Cardiovascular Risk: To Prevent Heart Attack and Stroke, Monitor 10 Risk Indicators, Not Cholesterol
With cardiovascular disease claiming the lives of one out of two people in America today, it's no wonder people look to medicine for help preventing heart attacks and strokes.
However, the focus on high cholesterol as the main cause of heart attacks and strokes is woefully misguided. The clinically proven indicators of cardiovascular disease include elevated levels of trigycerides, insulin, cortisol and C-reactive protein, but not high cholesterol.
What About Cholesterol?
Unfortunately, medical studies show that lowering your cholesterol won't actually lower your risk of a fatal heart attack or stroke. According to William Castelli, M.D., a former director of the Framingham Heart Study, people with low cholesterol (lower than 200) suffer nearly 40 percent of all heart attacks. In addition, people with low cholesterol (less than 180) have three times as many strokes as the general population.
What are the Real Risk Factors for Heart Attack and Stroke?
The following ten items are some of the most important clinical indicators that show you have a higher risk for heart attack and stroke.
1. Cardiac arrhythmia. This includes atrial fibrillation and other disruptions of the heart's normal rhythm.
2. Elevated triglycerides, particularly an elevated ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol. Studies have implicated triglycerides in the progression of coronary atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
3. Elevated homocysteine. One study found that men with extremely high homocysteine levels were three times more likely to have a heart attack than others.
4. Elevated insulin.
5. Elevated cortisol levels. High levels of cortisol are associated with hypertension, which increases your cardiovascular risk. Patients with heart diseases exhibit higher cortisol levels than do others.
6. Elevated estrogen in respect to progesterone.
7. Low testosterone (in men). Higher levels of testosterone has been found to offer men greater than five-fold protection against coronary artery disease.
8. High testosterone (in women).
9. Lipid peroxide. Lipid peroxides are the products of chemical damage done by oxygen free radicals to the lipid components of cell membranes. High levels of lipid peroxides are associated with cancer, heart disease, stroke, and aging.
10. Elevated C-reactive protein. C-reactive protein is a marker associated with production of inflammatory cytokines, which represent a threat to cardiovascular health. Men with CRP values in the highest quartile had three times as many heart attacks and two times as many ischemic strokes as the general population.
Other risk factors include thyroid insufficiency, magnesium deficiency,fatty acid imbalances and lipid fractionation.
Is It Hard to Manage Your Risk Factors?
The good news is that it may not take a long time to rectify the imbalances that show up in a thorough cardiovascular evaluation. One 54-year-old patient of mine with high blood pressure and elevated triglycerides was able to lower her risk factors in just six weeks from 10 to only 4.
By: Ronald Grisanti D.C., D.A.B.C.O., D.A.C.B.N., MS, CFMP
The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Grisanti and his functional medicine community. Dr. Grisanti encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional. Visit www.FunctionalMedicineUniversity.com for more information on our training in functional medicine. Look for practitioners who have successfully completed the Functional Medicine University's Certification Program (CFMP) www.functionalmedicinedoctors.com.
The recent headlines about coconut oil say that because it's higher in saturated fat than beef or lard, it's bad for you. “You'll drastically increase the chances of cardiovascular disease if you eat it because saturated fat raises cholesterol, which leads to heart disease and mortality.” That kind of warning comes from the American Heart Association (AHA)—a powerful organization that continues to promote the mythical direct link between saturated fat and heart disease.
We know from the research that saturated fat can in fact raise your cholesterol. However, it raises it in a good way. Evidence has shown if your LDL cholesterol contains a lot of small, dense particles and you also have high triglycerides, then you're setting the stage for heart disease. Those small, dense particles come from a diet that's high in carbs and low in fat. Reduce your carbohydrate consumption and increase the good quality fats, your cholesterol particle ratio of bad to good will almost certainly improve.
However, if your LDL cholesterol is mostly made up of large, fluffy particles and your triglycerides are low, your risk of heart disease is much lower.
What makes the difference between dangerous small, dense LDL particles and safer LDL isn't the amount of saturated fat you eat. In fact, study after study shows that your fat and cholesterol intake have almost no impact on your blood cholesterol. It's the amount of sugar. The AHA estimates that the average person eats 20 teaspoons of sugar a day. Sugar raises your LDL cholesterol, lowers your HDL cholesterol, and increases your triglycerides. It has been shown to increase insulin resistance and trigger inflammation. In fact, an important study in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014 proved conclusively that high sugar consumption is closely linked to death from heart disease—and that link is far closer than it is for cholesterol, smoking, hypertension, or any other risk factors. That is the statistic– about the dangers to your heart and your health–is where the real headline scare should be.
There's no need to avoid saturated fat as long as it comes from a healthy, plant-based source. Coconut oil is definitely preferable to cheap, highly processed vegetable oils that have had their nutrients stripped away. Coconut oil has other health benefits as well. The main fatty acid in coconut oil is lauric acid, which has well-known antibiotic, anti-microbial, and anti-viral benefits.
Coconut oil also helps stabilize blood sugar and helps soothe digestive upsets. Eating a lot of coconut oil does, indeed, raise your cholesterol levels–in a positive way by raising HDL (the good cholesterol), lowering triglycerides, and lowering the amount of small LDL particles.
So go ahead. Use coconut oil in your cooking.
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