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.

 

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!

C-Reactive Protein  or CRP,  is what is called an inflammatory marker. It measures levels of a particular protein that indicate increased inflammation in your body. Along with homocysteine, it completes the picture of heart disease risk that begins with your cholesterol profile.

c-reactie proteinWhile optimizing your cholesterol profile is important, medical researchers noticed that half of all heart attack victims had normal cholesterol levels.

They realized that there were risk factors other than just cholesterol. This is where the c-reactive protein test comes in.

The test is a measure of inflammation and infection in your body, both of which are significant risk factors for heart disease that are largely ignored by mainstream medicine. Inflammatory markers like CRP are necessary in order to get an accurate idea of what your heart disease risk really is!

The test is part of that missing piece of the puzzle that explains heart disease risk, beyond just your cholesterol numbers. If your levels are high, then lowering them will definitely lessen your risk of heart disease. When you attempt to lower cholesterol naturally, you will have to pay attention to
CRP as well. The good news is that the same strategies will work for both!

What elevates CRP?

Your levels of c-reactive protein are elevated by increased inflammation in your body. Many things can cause this, so it is important to have the test done when you are feeling well and not suffering from illness or unusual stress, so that you can get an accurate reading of your levels, without
having the level elevated due to some injury, illness, or trauma.

For instance oral bacteria from dental cavities can elevate CRP levels, because those bacteria also cause inflammation. This is why dental health is correlated with heart disease risk. Bacterial infections of any kind will raise inflammation as your immune system attempts to fight off the bacteria.

What are healthy levels of c-reactive protein?

The CRP test measures results in milligrams per liter of blood.

The following guidelines for are recommended by the
American Heart Association (AHA) to determine heart disease risk:

  •     Low risk: CRP is 1 milligram/per liter or less
  •     Moderate risk: CRP is 1 to 3 milligrams/ per liter
  •     High risk: CRP is greater than 3 milligrams/ per liter

Lowering Inflammation

How do you lower inflammation and get the levels on the c-reactive protein test into the healthy range?  Since all these heart disease risk factors respond to the same lifestyle changes, you can address them all by doing a few simple things.

  •     Eating an “anti-inflammatory diet”
  •     Practice good oral hygiene
  •     Getting regular exercise
  •     Grounding
  •     Stress reduction
  •     Proper nutritional supplements

The Bottom Line

All of the various risk factors for heart disease may seem bewildering and overly technical. That is how medical science functions. Every factor must be measured and accounted for. The good part is that when you lower cholesterol naturally, you will be addressing these other factors as well.

However as I mentioned before, all of these factors are related, and they are just various manifestations of inflammation. Lowering inflammation will bring CRP and these other heart disease indicators to a better level. So that should be your goal, to use diet, exercise and nutritional supplementation in lowering inflammation.

C-reactive protein, homocysteine, and cholesterol profile are all necessary tests to precisely and accurately determine what your risk for heart disease really is. Work to lower your inflammatory markers, and you will be much healthier for it!

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.