you get your levels tested by a doctor and do follow ups until the levels are where they are supposed to be. This is a fat soluble vitamin and so should be taken with a meal that contains healthy fats.

Vitamin k2 should be taken with vitamin d as those two nutrients work togegher to ewnsure that your body handles calcium properly. One of the top experts on vitamin K2 Dr. Rheaume Bleue suggests a ratio of 100-200 micrograms of K2 for every 1,000 IUs of vitamin d.   Again I would go with Jarrow Formulas MK-7, combined with their D3 product.

Sun Expose is Healthy

It’s been said before, but bears repeating…sun exposure is HEALTHY! Human beings evolved on the surface of the Earth. We NEED sun exposure in order for out bodies to function properly. Don’t avoid getting sunlight, because if you do, you are undermining your health in a critical way.

sunshine vitamin

sunshine helps your body synthesize vitamin D

Use common sense of course. Don’t overdo it, as too much of anything can be a problem, but remember that getting out in the sun and fresh air has benefits that go far beyond making you feel good and improving your mood.

How Much Sun Exposure?

This depends on how dark your skin is. Light skinned people should avoid prolonged exposure such as beyond 10-15 minutes in the sun. Darker skinned people of course can tolerate longer exposure, but you should be conservative with your time in the sun and gradually build a tolerance to sun exposure over time as you get more tanned.

Wearing a wide brim hat, proper sunglasses, and long sleeve clothing can help protect you as well. Remember also that you can get burned even on a hazy day because enough of the suns rays still get through and you may not be aware of how long you have been exposed.

Remember also that sunblock will prevent your body from making the vitamin d it needs from sun exposure, so If you are using sun screens on your skin you are defeating the purpose of getting sunlight.

cholesterol-particlesHow did we arrive at the conclusion that LDL cholesterol is the villain in heart disease?

Well…once again we see the mistakes made by researchers that lead us to think of LDL as the culprit.

A little history…

It had to do with a machine used in the laboratory, called an analytical centrifuge that created evidence that ultimately mislead researchers and clouded the issue of cholesterol sub-particles.

Invented in 1949 and used until 2004, this device was used to spin blood plasma samples at 40,000 rpm to separate out the cholesterol fractions such as HDL and LDL.

However this spinning process cannot separate the particles with the precision required to identify all of the sub-fractions of cholesterol that are present in the blood. It may have been state of the art when it was first used, but still fell far short in the accuracy required to actually identify all the sub-fractions of cholesterol.

This started the characterization of cholesterol particles as either good or bad cholesterol, depending on the particle density. This was a gross oversimplification that stuck in the minds of the public.

For many years this simplified version of a person’s risk of heart disease based on their ratio of good and bad cholesterol stood as the cutting edge of cholesterol testing and heart disease prevention.

This was accompanied by the now debunked view that saturated fats caused heart disease because of their association with cholesterol. People avoided saturated fats out of a fear that was not founded in good science.

They also consumed statins, the most prescribed class of drugs on Earth due to the same fear of cholesterol and it’s supposed relationship to heart attacks.

Americans have consumed some 14 billion dollars in cholesterol lowering drugs, which some health experts have advocated be given to people of all ages including children allegedly to prevent heart disease.

John Abramson argues in his book Overdosed America that lowering LDL cholesterol has inadvertently become the main focus of preventative medical care in the United States.

Cutting edge thinking about LDL cholesterol

Yet a more recent breakthrough utilizing a new technology called ion mobility analysis has shaken the traditional concept of cholesterol’s role in heart disease to the core, and called the entire LDL cholesterol theory into question.

Ronald M. Krauss, of the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, is using ion mobility analysis to count cholesterol particles such as LDL and HDL down to the smallest sub particle types using principles of physics.

Even though it’s extremely expensive and not widely available, this technology has helped to rewrite the rules on how we think about cholesterol and heart disease.

Rather than continuing to believe that LDL cholesterol is the bad cholesterol here, we now know that there are four types of LDL particles that factor into the risk of heart disease.

Some LDL particles are benign and others more dangerous. Thus it makes no sense to continue to base diet and drug recommendations on an outdated theory when the science regarding cholesterol particle types is far more precise now.

We could be using drugs that target the wrong particles, and making dietary recommendations that are doing more harm than good at this point, all while dramatically escalating health care costs and actually making treatment less effective!

Low Density Lipoproteins

LDL comes in four sizes:

  • Large (big fluffy particles)
  • Medium
  • Small
  • Very Small

As the LDL particle size decreases the particles become more dense, (and more dangerous). This is because the large fluffy particles can’t lodge in your artery walls as plaque, while smaller dense LDLs CAN!

High fat diets tend to increase the large fluffy LDL particles, while low-fat high carbohydrate diets increase the smaller more dense particles.

From this you can see why the standard medical advice about how we should eat to avoid heart disease is seriously flawed! It was all based on an oversimplified and outmoded concept of the nature of cholesterol particles.

Typical cholesterol tests can’t differentiate between large and small LDL particles. There are also genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that affect LDL particle size.

Enter “Ion Mobility Analysis”

Using ion mobility analysis, Dr. Krauss and his colleagues determined that there are some 11 different particles. This was done using a sample of 4,600 healthy men and women volunteers.

Eight percent of the test subjects went on to develop heart disease, and using statistical algorithms the researchers developed a series of three very accurate predictors for who would go on to develop heart disease.

Here are the correlations that Dr. Kraus’s team found:

    1. High levels of small and medium LDL particles with low HDL (called atherogenic lipoprotein phenotype) Also known as pattern B
    2. Low HDL levels
    3. High total LDL cholesterol

So as it turns out LDL cholesterol and the risk of heart disease is a complex relationship that standard cholesterol tests are almost useless to predict.

The PLAC Test

There is one test however that can give you a better idea of what your risk is. You can read about it in my article called “The PLAC Test.” This is the latest test that really utilizes our new knowledge of LDL to make more accurate predictions about what your real risk for heart disease is.

Using this test you can make better choices about lifestyle and diet, because they are based upon a more complete understanding of the science of cholesterol particles.

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.

Normal cholesterol levels…just what are they?  This is hard to determine because what is normal for one person is not normal for another. There is only a range where experts generally agree the risk of heart disease either increases or decreases when your cholesterol level falls outside of that range.

That’s about the best modern medicine can do, because of the many other factors involved in heart disease, and the fact that there is really no “normal level” just a normal cholesterol range.

The following table will help define what normal cholesterol levels are said to be by the American Heart Association:

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

Normal Cholesterol Range and Hear Disease Risk

Keep in mind that these so called normal cholesterol levels are not absolutes, they are statistical representations of risk based on data that has been accumulated from studies and patient populations. What that all means is that they are scientific guesses!

Also bear in mind that the pharmaceutical industry CAN and DOES influence guidelines for normal cholesterol levels and risk factors, because it is to their advantage to do so. When the guidelines lower the threshold at which a person is said to be “at risk” more drugs are prescribed by doctors based on those guidelines.

This is very good for the drug companies because it boosts their sales of statin drugs, but it is NOT so good for patients, because they are being given drugs with toxic side effects based on an assessed “risk” that has been influenced by the companies that make the drugs.

So use the normal cholesterol levels in the above chart as just a guide, and focus on lowering cholesterol naturally, as well as inflammation. When you use natural methods, your body will normalize it’s cholesterol levels to what is appropriate for YOU.

You will be much healthier for it and will avoid toxic medications. These drugs can themselves create life threatening side effects which may be as bad or worse than the medical condition they are supposed to prevent.

Normal Cholesterol Levels vs HDL Ratio

The chart above also references what we call the HDL/LDL ratio. This is the ratio of the so called “good cholesterol” vs the “bad cholesterol.” This ration is actually more important as a risk factor than the total cholesterol level, because HDL is said to protect against heart disease.

There are many ways to raise HDL levels which when you think about it may also raise your total cholesterol level. However remember that the higher the HDL level, the less chance of heart disease, so raising HDL is something you definitely want to do.

Some of the strategies I will show you in this blog will both lower LDL and raise HDL. So DO think about this in terms of achieving this healthy ratio, rather than getting hung up on just the total cholesterol numbers, and what normal cholesterol levels are supposed to be. Remember that this ratio is more important than just being in the normal cholesterol range.

Cholesterol production vs serum cholesterol

Serum cholesterol is the amount of cholesterol detected in your blood. Your body actually makes cholesterol, which is a perfectly normal and natural function. Unless you have a genetic defect, it won’t make too much cholesterol.

Your focus when achieve a normal cholesterol level should be diet, exercise, and nutritional supplements! Statin drugs prevent your body from making cholesterol which is a dangerous thing to do.

The correct way to achieve so called normal cholesterol levels is making sure your body has low levels of inflammation, and helping your body clear excess cholesterol from your system, rather than allowing it to be cycled back into your bloodstream again.

cholesterol reducing drugsCholesterol reducing drugs are huge sellers for the drug industry, but are they safe? Cholesterol reducing drugs or cholesterol meds as they are referred to artificially lower cholesterol.

High cholesterol medication may not effectively prevent heart disease, and each new cholesterol drug seems to have it’s share of dangerous side effects.

Mainstream medicine’s reliance on medication for bringing down high cholesterol levels may very well be unfounded. Funding for research studies into the effectiveness of these drugs is often conducted by the very companies that stand to profit if the drug is approved. This is a huge conflict of interest, and it may even mean that the claims made for the effectiveness of cholesterol lowering medication are exaggerated or false.

The most popular class of cholesterol reducing drugs are called statins. They are taken by more than 25 million people around the world to lower cholesterol. In fact, the statin drug called Lipitor is the most widely prescribed drug in the world!

Some of the brand names of these statins are:

  • Lipitor
  • Pravachol
  • Vytorin
  • Zocor
  • Crestor

These drugs and many other cholesterol meds work by inhibiting an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase, that is responsible for the production of cholesterol your liver. These drugs actually replace the HMG-CoA in your liver, which triggers the production of what are called LDL receptors, which attach to the cholesterol molecules and transport them to the liver where they are deactivated.

The problem with using these drugs to lower your cholesterol levels is twofold:

  • They are toxic and damage your liver
  • Your body actually needs cholesterol for many important biochemical reactions

Thus lowering your cholesterol by interfering with the production of this vital substance in your body is a dangerous practice that an increasing number of doctors feel is not worth the risk of side effects that these Cholesterol reducing drugs cause.

Statins contained in medicine to lower cholesterol, deplete a substance in your body called coenzyme q-10 which is used in many vital chemical processes in the body. One drug company was even working on a synthetic form of coenzyme q-10 that would be part of their cholesterol medicine, in order to prevent deficiencies of q-10 from causing side effects in the people taking their statin drugs.

However this product containing supplementary coenzyme q-10 never made it to commercial production. So when people take statins, they become deficient in this critical nutrient, and are not even aware they are at risk for some serious problems such as cancer, cardio myopathy, and Alzheimer’s disease, to name a few.

It goes without saying that anyone taking medicine to lower cholesterol should be taking supplementary coenzyme q-10 to protect themselves from deficiency cause by statin drugs.

Some health experts feel that the increases in cases of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, rhabdomylosis (a medical condition that causes muscle breakdown), are due to the widespread use of cholesterol reducing drugs containing statins. Some doctors continue to aggressively promote and prescribe these drugs to their patients.

However other physicians, alarmed at the side effects of statins they are seeing, believe that the risks of these drugs are so great that their use in supposedly preventing heart disease is not justified.

Some of the warning signs of serious side effects are:

  • Persistent muscle pain
  • Numbness in fingers and toes
  • Loss of memory
  • Headache
  • Weakness or lack of energy
  • Rashes
  • Dark colored urine

These are just some of the signs that you are experiencing potentially serious side effects from a new cholesterol drug you are taking. These symptoms should be reported to your doctor right away. If the doctor you are seeing does not take them seriously or seem concerned, you should change doctors.

Cholesterol reducing drugs can have deadly side effects. It is best to pursue ways to lower cholesterol without dangerous drugs. Seek out a doctor that is knowledgeable about nutrition and natural ways to lower cholesterol. It just may save your life!

The PLAC test is a cutting edge medical screening test that identifies arterial The PLAC Testplaque that is in danger of rupturing. This test, used in conjunction with other cholesterol screening tests can pinpoint your risk of a sudden heart attack with a much greater degree of certainty.

The test actually measures levels of an enzyme in your blood known as lipoprotein phospholipase A2. This enzyme is responsible for a process that can cause damage to your endothelial layer and set the stage for atherosclerotic plaques which can rupture and trigger a heart attack.

When your levels of Lp-PLA2 are elevated, it indicates that you have plaque that can rupture and create a blood clot that results in a heart attack or stroke.

The most current information we have tells us that using cholesterol levels to determine your risk of heart attack is not very accurate. However medical science has identified a process where LDLs (low density lipoproteins) and Lp-PLA2 particles undergo oxidation by free radicals.

These oxidized particles then attack the blood vessel wall causing damage and making the plaque deposits hard and brittle. This oxidized brittle plaque can then break off and cause life threatening problems such as a heart attack or stroke.

Lp-PLA2 is actually created in atherosclerotic plaques and thus can serve as a marker for inflammation in the artery wall. People who have heart disease show high levels of this marker (Lp-PLA2) which not only indicates they have plaque buildup, but also that the plaque is oxidized and can cause severe cardiovascular events.

Autopsies on patients who died suddenly of heart attacks showed ruptured plaques and high levels of Lp-PLA2 in their arteries.

This has also been see in patients who undergo surgery for carotid artery atherosclerosis. They show the same high levels of Lp-PLA2 that indicates a danger of rupturing plaque.

Those people who showed atherosclerosis of the carotid artery but did not show symptoms had much lower levels of Lp_PLA2. It’s clear from this evidence that this is a very significant and useful marker for predicting sudden cardiovascular events.

Studies done at the May Clinic also found that Lp-PLA2 was a specific indicator of dangerous plaques even in the absence of other risk factors. This indicates that it is inflammation and not merely cholesterol levels that create the risk of sudden heart attacks and stokes, so it is inflammation that we should address in our efforts to prevent heart disease.

Advantages of the PLAC test:

  • The test more accurately predicts the risk of sudden heart attack or stroke than other lipid screening tests.
  • The test directly measure lipoprotein phospholipase levels, a very accurate inflammation marker.
  • The PLAC test is the only medical screening approved by the FDA that indicates both heart attack and stroke risk in patients.
  • The test is relatively inexpensive and convenient.
  • The test can also be used to monitor a patients response to treatment and lifestyle changes.
  • The test is covered by Medicare and private insurance companies.
  • The test does not have to be taken in a fasting state.
  • The test can be used in patients that are currently using Pravachol, Benadryl, and Tylenol

Who should get the PLAC test and when?

Experts recommend a formula for determining who should get the test based on other risk factors and their estimate risk of sudden heart attack within a ten year period. This makes no sense to me at all. We have a test that can specifically identify people who are a high risk for a heart attack or stroke, before this actually happens and give them a chance to lower their risk.

I believe the PLAC test should be used as a standard cardiovascular screen test, because it targets the process that is actually dangerous, rather than cholesterol levels which don’t really give an accurate measure of your risk. Once the test has been done, all that’s left is to determine how to go about lowering the risk, by reducing the inflammation in your arteries.

As to who should have it done, it makes sense to me that anyone approaching middle age would be a candidate for it. Autopsies of US soldiers killed during the Korean War showed atherosclerotic plaques in the arteries of young men in their 20’s. Based on this it seems reasonable that the test could even be done on people in their early 20’s as a way of identifying people who may be at risk and giving them plenty of time to make the lifestyle changes needed to protect themselves.

People with metabolic syndrome which consists of the following:

  • obesity
  • abnormal blood lipid profile
  • elevated blood sugar
  • high blood pressure

are prime candidates for the PLAC test, as it is known that metabolic syndrome involves inflammation and thus raises the risk of heart disease.

The test can be done at followup intervals to verify the success of lifestyle changes and other interventions in terms of lowering the patient’s risk. While I claim no medical expertise, common sense suggests that this test be done early and the person then adapt their lifestyle, nutritional and exercise habits to mitigate this risk. That approach makes the most sense.

How to interpret the test results:

Even though the Lp-PLA2 test is much different than cholesterol screening tests, the levels are somewhat similar:

The 3 risk levels are:

Low:   under 200 ng/mL

Borderline:  200 to 235 ng/mL

High:  over 235 ng/mL.

Lp-PLA2 levels over 200 to 220 ng/mL indicate a very high risk of endothelial damage which in turn presents a very high risk of atherosclerosis.

Medical Interventions:

The PLAC test can be used to identify the magnitude of risk and also to determine how well the treatments used to combat it are working. This is why followup tests are important.

Statin drugs are said to provide a 20-30% reduction in Lp-PLA2 levels. The risk to benefit ration of statins is something you will have to discuss with your doctor.

Niacin used in combination with statins is reported to provide an additional 5 to 20% further reduction of the Lp-PLA2 enzyme.

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are also reported to lower Lp-PLA2 levels, and medical scientists have speculated that the effectiveness of all cardiovascular drugs may actually depend on their ability to successfully lower Lp-PLA2 levels

Niacin and omega 3 fatty acids (fish oil) also show an ability to reduce levels of Lp-PLA2.

Tumeric spice (also called circumin) has been found to reduce a form of phospholipase in animals, and thus may be of value to humans in reducing Lp-PLA2 levels, but the study results are not in on this yet. My guess is however that turmeric is most probably of value in human as well.

Conclusion:

Since heart disease is the nation’s number one killer, preventing it is vitally important to a long and health life. Medical screening tests such as blood pressure and cholesterol are not enough to accurately predict who is a risk for a heart attack or stroke.

The PLAC test is relatively inexpensive, non invasive, and very accurate in predicting who is at high risk for a sudden cardiac event like a heart attack or stroke. It really represents a cutting edge approach to identifying people at high risk and helping them make the changes that can save their lives.

Cholesterol too low, how can this be a problem? We have all heard about the supposed relationship of heart disease to cholesterol levels, so we assume that lower is better. NOT SO!

cholesterol too lowEverything in your body is based on maintaining a balance, and cholesterol profiles are no exception.  Low cholesterol levels can be just as unhealthy as levels that are too high.

The belief that simply lowering cholesterol will protect you from heart attacks has been encouraged by the pharmaceutical industry and those medical professionals that serve it.  While cholesterol is a factor, there are other things involved such as inflammation, that make a big difference.

The risks of various serious medical conditions rise for those individuals having a total cholesterol level of under 160 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter).  That said, some experts recommend that the ideal is somewhere between 180mg/dl and 200mg/dl for total cholesterol, (but even this is subject to controversy)

What causes low cholesterol?

Cholesterol that’s too low can be caused by:

  • Use of statin drugs
  • Malnutrition
  • Malabsorption – inadequate absorption of nutrients from the intestines
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Liver dysfunction
  • Manganese deficiency
  • Celiac disease
  • Leukemia and other blood diseases

Please note:  Excessively low cholesterol levels need to be evaluated by a trained medical professional to determine the cause and the proper treatment. It is important not only to know what causes low cholesterol, but also having a proper treatment strategy in place to make sure you address it.

When you optimize cholesterol naturally, this is not a problem, because you are not trying to curtail your own body’s production of cholesterol, but rather preventing re-absorption through the large intestine.

You will NOT bring your cholesterol too low with this approach.

Effects of low cholesterol

Hypocholesterolemia – cholesterol too low, has been associated with a number of serious medical disorders such as:

  • Reduced production of your body’s steroid hormones
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Increased risk of strokes
  • Increased risk of depression/bipolar disorder
  • Increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Possible loss of memory
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Increased risk of schizophrenia

Effects of low cholesterol are very serious, and you need to focus not on simply lowering cholesterol, but achieving a healthy level based on your individual biochemistry.  With cholesterol too low, many vital chemical processes can’t be completed properly.

Cholesterol too low? – So what is the right approach?

The correct approach is not to simply focus on lowering cholesterol, just as weight loss should not simply be about losing weight.  Rather than making your cholesterol too low, this process will allow you to achieve the right balance.

That process includes:

  • Proper eating
  • Proper exercise
  • Nutritional supplementation
  • Stress reduction

Proper eating should include foods that are low in cholesterol but also nutrient dense, and which contain plenty of fiber. This is because fiber can absorb excess cholesterol as it passes through the large intestine and is then excreted out of the body in the stool.  The recommended fiber consumption is about 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men.

Proper exercise is short and intense, like interval training, but ultimately should be moderated by the age and physical condition of the person doing it. Be cautious and seek professional guidance in setting up an exercise program if you are an older person, or if you have a serious medical condition.

Nutritional supplementation should include full spectrum vitamin and mineral formula. A high quality fish oil is also a key supplement that will lower your risk of heart disease and every other medical condition you can think of. Sufficient levels of omega 3 fatty acids are essential to good health, and fish oil supplies these.

Stress reduction uses various techniques to lower stress and promote relaxation and tranquility. Among these, grounding is one of the most effective. Other strategies like meditation, the speed trace, and various other relaxation techniques can be very effective.

Having your cholesterol too low is a risk factor for chronic disease. A balanced approach, rather than just low cholesterol levels is the answer. Doing the things mentioned above should allow you to naturally achieve the right balance.

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.

Carotid ultrasound  is a non-surgical and painless test that is used to determine the amount of blockage of your carotid arteries. This is done by using ultrasound to create an image of the inside of the arteries.

carotid ultrasound
This allows the physician to assess the blood flow though your arteries and detect blockages caused by plaque buildup inside the carotid arteries that could put you at risk for a stroke.

This narrowing of the arteries is called “stenosis,” and is considered to be a big risk factor for strokes. There are two such arteries, one on either side of the neck. These arteries carry blood to the brain, and if this blood flow is interrupted, it can result in a stroke.

An ultrasound imaging of your carotid arteries is one of a number of tests that can be done to determine the extent of blockage or stenosis. There are several types of ultrasounds used. If you need this screening procedure, you should discuss with your doctor which version is appropriate for you.

Types of Carotid Ultrasound

There are two main types of tests that are used to image the carotid arteries.

  • Doppler ultrasound: This test actually creates images of the blow flow though the arteries.
  • Standard ultrasound: This test creates an image of the actual structure of the inside of the arteries.

Why are these tests performed?

The doctor may order a carotid ultrasound because he or she suspects there may be blockages or other types of damage to the artery wall that can prevent blood from getting to the brain, causing what is called an ischemic stroke, which is life threatening.

The problem may be a blood clot, or something called an artery dissection which is a damaging split in the artery wall. This condition can impede blood flow, or seriously weaken the artery wall, possibly leading to a stroke.

Another problem can be a narrowing of the artery because of plaque buildup involving bad cholesterol levels, which is called stenosis. This can be indicated by something called a bruit, which is a sound the doctor hears when using a stethoscope to externally examine your carotid arteries.

These abnormal sounds can indicate stenosis, so the doctor uses the carotid ultrasound to further determine just what is happening inside the arteries. There are other things that might cause the doctor to suspect artery disease such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Advanced age
  • Diabetes
  • Bad cholesterol levels
  • Birth defects that affect the carotid arteries
  • Strokes
  • TIA’s (transient ischemic attacks)
  • Tumors (very rare)

Who would perform the test?

This test is performed by a medical professional called a radiological technician. This is a person trained in both the procedure and preparation for medical imaging scans. The test will sometimes be performed by a doctor called a radiologist. These physicians are experts on performing and analyzing the results of medical imaging scans.

The radiologist will analyze the carotid ultrasound results and give your doctor a diagnosis based on the imaging scans of your carotid arteries.

How carotid ultrasound works

The equipment operated by the radiological technician generates high frequency sound waves that are projected into your body by a hand-held instrument called a transducer. When these sound waves strike your tissue and are reflected back to the transducer, it creates an image of the shape and structure of the tissues being scanned.

The biggest advantage of carotid ultrasound is that it is non-invasive, meaning that no piercing or cutting of the skin surface is necessary, and that the scanning technology uses sound waves which are much safer than other imaging technologies that use ionizing radiation which can damage tissue.

How is this test performed?

This test is usually performed in a hospital or sometimes in an outpatient clinic. It takes about an hour and usually involves the following steps:

1) You dress in a standard patient exam gown sometimes called a Johnny. You can also wear your own clothing as long as the neck area is open and there is no jewelery around your neck.

2) You lie on the exam table, on your back, and the radiological technician applies a gel to your neck that helps the equipment make proper contact with your skin.

3) The tech will then place something called an ultrasound transducer on your skin. This is a hand held instrument that sends the sound waves into your body. As the tech moves it around on your neck it produces an image of your carotid artery and surrounding area. This process is completely painless.

4) When the ultrasound is finished the gel gets wiped off. You will have to wait a few minutes until the tech or radiologist makes sure that the scan is complete, and then they will send you home.

5) Your doctor will then contact you with the results of your scan and the diagnosis he has been given by the radiologist.

The carotid ultrasound is a very valuable test because it allows your doctor to see exactly how much plaque buildup there is in your carotid arteries and then create a treatment protocol based on this precise information. This test could warn you in time to prevent a stroke or other serious medical problem, which makes it one of the most effective tests for prevention there is.

The benefits of policosanol are it’s ability to lower cholesterol naturally.  It is effective in lowering LDL cholesterol and can also help raise HDL cholesterol. Since there are few policosanol side effects, it is considered to be very safe as well as effective.

benefits of policosanolThere is growing interest in this nutraceutical among holistically oriented practitioners and patients because some experts feel it can replace statin drugs which have severe side effects.

What is It and How Does It Work?

Policosanol is one of a number of natural cholesterol lowering supplements. It is extracted from sugar cane. It is made up of octacosanol which is a “long chain fatty alcohol” and several other long chain fatty alcohols. It works by preventing the synthesis of cholesterol, but in a way that is different from statin drugs.

It doesn’t block the HMG-CoA enzyme the way “statin” cholesterol-lowering drugs do, but the precise way that it works is not understood. It does not seem to have the negative effects on energy metabolism that statins do. The standard recommended dosage for policosanol is 5-20 mg/day.

Benefits of Policosanol

The main benefit of this supplement is it’s ability to lower cholesterol naturally. Other benefits are:

  •     Helps prevent the formation of artery lesions
  •     Inhibits the formation of blood clots
  •     Reduces levels of a blood vessel-constricting eicosanoid called Thromboxane
  •     Stops cell overgrowth which can cause narrowing of your arteries
  •     Is effective in lowering LDL cholesterol
  •     Can raise HDL cholesterol
  •     Enhances the effect of exercise
  •     Inhibits the oxidation of LDL cholesterol which decreases inflammation

Effects on Exercise

It has been shown in studies to increase stamina and oxygen uptake during exercise. It is apparently used in muscle tissue as an energy substrate and positively enhances energy production. It’s initially stored in the liver but eventually finds it’s way into muscle tissue, enhancing metabolic activity.

Studies were done in Japan with 10 mg per day , which increased endurance, oxygen uptake and aerobic capacity, as measured on treadmill ECG testing. It also reduced ischemia, improved reflexes, and increased muscle strength.

Additional Benefits of Policosanol

In postmenopausal women and people over 60 who are at increased risk for heart disease, it decreased LDL cholesterol by 25% and lowered total cholesterol by 17%. This was achieved at a dosage of 10 milligrams per day.

At the 20 milligram per day dosage level, it gave people with intermittent claudication (muscle pain, cramps, and fatigue while walking) relief, and allowed them to walk greater distances with less pain. This shows that policosanol has therapeutic value that goes beyond beneficial effects on cholesterol.

Policosanol Side Effects

Along with the benefits of policosanol there are a few side effects that were reported in clinical trials.

The main side effect reported was weight loss, and the other side effect was abdominal pain, however this effect was also reported in the people who were not taking it, so it is not clear that it had anything to do with policosanol being taken.

Policosanol is very safe. Rats given dosages that were 1724 times what a human dose would be, showed no signs of toxicity. There was also no carcinogenic (cancer) activity associated with it. All tolled the side effects of are for all intents and purposes 100% positive, with no proven negative effects at all!

Drug Interactions

Although policosanol is not a drug, people may be concerned about it causing problems for them if they are on medications. However, there is no evidence that it causes any problems when used with drugs that are being taken.

There is evidence that it can enhance the effects of propranol (a blood pressure lowering drug), so caution should be taken with this combination.

There haven’t been any studies done combining it with specific drugs or types of drugs, however there was NO reported adverse effects when using policosanol along with the following:

  • Anti-coagulents (blood thinners)
  • Beta-blockers
  • Calcium antagonists
  • Diuertics
  • Vasodilators
  • Thyroid hormones
  • NSAIDs
  • Antidepressants
  • Digoxin
  • Ulcer drugs
  • Meprobamate
  • Anti-anxiety drugs
  • Neuroleptics

Does Not Inhibit Sexual Function

One of the best things that can be said about policosanol is that it does not inhibit sexual function like statin drugs can, even at high dosages used in animal experiments. Studies with male rats showed that it increased sexual activity, but the mechanism that caused this wasn’t clear. Thus when it’s used in normal amounts there is NO negative effect on a person’s sex life!

Safe, Effective, and Natural

There are many natural alternatives to statin drugs out there for optimizing your cholesterol profile.  Research these carefully and coordinate your efforts with an integrative cardiologist who understands how to use nutritional approaches to promote heart health.

Benefits of policosanol are that it is one of the safest and most effective cholesterol lowering supplements available and it compares very favorably with “statin” drugs while at the same time having none of the side effects or toxicity.