Welcome Back! Continuing from part 2. Now we are going to build on the basic info and screening tools. We’ll touch on the more advanced markers to help stratify an individual’s risk for cardiovascular disease. Remember these tests are not bulletproof data points. It’s not a black and white process. A thorough history, review of systems and specific health assessment measures can provide a great blueprint.
Plates not Pills
Armed with that information patients may take the necessary dietary and lifestyle changes to improve how they feel, decrease negative symptoms and see blood markers normalize. You would be hard pressed to find doctors that would deny lifestyle modification as the primary form of intervention. It’s always a good idea to consult with your physician to discuss medication and track your overall heart health.
Useful markers/tests for determining cardiovascular risk
Two Additional tests that some physicians utilize.
Without a needle or Imaging
If you’re inclined you may want to use one of these two online calculators to give you a basic sense of your risk for heart disease.
If you are over twenty years of age and do not have heart disease or diabetes you can calculate your risk using the Framingham 10-year Risk Calculator. The inputs include: age, gender, total and HDL cholesterol, smoking status, and blood pressure. The Reynolds Risk score might be a better option. It includes family history and C-reactive protein.
If you are ready to minimize your risk, limit your medications and learn what makes up a heart-healthy action plan read on.
In the spirit of heart health
I’ve come up with a mnemonic to help you understand the right approach. PUMP
P - purposeful eating
U - understand your risk
M - measure to be sure
P – participation and lifestyle modification
Over the course of these 3 articles we’ve brushed up on the 3-legged stool of heart disease: (1) why it happens, (2) what causes it, and (3) what’s your risk. Let’s talk about the seat of the stool as it holds all of the legs together and acts as the cornerstone. In this analogy the seat can be divided into 3 parts: Diet, weight management, and exercise.
If you are overweight and want to reduce your risk of heart disease without the side effects of medication eating with purpose will help you lose the weight. Improving one’s relationship with food must be tailored to the individual.
At the core of any diet there are two fundamental truths when it comes to eating for your health.
Number 1: Avoid processed and refined food
Number 2: Choose nutrient dense foods and incorporate healthy/traditional fats
Why? Eating this way curbs inflammation, hunger, weight gain, and metabolic syndrome (recall 1/3 Americans are estimated to have MetS).
From a bird’s-eye view the majority of food should come in the form of meat, poultry, fish and shellfish, non-starchy vegetables, starchy tubers, fruit, nuts, and seeds. Sorry guys please don't try and find these items at Olive Garden or Taco bell.
If you are currently floundering on the standard American diet (SAD) this may feel a bit like an elimination diet. How many daily grams of carbs does the average American eat? Take a guess. It’s around 300 to 400 grams of carbs per day! Delicious, I know. However, the lion’s share comes from refined carbohydrates such as breads, cereals, chips, pasta and crackers. A more sensible target, utilizing whole foods, puts one at 50 - 250 grams of carbs per day. So you’re wondering — Is he suggesting that I go on a plant-based, keto, paleo, or an atkins-like diet? Can I drink milk and eat pizza and pasta?
I am suggesting some form of a modified paleo-ish diet. As for dairy it’s best to eliminate for one month and add it back in to see how it’s tolerated. Eliminating grains entirely may be a hard sell, but you won’t know how you feel or how you’re body will change if you don't give it shot. It doesn’t get much attention, but grains contain certain anti-nutrients that can cause digestive problems and other stealth health issues.
Let’s talk turkey (of the sea)
The average American eats a ratio of anywhere from 12:1 to 25:1 Omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids. This creates a highly inflammatory state. Usher in some cold-water fish. Some studies suggest that eating 8 oz of fish / week (we’re not talking tilapia; it’s farmed and high in omega 6) would equate to 20,000 few deaths from CVD and 4,000 fewer nonfatal strokes. It’s been speculated that regular fish consumption may reduce total mortality at a higher rate then statins (statins garner 40 billion dollars a year and is a article in itself).
So if not tilapia? We want fish high in omega 3 such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, and bass, as well as shellfish like oysters and mussels. The single highest seafood source of EPA and DHA is caviar or fish eggs. I could not eat fish eggs if my life depended on, but if you like them more power to you.
If you want to hit a clinically relevant range of omega 3’s you want to eat 3.5 EPA plus DHA per week. This may reduce heart disease by as much as 25%. A good goal would be to eat between 10-16 oz of fatty fish/shellfish per week. Make up any short fall with a high quality fish oil supplement.
When it comes to other healthy fats olives, olive oil avocados, and macadamia nuts provide healthy monounsaturated fats. Remember monounsaturated fats have been shown to reduce LDL and Triglycerides, decrease oxidized LDL, lower blood pressure, decrease thrombosis, and reduce incidence of heart disease.
You might be familiar with the term antioxidants. If you recall shortages in antioxidants may contribute to an increase in oxidized LDL, which is associated with arterial plaque build up. Food companies do an excellent job with their packaging to seduce the consumer. The supplement and nutraceutical industry is vying for you to seek out their pills. While supplements may be beneficial in some situations, it’s preferable to get these nutrients we need from whole foods, Mother Nature, and not isolated synthetic sources like ascorbic acid.
There is mixed support in the medical literature on antioxidant supplementation. You may have heard that treatment with beta-carotene, vitamin A and vitamin E may increase mortality. For reasons we that have not been fully discovered whole foods appear to be more effective than supplements in meeting nutrient requirements.
Foods high in antioxidants (lower oxidative stress and inflammation) include leafy greens and berries, but there is more to the story. Red meat and organ meats are also rich in antioxidants that are not found in significant amounts in plant sources.
I don’t want to go any deeper into the nutritional weeds. Remember there is no one-size fits all approach. Ultimately, a heart healthy diet requires some attention. It starts by eliminating processed foods and switching to nutrient dense whole foods. There should be an emphasis on cold-water fatty fish and shellfish, healthy fats, antioxidants rich foods, polyphenol-rich foods, soluble fiber, nuts, fermented foods and occasional alcohol. If you decide to supplement be selective. For example, it’s better to take folate then the synthetic folic acid. Much of folic acid is never converted to folate.
Back to the stool analogy
Earlier I broke the stool seat into 3 parts, diet, weight management, and exercise. For most people combining diet and exercise will help you reclaim a healthy weight. The evidence is pretty straightforward and suggests that regular moderate exercise prevents the build up of arterial plaque, improves lipids and reduces vascular symptoms in people with heart disease. Exercise is a great way to reduce stress, and you may have heard me cite stats on the interplay of stress and risk of cardiovascular disease. I’m not proposing everyone flock to the nearest HIIT gym or LA fitness. Make small changes based on your current activity level and attempt to log 10,000 steps a day.
If you have any specific questions regarding this 3-part educational series (testing, supplementation, lowering high blood pressure, or statin drugs) please contact me at nick @spineandjointoc.com