Many people (and GPs) are obsessed with total cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is a group of fatty like materials vital to health, and not the CAUSE of heart disease. In fact we can become obsessed with trying to lower our cholesterol, and can completely miss the real problem.
Before any tests, look in the mirror! A ten year study found that half of all fatal heart attacks and a quarter of non-fatal cases are linked to being overweight and having a large waist. Belly fat is a very significant risk factor for heart disease, diabetes and stroke!
As a nutritional therapist, here is what I look at when it comes to heart health: how much greens, healthy fats, seeds/nuts are a regular in the diet, amounts of processed foods eaten, and amounts of exposure to stress and exercise. Regarding tests I pay attention to cholesterol and triglyceride levels, B-12, blood sugar readings, stored iron levels, blood pressure, and pulsewave analysis (available in my practice).
Some of the advice I share with my clients who are worried about heart disease:
- Reduce carbs, especially the white kind e.g. pasta, pizza, bread. Increased triglycerides can be a sign of too much carbohydrate in the diet. The ratio of Triglycerides/HDL is more important to your heart health than the standard “good” vs. “bad” cholesterol ratio.
- Increase anti-inflammatory foods as heart disease is an inflammatory condition: these include brightly coloured vegetables, fruit, oily fish, garlic, ginger and turmeric
- Exercise: can increase HDL (good cholesterol), improve insulin sensitivity, improve mood and energy
- Learn to manage stress. Stress is now seen as a significant trigger for a cardiovascular event. Most heart attacks occur on a Monday morning!
What your blood tests mean:
- Triglycerides: these are fats used as fuel by the body. Increased levels can be a sign of too much carbohydrate in the diet. However, high Triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol are an even more significant risk. A healthy ratio is less than 2.
Another important ratio is HDL/Total Cholesterol; this should be above 24%, a healthy fasting blood sugar is less than 5.6 and a healthy Hba1c level is less than 5.6%.
This information has been brought to you by Nutritional Therapist and College of Naturopathic Medicine graduate Erina Macsweeney, who specialises in Heart Health.