Why Heart Disease Screening Is Flawed

  • Tara Andresen

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Why Heart Disease Screening Is Flawed (And What You Can Do About It)

What would you say if I told you most tests to assess your risk of cardiovascular disease are wrong half the time? That 50% of men who suffer heart attacks have normal cholesterol levels? Wouldn’t you want to make sure you were getting the right test?

Many practitioners rely on outdated methods for determining your risk of developing heart disease. The standard test, the one that’s been in use for decades, only measures your cholesterol levels. Both the “good” (HDL) and the “bad” (LDL). It’s the test they’re familiar with, so they accept it with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.

But while traditional cholesterol testing may not exactly be broken, it only tells half the story. There’s a lot more going on when it comes to accurately assessing your risk of heart disease.

In cardiovascular disease, plaque builds up in the blood vessels leading to the heart. But what is plaque, and why does it clog your arteries in the first place?

You can think of plaque as the blood vessels’ equivalent to a scab on your skin. Just as the scab forms on injured skin to help prevent further injury, plaque builds up in blood vessels that are already injured or inflamed. Lipoproteins carrying cholesterol and other lipids penetrate the arterial lining, forming a protective barrier. The problem is it also limits blood flow.

And that’s why the standard cholesterol test gets it wrong. It sees plaque as the cause of heart disease and not as the body’s natural response to it.

The test that changes everything

A better way of assessing your risk is looking at the lipoproteins that contain the cholesterol. Bigger particles have a harder time penetrating the arterial lining and forming plaque. It’s the small ones you have to look out for. That’s why you need a test that literally takes everything into account.

That test is called Lipoprotein Particle Testing™ (LPP™) Plus. LPP Plus gives you the most complete snapshot of your cardiovascular risk. By breaking the data into lipoprotein subgroups, LLP Plus gives you a better understanding of your own personal risk of heart disease.

Among the lipoprotein subgroups that LLP Plus screens for are:

  • small, dense LDL – the particles most likely to penetrate the arterial wall and form plaque
  • Lp(a) – a small, dense LDL associated with thrombosis
  • remnant lipoprotein (RPL) – another building block of plaque
  • HDL2b – a positive indicator of heart health that shows how well excess lipids are being removed

Testing with LLP Plus gives you a thorough assessment of your heart health. It lets you know your actual risk of cardiovascular disease. It also lets you know what specifically needs to change to reduce your risk going forward.

Lifestyle changes to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease

Once we’ve inspected your lipoprotein and homocysteine levels, we can better understand and address your specific heart disease risk factors.

Lifestyle choices play a significant role in the development of heart disease. A 2016 study showed that good lifestyle choices in people genetically predisposed to heart disease cut their risk in half. Conversely, people with good genetics who made bad lifestyle choices ended up doubling their risk.

A balanced diet and exercise both play an important part in the prevention of heart disease and hypertension. But we take a personalized approach that also includes herbal and nutrient supplementation as needed.

To maximize your odds of preventing cardiovascular disease, you can:

  • quit smoking – Smoking leads to stress, which raises your cortisol levels thereby making it harder for your body to fight inflammation. And inflammation of the arteries leads to plaque buildup.
  • manage stress – Other ways to cut back on stress include lowering your caffeine and alcohol intake (if not cutting them out altogether), getting plenty of sleep, and investing time in a creative hobby. Spending time with friends, loved ones, and pets also helps.
  • control hypertension and dyslipidemia – High blood pressure and elevated blood lipids both increase your risk. Getting these factors under control will be important.
  • lose weight – Maintaining a healthy weight will give you more energy, better enabling you to get active. Get more tips about healthy eating below.
  • exercise moderately – Nothing helps restore and maintain cardio health like getting the blood moving. Just find something that works with your current level of fitness, dedicate a little time to it, and see where it goes.

Dietary practices to avoid a heart attack

Making improvements to your diet will help reduce inflammation, lower your blood pressure, and rebalance your cholesterol. To make the most of a heart-healthy diet:

  • limit saturated fats – Limiting saturated fats will help reduce high blood cholesterol. Saturated fats tend to stay solid at room temperature and come mainly from meat and dairy products.
  • avoid red meat – Red meat is a prime source of saturated fat.
  • increase vegetable protein – Try getting your proteins from vegetables like peas, spinach, broccoli, kale, and mushrooms. Excellent sources of protein with no fat whatsoever.
  • moderate carbohydrate intake – Recent studies suggest that carbohydrates contribute just as much to heart disease as saturated fats.
  • limit your sugar intake – A diet that limits sugar will help you maintain a healthy weight and lead to a more active lifestyle.

If you’re looking for specific foods that promote good heart health, try:

  • celery – lowers high blood pressure by relaxing smooth muscle
  • tomato paste (lycopene) – this antioxidant lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • olive oil – a great alternative to saturated fats like butter
  • fish oil – great at fighting the inflammation that leads to plaque buildup
  • garlic – normalizes blood pressure and improves blood flow
  • onions – quercitin, a flavanol found in onions, eases high blood pressure
  • beets – a great source of folate and betaine which work together to reduce homocysteine, an amino acid that can inflame the arteries
  • pomegranate juice – pomegranate protects your arterial walls, normalizes blood pressure, and improves blood flow; it might also actually reverse plaque buildup
  • hemp seed – rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, fights inflammation

Botanicals for good heart health

There are several herbal remedies available to help battle heart disease. Some of the more effective ones are:

  • Arjuna (Terminalia arjuna) – made from the bark of a tree in India, this herb has been used for hundreds of years in Ayurvedic medicine to fight heart disease
  • Danshen (Salvia miltiorrhiza) – used in Chinese traditional medicine to treat a wide array of heart problems
  • San Qi (Panax notoginseng) – a species of ginseng, the Latin prefix—Panax—means cure-all
  • Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) – a Mongolian herb of diverse healing properties
  • Hawthorne (Crataegus) – rich in antioxidants, hawthorn is often prescribed to remedy cardiovascular problems
  • Olive leaf (Olea europaea) – an extract made from the leaf of the olive tree can lower blood pressure and improve your overall cardiovascular health
  • Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) – a tea made from the hibiscus flower lowers both blood pressure and cholesterol levels

Supplements for your heart

There are also some great dietary supplements available. Five great ones are:

  • CoQ10 – boosts “good” cholesterol levels
  • L-carnitine – an amino acid that helps prevent cellular damage
  • magnesium – a mineral that normalizes blood pressure and helps maintain a steady heartbeat
  • L-arginine – an amino acid that improves circulation and blood flow
  • Fish oil – rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil decreases your risk of heart failure

Don’t settle for second best for your heart

The best plan of attack is always the one with the best intelligence behind it. And the battle against heart disease could very well be the definitive struggle of your life. You wouldn’t want to go into it with bad information, would you?

Make sure your cardiovascular assessment gives you a full breakdown of all lipoprotein subgroups so you can make the best-informed decision possible. If all you have are cholesterol levels, you’re only getting half the story. And that just won’t cut it when your heart health is on the line.

An active, healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet will go a long way toward keeping you healthy. But knowing your real cardiovascular risk? That’s priceless information that could help you live healthier for longer.

Insist on the best cardiovascular disease screening possible

If you have any concerns about your cardiovascular health or your risk of heart disease, book an appointment for an LLP Plus test with Dr. Tara Andresen today.