One in three Americans suffers from heart disease. For most people, heart disease can be preventable and reversible. However, the majority of people are getting only a fraction of the picture when they have their annual labs run for cholesterol.
You can take action to improve your heart health by focusing on in-depth functional labs and four aspects of the biochemical system.
Part 1: Lipids
Lipids are made up of different kinds of cholesterols and fats that your body needs to function. Your test results will tell you if you have too much cholesterol or fat, whether the kind of cholesterol you have is dangerous, and if you are at risk of forming blockages that can lead to heart attack or stroke.
Part 2: Inflammation
Inflammation doesn’t just affect your joints and gums – it can also affect your arteries. Your test results will tell you if you have the kind of inflammation in your arteries that would increase your near-term risk of heart attack or stroke.
Part 3: Metabolics (blood sugar balance)
Metabolic tests tell you if you have diabetes or if you are at risk for developing diabetes. Diabetes and your overall ability to balance blood sugar can significantly increase your risk for heart attack or stroke.
Part 4: Genetics
Your genes can influence your body’s response to medications and nutrition. While your genes don’t change, this information helps your healthcare provider determine your treatment – the right medication, the right dose, and even the right foods.
At Natural Health Associates, we dig deeper and look at all aspects of cardiovascular health to give our patients the full picture of their cardiac risks.
Here is a little bit more information on the functional medicine look at cholesterol and its connection to heart health.
How bad cholesterol forms blockages
LDL cholesterol is essential, but it can become “bad”, or dangerous, when there is too much and it is small or sticky. This can cause a build up in the artery wall lining and may lead to a blockage (plaque). Blockages make it harder for blood to get where it is needed, increasing risk of heart attack or stroke.
Think of it like this: Your heart is like a house with plumbing. Your arteries carry blood through your body like pipes carry water through your house. When too much dirt or grease (fat) gets caught in your pipes (arteries), over time it creates a blockage. When a blockage happens water (blood) can’t get to where it’s needed.
How good cholesterol prevents blockages
HDL cholesterol is made up of different sized particles and becomes “good” when it is large enough to remove cholesterol from the artery walls. Even with the right amount of HDL cholesterol, if it is mostly small, then it is too weak to remove the cholesterol from your body. Large HDL particles are big and strong enough to remove cholesterol before it builds up and creates a blockage (plaque).
Think of it like this: Too much bad cholesterol is like garbage building up in the street, blocking traffic. Your good cholesterol acts like strong garbage collectors and large dump trucks that pick up and remove the garbage (bad cholesterol), keeping the streets clear.
How cholesterol gets in the body
Everyone needs cholesterol to live. Cholesterol gets in the body two ways. The liver produces it, and the body absorbs it from food. Understanding how cholesterol gets in the body helps healthcare providers determine the best treatment.
Did you know that when things are working right, your liver produces about 75% of your cholesterol and you absorb the other 25% from foods you eat?
How inflammation increases heart disease risk
The artery wall lining can become inflamed for different reasons, such as a poor diet or smoking. Inflammation weakens and scars the artery wall lining making it easier for cholesterol to attach and form blockages (plaque). Inflammation also increases the risk that plaque can break off and cause a clot, which can result in a heart attack or stroke.
Think of it like this: Inflammation in your arteries is like having rusty pipes in your house. Rusty pipes are more likely to get clogged and eventually burst. Reducing inflammation in your arteries is like keeping your pipes smooth and clean, making it easier for water (blood) to flow freely.
How too much sugar in the blood damages artery walls
Three out of four diabetics die from heart attack and stroke, not from diabetes. Diabetes occurs when the body cannot manage the amount of sugar in the blood. Over time, this excess sugar damages the artery wall lining leading to increased risk of heart attack or stroke. Fortunately, changes in diet and exercise can substantially reverse diabetes.
Think of it like this: Sugar crystals are like small bits of glass. Too much sugar in your blood is like having broken glass tearing at and damaging your artery walls, making the lining rough. This increases the likelihood of cholesterol getting trapped and forming a blockage.
How Genes Help Determine the Best Treatment
Genetic tests can be done in a short period of time using a small sample of blood. Knowing specific gene types helps healthcare providers choose the right medications, dosage, diet and exercise plans for each person.
Think of it like this: Are there foods you eat that do not agree with you, but your friends eat the same food with no problem at all? Everyone’s body processes food differently. The same is true with medications. If you have a gene type that does not process a particular medication well, then you may need a different dose, type of drug, supplement or lifestyle change.
Visit the Colorado Center of Health and Nutrition website for more information about integrative nutrition and functional healthcare, along with links to patient forms and other information.