The basic mechanisms of heart disease (and just about every other disease known to man) include chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, hidden infections, autoimmune disease (which leads to endothelial dysfunction), and arterial compliance abnormalities.
What You Need to Know About Heart Health
Your risk of heart disease at age 60 and beyond is determined by your lifestyle habits, environmental insults and risk factors at age 40.
Heart disease in men is highly related to low thyroid function, heavy metal toxicity, and iron overload.
Heart Disease and Inflammation. An inflammatory diet (high in trans fats, HFCS, vegetable oils, GMOs, sugar, fructose, grains, gluten, processed foods), glyphosate exposure, oxidative stress, prolonged mental and emotional stress, gum disease, heavy metal toxicity, being overweight, injuries, eating foods you’re sensitive to, smoking, underlying infections, leaky gut, existing heart condition, poorly controlled blood sugar, diabetes, insulin resistance, high iron, and too little or too much exercise all increase inflammation.
Blood Tests: Inflammatory markers. Test to Assess! Simple blood tests such as homocysteine, insulin, HbA1c, glucose, fibrinogen, iron, ferritin and C-reactive protein can identify underlying risk factors for heart disease.
C-Reactive Protein (hs-CRP) is a simple blood test that is used as a marker of inflammation or the “fire” in the arteries and the body that results from an irritated immune system. CRP is used to determine cardiovascular risk and has been found to be a stronger predictor of heart disease than a high LDL cholesterol. CRP is a component of the immune system and becomes elevated when inflammation is rampant in the body. Elevated CRP values do not produce physical symptoms, so be sure to include this important lab marker on your blood testing as it’s the only way to know if your level is high. Optimal range is 1.0 or less. The higher the hs-CRP the greater the risk for atherosclerosis, heart attack, stroke and even other conditions like cancer and dementia.
Fasting insulin is a test that screens for diabetes and heart disease, but it’s also a marker for inflammation. The higher your insulin levels are, the more inflammation your body is producing. Hyperglycemia and diabetes are both associated with increased risk of heart disease and dementia.
Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) is a form of hemoglobin that identifies the average plasma glucose concentration over prolonged periods of time. HbA1C is a marker that reveals the individuals diet and amount of sugar accumulated in their system from the previous 2-3 months. Elevated levels indicate they’re consuming a diet excessive in processed carbs, grains, sugars and/or alcohol. High hemoblogin A1c is strongly linked to diabetes, reduced insulin sensitivity, degenerative disease, accelerated aging, glycation, oxidation, and autoimmune disorders. It’s also a marker for inflammation and heart damage. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that hyperglycemia is related to cardiac damage independent of atherosclerosis.
Homocysteine is a body substance that helps manufacture proteins and assist with cellular metabolism. Homocysteine levels reflect methylation status, sulfur metabolism, detoxification, and epigenetic modulation. An elevated homocysteine usually indicates the body is deficient in B vitamins, specifically folate and B12 and unable to metabolize methionine properly. An increased homocysteine (>8) is associated with vascular inflammation and an increased risk of disease including heart disease, stroke, cancer, dementia, kidney disease, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and osteoporosis.
Iron and ferritin. Iron, like other toxic heavy metals accumulate as a normal consequence of the aging process, and this is quite problematic. High iron is a sign that your cells are oxidizing and aging faster than normal.
High iron (>100) is very inflammatory, damaging to the mitochondria, a pro-oxidant and left untreated increases risk of cancer, neurocognitive disorders, heart disease, diabetes, premature aging, heart arrhythmia, fatty liver disease, liver damage and hemochromatosis.
Ferritin reflects iron storage in the body. Ferritin is the most reliable indicator of total body iron status. High ferritin is dangerous and indicates chronic low level inflammation. Values above 200 are suspicious for excess stored iron, inflammation, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and heart disease. Ferritin is increased with iron overload, hemochromatosis, HIV, hepatitis, alcoholism, and some cancers.
Other Tests to Consider when Assessing Heart Disease Risk
Apolipoprotein Assessment (Apo A-1 and Apo B ratio). The ratio of these two apolipoproteins correlates with risk of cardiovascular disease.
Apolipoprotein A1 (apo A-1) has a specific role in the metabolism of lipids and is the main protein component in high-density lipoprotein (HDL, the “good cholesterol”). Like HDL cholesterol, low Apo-A1 level indicates an increased risk of cardiovascular disease while increased concentrations are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Apolipoprotein B (ApoB) is a major component of the very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), the intermediate-density lipoprotein (IDL), and the low-density lipoprotein (LDL). ApoB plays a central role in carrying cholesterol and triglycerides from the liver and gut to utilization and storage sites. Elevated levels indicate an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, familial combined hyperlipidemia, diabetes, hypothyroidism, kidney disease, and the use of certain drugs, such as diuretics, androgens, or beta blockers. Low ApoB levels may indicate hyperthyroidism, malnutrition, Reye’s syndrome (a rare degenerative brain condition), cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, and apolipoprotein B deficiency (Bassen-Kornzweig syndrome).
Lipoprotein (a) is a genetic form of cholesterol that’s elevated in about 20% of those tested and unaffected by most lifestyle measures or statin medication. It’s seldom included on blood tests, even though hundreds of research studies indicate that if it’s high, the risk of heart attack and stroke skyrocket.
Advanced lipid profile. Rather than a calculated LDL cholesterol level, advanced panels measure LDL particle number and size directly, which are more accurate and predictive of future heart and stroke events. Two people with the same total and calculated LDL cholesterol levels can have widely different particle and size measurements, making for very different risks.
Underlying Infections. There are at least two other conditions that have been shown to cause blood-vessel inflammation and elevated CRP levels: chlamydia and H. pylori. Be sure to order blood tests for antibodies to these two microorganisms. —Jonathan Wright, M.D
High Iron and Toxic Heavy Metals are two overlooked risk factors for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. High serum iron, hemochromatosis and exposure to lead, mercury, copper, cadmium, and arsenic — even at low levels — is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Heavy metals build up in the body, tissue and organs with age. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the sources of heavy metals, including iron and support healthy elimination of them. Read more >> High Iron, a Risk Factor for Cardiovascular Disease
Heart disease and Cholesterol. Too many people continue to hyper-focus their risk of heart disease with their cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is essential to healthy brain function, hormone production, healthy immune function, and a healthy nervous system. Learn more >> The Truth about Cholesterol
High cholesterol is not a risk factor for heart disease. Five factors that have a far greater influence for cardiovascular risk are iron overload (hemochromatosis), heavy metal toxicity, insulin resistance (pre-diabetes), chronic inflammation and oxidation.
It’s not the amount of cholesterol in your blood that drives heart disease risk, but the inflammation, autoimmunity and oxidation. Focus instead on reducing inflammation, the number and size of particles, oxidized LDL and high triglycerides, thyroid function, elevated insulin, homocysteine, fibrinogen and CRP that are problematic.
Thyroid Dysfunction. Thyroid hormones play a direct role in heart health. The thyroid gland is intrinsically connected with metabolism, brain function, energy, heart health, and many functions of the arteries and veins in the body. Low T3 levels are frequently associated with cardiovascular diseases.
A 2014 study out of John Hopkins University reported low thyroid hormone levels were common in young and middle-aged adults with early-stage coronary artery disease and blood vessel calcification. A Polish study similarly compared 25 patients with low levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to 25 patients with normal levels and found that those with lower levels had more cardiac events.
Heart Disease and Periodontal Disease. Far beyond cavities and gingivitis, poor dental care, oral infections and periodontal disease is associated with an increased risk for heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and cancers of the head, neck, and esophagus.
The U.S. Surgeon General described the mouth as a “mirror of health or disease” and an early indicator of disease in other tissues and organs in the body. Many cases of sudden heart attack have been traced to root canals or pulled wisdom teeth in which a cavitation remains or an infection develops. Simple interventions such as regular dental checkups, oral hygiene habits, daily brushing, flossing, tongue scraping, and oil pulling can reduce the risk of coronary artery disease and lower inflammatory markers such as CRP.
Psychological Factors and Heart Disease. Scientific research has shown over and over that rumination on angry thoughts leads to physical manifestations of that pain. Bottled up betrayals, anger and resentments bring on muscle tension, high blood pressure, place undue stress on our heart, and it’s even been proven to lower our immunity, cause anxiety and greater risk for depression.
A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that psychological factors including depression, anxiety, stress, panic disorder, loneliness, hostility, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and personality (type D) were associated with a significantly increased risk of developing heart disease and coronary artery disease in both women (22%) and men (25%).
Research consistently shows that lack of social support increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. The connection between despair, grief and the cardiovascular system can be found in our everyday expression: it broke my heart, my heart is breaking
Find ways to manage your stress: meditation, prayer, journaling, yoga, spending time in Nature, breathing exercises, watching a funny movie, pet an animal, and simple, yet not easy—we must forgive. Forgiveness is what frees us from the chains that bind us to our pain and suffering. In the process, you may find that your muscle aches, upset stomach, high blood pressure, sleep improves and depression melts away as well.
Eat Organic, Nutrient-dense Food. A study in the journal Cardiology Research and Practice reports that long-term adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet results in significant improvements in several risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Filtered Water. Install a water filter in your home, specifically the kitchen and bath-shower to minimize exposure to harmful chemicals, toxic heavy metals, pharmaceutical drugs, and halogens (fluoride and chlorine) that are disruptive to heart health and overall health.
Heart Healthy Nutrients. Consider evidence-based supplements. Some of my favorites include CoQ10, magnesium, taurine, garlic, berberine, bergamot, vitamin D, vitamin K, vitamin B12, B6, niacin, folate and other B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil).