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.

The MTHFR gene is a hidden culprit in heart disease and explains much in the reasons why cholesterol numbers don’t tell you what your real risk for heart disease is. Understanding how this gene defect affects your good cholesterol levels and how to treat it is essential to protecting yourself from heart attacks.

MTHFR geneWhat is the MTHFR Gene?

This gene is responsible for operating what are called “methylation pathways” that involve your body’s ability to convert certain substances into their reduced or active form. If this gene is defective in your body, these vitally important methylation processes cannot be completed properly, and certain substances (vitamins and amino acids) can’t be absorbed by your body and you develop deficiencies.

Some of these substances are:

  • vitamin b-12
  • folic acid
  • cystiene

In the case of b-12 and folic acid, these substances are converted to their active forms of methylfolate and methylcobalamin. These active forms are what your body can actually use, and so if you can’t convert them properly, you end up with a deficiency.

Cystiene is converted to the toxic amino acid homocysteine and then to methionine. If your methylation pathways are not working properly due to the MTHFR gene defect, then you end up with an accumulation of homocystiene which is highly inflammatory and causes damage to your arteries.

How is Your Good Cholesterol Level Affected?

HDL-C also called the “good cholesterol,” can be effectively lowered by a certain type of MTHFR gene defect called: C677T polymorphism.  Since HDL is protective and lowers your risk of heart disease, this gene defect can raise your risk by lowering your good cholesterol level.

There are several variants of this gene defect, and they affect cardiovascular risk in different ways, but it’s important to be aware of their impact so that you can protect yourself. Remember that 50% of heart attacks occur in people who have what’s considered normal cholesterol levels.

The affect of the MTHFR gene is seen by many researchers as the missing piece of the puzzle in trying to determine why this is so. With this information you can go about protecting yourself by applying this new knowledge and lowering your risk not only for heart disease, but also for other chronic diseases that are caused by inflammation.

What Other Problems Can This Lead To?

A defect in the MTHFR gene can also result in increase risk for the following diseases:

  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Polyneuropathy

How Do You Know if You Have it?

This is a very important question, because once you detect this, then you can guard against it’s effects. The most simple test you can do is to eat asparagus and note if your urine has a strong odor in the hours following your meal.

If this odor is present when you urinate, (you can’t miss it), then you can be sure that you do in fact have a defect (called a polymorphism) in the way your MTHFR gene operates. There are also lab tests that your doctor can do to detect this problem.
It may be necessary to have formal lab tests done so that this problem can be medically verified. It’s also important because your doctor has to order it for your insurance to cover it. The best and most responsible advice I can give you is to go through your doctor and get tested for this.

Fortunately there are ways to treat this problem, that will work and help to protect your health, but of course the first step is to determine whether you have it or not, and your doctor can order the tests to confirm it.

What Can I Do?

A defect in the MTHFR gene results in failure to operate certain methylation pathways and convert amino acids properly. However, forms of critical b-vitamins, vitamin B-12, and Folic acid, in their “active” forms, which means they do not have to be converted or methylated, CAN be absorbed by your body and help ensure these critical chemical reactions happen as they are supposed to.

Thus instead of taking folic acid, you would take “methyl-folate.” Instead of taking vitamin B-12 (cyanocobalamin) you would take “methylcobalamin.”

There are other substances that can help. They are called “methyl donors” because they donate or provide what’s called a “methyl group” to help the chemical reaction complete properly. There are foods that contain “methyl donors,” such as garlic, onions, avocadoes, ect.

There are also nutritional supplements such as trimethylglycine, and SAMe, as well as special formulations that contain combinations of these methyl donors to help provide what your body needs to do these conversions properly.

None of these substances are drugs, nor are they prohibitively expensive. However, most mainstream doctors do not know about them, nor about defects in the MTHFR gene, and so you may have to search for a physician that is up on the latest genetic research, that can help you safely manage this problem.

The website I recommend is:

http://mthfr.net/

which is a website run by Dr. Benjamin Lynch. There is a wealth of information on this website regarding methylation issues and the MTHFR gene. If you have this gene defect, I would highly recommend that you visit this website and educate yourself.

You can also click on this video:

to learn more about this topic, and start arming yourself with powerful information that will allow you to protect yourself against heart disease, cancer, strokes, Alzheimers, and other effects of methylation problems.

My reasons for delving into this topic is that it fills in the missing information that cholesterol numbers leave out. The effects of this gene defect on your good cholesterol level is probably one of the main reasons for the increased risk of heart disease.

Defects in the MTHFR gene are one of the most significant drivers of chronic disease, and by knowing if you carry this defect, you can takes very strong steps to protect your health and to live better and longer.

references:

Cardiovasc Diabetol. 2012 Oct 8;11:123. doi: 10.1186/1475-2840-11-123.
Several genetic polymorphisms interact with overweight/obesity to influence serum lipid levels.

J Atheroscler Thromb. 2009;16(6):815-20. Epub 2010 Jan 9.
Association of C677T polymorphism in MTHFR gene, high homocysteine and low HDL cholesterol plasma values in heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia.

J Hum Genet. 2001;46(9):506-10.
An association of 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene polymorphism and common carotid atherosclerosis.

 

Cholesterol lowering exercise has three basic functions, to lower triglycerides and LDL, lower blood sugar, and to raise HDL cholesterol. Any form of exercise that does those three things will help.

kettlebell exerciseExercise and cholesterol are inversely related. This simply means that the more exercise you do, the more you can reduce your cholesterol levels, provided you are exercising correctly.

Most of the studies on exercise and cholesterol were done on aerobic exercise like  running or jogging. These activities are reported to lower LDL between 5-10%, and raise HDL cholesterol from 3-6%. These are estimates in a range of results, so your individual results may be more or less than this.

The important thing is that any activity is beneficial, and you have to modify the type of cholesterol lowering exercise to suit your individual circumstances. For instance, if you have injuries or orthopedic problems, you might want to do some kind of exercise in a pool that is non impact like swimming, or other water exercise. Even walking is preferable to being idle.

With that said, lets look at what types of cholesterol lowering exercise is best  and what makes these forms of exercise so effective.

Aerobic Exercise

This form of exercise utilizes oxygen as you go and will raise HDL cholesterol. It is the most studied form of exercise to help prevent heart disease. However I would caution that aerobics can be overdone, and have negative effects on your hormonal system if you do them too long at a slow steady pace because it raises cortisol which is a stress hormone that is bad for the heart.

Interval Training

Interval training is a great compromise as it can increase heart and lung function, but will not negatively effect your hormonal system. Interval training utilizes short intense bursts of exercise followed by a slowdown or rest period.

Heavyhands and kettlebell training are two examples of exercise that use interval training rather than steady state cardiovascular exercise. Intervals are not specific to the exercise device or equipment, rather it is exercise pace and timing that makes interval training so effective.

A good example of this is the PACE program of Dr. Al Sears M.D. This program utilizes a form of interval training to raise peak fitness and prepare the heart and lungs for occasional bursts of intense activity.

It is the stress of sudden intense activity in an unconditioned person that is most likely to trigger a heart attack, so getting the body used to handling this stress can protect against it.

Kettlebells

Kettlebell training is my favorite form of cholesterol lowering exercise,  because it combines strength training with cardiovascular exercise at the same time. It will help maintain muscle mass, which will lower triglycerides by keeping blood sugar low.

As I mentioned previously, you can do interval training  very effectively with kettlebells but you have to be cautious and make sure you use proper technique as these exercise implements can be tricky to handle.  I strongly suggest you either get professional instruction, or purchase a good book or DVD that teaches how to do these exercises properly.

Kettlebell training can help raise HDL cholesterol because of the cardiovascular aspects of this exercise. Since you cannot adjust the weight of a kettlebell, you will need to come up with creative ways to make the exercises more intense and physically demanding. This form of training seems to be very effective for burning stored bodyfat , which is important when exercising for heart health.

The Bottom Line

Cholesterol lowering exercise can range from light simple exercise like walking to intense exercise like intervals or kettlebell training. The most important thing is that it fits your physical limitations, lifestyle, and individual needs.

Start easy and keep it simple, but get moving and make regular exercise a part of your life. You will look and feel better, and will lower cholesterol naturally.

Eggs and Cholesterol – A Pervasive Nutritional Myth!

Many people have heard dire warnings about eggs and cholesterol, but is there any truth to this widely held belief at all? The answer is NO! Eggs have not been shown to significantly raise LDL (low density lipoproteins) levels when eaten in moderation. In fact eggs are actually be considered beneficial  when cooked and eaten properly and in moderate amounts.

eggs and cholesterol

Please note that the term LDL refers to the form considered by cardiologists to be “bad,”  however we will show in other posts that the idea of good and bad cholesterol is a misapplication of the science!.

Lipoproteins are another term for cholesterol. Thus HDL cholesterol is high density lipoproteins, and LDL is used  to refer to “low density lipoprotein.” The type that is believed by scientists to actually cause problems is called vldl cholesterol, (very low density lipoproteins). However even in this case the truth is more complicated than this and we will explain this as we go along.

The Facts about Eggs…

The fact is that egg yolks also contain lecithin which is a phosopholipid compound that actually lowers the amount your body absorbs. Thus the cholesterol in an egg does not have the same effect in your body, that it does when it comes from other sources.

Eggs contain about 185 milligrams of cholesterol (for a large egg), but they are also high in vitamin-d, choline (a b-vitamin) and lecithin. Interestingly, the saturated fat content in eggs is low. Research studies have shown that foods that you eat, does not have necessarily cause high cholesterol levels in your body, and in some cases may actually lower it!

It appears that the eggs and cholesterol myth began when the concern over lipoprotein levels being a factor in heart disease emerged. Researchers jumped to conclusions and people were warned that eggs greatly increased the risk of heart disease, based on this assumption, (based on poorly done research).

Eggs are Essential Sources of Choline

One negative result of this eggs and cholesterol hysteria was that people stopped eating eggs, or at least significantly cut down on egg consumption. The b-vitamin choline is essential to good health, especially of the brain.

The most abundant source of this vitamin in most people’s diets came from eggs. As a result the population as a whole became deficient in choline, leading to other serious health problems like Alzheimer’s Disease, and even increased rates of heart disease!

Choline is vital to the healthy function of the brain and nervous system, which in turn has a huge impact on heart health. Thus by limiting egg consumption and producing deficiency of choline in the diet, people were actually making the situation with regard to heart disease even worse!

What The Research Says…

Some people who have a genetic tendency toward higher levels called (familial hypercholesterolemia) may be affected by the amount they consume in their foods, but the mechanism is not totally clear. In fact the famous Framingham Study of heart disease shows that people with the highest hdl cholesterol levels actually lived the longest!

Recent research conducted on eggs and cholesterol at the University of Surrey by Dr. Bruce Griffin found that two eggs per day consumed by healthy people for a 12 week period actually lowered their LDL levels on average! It was concluded that eggs will not significantly raise cholesterol numbers in a healthy person. In this instance eggs actually lowered their levels!

In face the research subjects in the experimental group actually lost weight as well. This may seem surprising, but in light of the fact that egg yolks contains beneficial vitamins and high quality protein, it supplies your body with vital nutrients, without which you can’t achieve optimal health.

Recent research has also suggested that eggs may act in a way to reduce high blood pressure and that they contain antioxidants that help prevent heart disease. While this evidence is not yet conclusive, it suggests that eggs, far from being dangerous to our health are actually beneficial in preventing both cancer and heart disease!

Nutritional myths about eggs and cholesterol still persist in medicine and are accepted by the public at large, but gradually the word is getting out that eggs are not a bad food at all, in fact you need the beneficial nutrients in eggs for good health, including heart health!

References:

Chamila Nimalaratne, Daise Lopes-Lutz, Andreas Schieber, Jianping Wu. Free aromatic amino acids in egg yolk show antioxidant properties. Food Chemistry, 2011; 129 (1): 155 DOI:
Majumder et al. Angiotensin I Converting Enzyme Inhibitory Peptides from Simulated in Vitro Gastrointestinal Digestion of Cooked Eggs. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2009; 57 (2): 471 DOI: