Tag Archives: high cholesterol

The Myth of Eggs and Cholesterol

In my office it’s not uncommon for a patient to tell me they are avoiding eggs because they have high cholesterol. I’m here to tell you it is unnecessary, and you are actually depriving yourself of a valuable source of nutrients. Find out more below.

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Safe and Natural ways to Prevent Heart Disease

Yesterday we brought you a blog on which cholesterol tests you should add to the standard lipid panel.  Today we tell you what to do about them.  The best part?  The solutions are natural, safe and effective.  Enjoy!

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Protecting Yourself from Heart Disease – Video blog

Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans.  Find out how to properly assess your risk and what tests you should be having done.

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Genes, Alzheimer’s Disease and Your Choice

PET scan of a human brain with Alzheimer's disease

Image via Wikipedia

New genes have been discovered that seem to be linked to Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).  AD currently affects over 5 million Americans and that number is expected to increase substantially by the year 2029.

This year the first baby boomers will reach their 65th birthdays. By 2029, all baby boomers will be at least 65 years old.  Ninety-five percent of all AD is in people 65 and older.

The discovery of new genes linked to AD is a step in the right direction.  Every bit of information that help scientists unlock the mystery of why this occurs puts us closer to being able to effectively treat AD.

Let’s pretend that we know every gene that is involved in the production of AD.  Let’s also pretend a test that exists to specifically detect all of these genes in you.  Would you want to find out?  What would you do if you had all of the genes linked to AD?

The truth of it is, there is nothing you could do to change your genes.  Your genes are your genes.  They are there and you can’t remove them.  What you can do, however, is change how they are expressed.  Just because a person has a specific gene does not mean it has to be expressed.  The expression of many of our genes is closely related to our environment.  Diet, exercise, smoking, pollution and stress are just a few things that can negatively or positively affect the expression of our genes.

So back to my first question.  What would you do if you had all the genes linked to AD?  You can’t change your genes, but you can change your risk factors.

There are many known risk factor that increase the risk of AD, independent of your genetic potential.  The number one risk is aging.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done about that.  We are all going to get older which is not necessarily a bad thing.  It is much better than the alternative!

Known risk factors for AD that are controllable are as follows:

You will notice that these risk factors significantly overlap with one another.  You will also notice that when you control one risk factor you will impact another.  If you can control these risk factors in your life you will significantly reduce your risk of developing AD regardless of your genetic potential.
Cardiovascular health is perhaps the most important.  Cardiovascular disease causes a chronic, low grade reduction in blood delivery to the brain.  This is known as hypoperfusion.  This hypoperfusion is responsible for protein synthesis defects that later result in the classic AD neurodegenerative lesions.

To keep your cardiovascular system as healthy as possible make sure you eat an anti-inflammatory diet and exercise.  Fish oil is also something you should consider.  Fish oil, which contains omega-3 fatty acids, has been shown to reduce cardiovascular disease mortality better than any other substance known.

Reduction of high blood pressure is also very important.  When blood pressure is too high it fuels a kind of scarring linked to later development of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.  Controlling your blood pressure is actually very simple.  You must maintain a healthy weight first and foremost.  This, of course, means diet and exercise.  Increasing waistlines mean more tissue and blood vessels for your heart to push blood through. This puts a strain on the heart and increases the resistance the heart must push against.

Keeping a healthy cholesterol profile is essential.  However, the traditional tests from your doctor are probably not enough to tell whether you are at risk or not.  Traditional tests examine total cholesterol, HDL (“good”), LDL (“bad”) and triglycerides.  These are of some value, but they don’t tell the whole story.  What you must find out is the particle size.  In a nut shell, large and buoyant molecules of cholesterol are not as problematic as small and dense particles.  Your traditional test does not distinguish between the two.  Your traditional test might look very good, but a more advanced test may show that you are still very much at risk.  See my blog entry from last summer for more detailed information.

Diabetes is also extremely important to control.  Some references are referring to Alzheimer’s as Type III diabetes because of the biochemical similarities. Even being borderline diabetic raises the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia by 70%!  Diabetes’ hallmark is high blood sugar.  This high blood sugar leads to a phenomenon called advanced glycation end products or AGEs.  AGEs adversely affect the structure and function of proteins. In combination with oxidative stress brain function is easily affected.  Advanced glycation end products have been found to be much more prevalent in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients than in healthy controls. This process begins early on in the course of Alzheimer’s and there is also evidence that AGEs assist in the formation of plaques seen in AD.  Diet and exercise are the best ways to prevent diabetes and reduce your risk of AD.

While the study for a purely genetic link to AD will continue, a cure is likely many years away if one can even be found.  What we can control, however, are our lifestyle choices that activate our genes.  If we choose poorly, we are much more likely to activate unfavorable genes that cause disease.  If we choose wisely, we are more likely to activate genes that are favorable and reduce our risk of further disease.  The choice is yours.  Make the right one.

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3 Medical Myths Debunked

Health care can be a confusing field.  There is so much information out there, much of it conflicting, that leaves consumers confused about their health.  Well, today I am here to sort some of them out for you.  Below are some common medical myths that people believe but are not necessarily true.

1. High Cholesterol Means a High Heart Attack Risk

This is perhaps the biggest one I see in practice.  Everyone thinks that having high cholesterol means they are at risk for having a heart attack.  They also think that having low cholesterol is protecting them from heart disease and heart attacks.  Neither is true!  As a matter of fact, 50% of the people who have heart attacks annually have high cholesterol and 50% have low cholesterol. To most people this is an astounding stat, but it’s true.  What has been shown in the research is that your total cholesterol is not actually a predictor of heart disease.  Looking at the break down of the HDL (the good) versus LDL (the bad) cholesterol is helpful but still is not the entire story.  What you should be looking at is the size of your cholesterol.  How do you do that?  It’s simple really.  It’s just a blood test.  It is how the lab analyzes your cholesterol that’s different.  Without getting to technical, small, dense particles of LDL cholesterol are bad because they can make their way into the lining of your blood vessels most easily.  Light, fluffy, large pieces of LDL are not problematic because they cannot readily get into the walls of your vessels and cause the atherosclerotic plaques that are so dangerous.  These are tests that several of the largest laboratories are performing now and give us better information about cardiovascular health.  I have begun measuring cholesterol in this fashion on all my high risk cardiovascular patients and the results have helped us tailor nutritional programs that will be most effective for them.

2. Bed Rest of Back Pain

I recently had someone visit my office on a Monday for an acute case of back pain.  She was in quite a bit of distress and discomfort.  So much so that she had been to the emergency room over the weekend.  There she was given test and test and finally told that her back pain was not life threatening and to go home, take some pain killers and get bed rest for 5 days.  The advice of bed rest is still being given out by many physicians around the country for back pain despite the evidence that overwhelmingly concludes that this only makes back pain worse. In fact, the research shows that if you do go with bed rest you are much more likely to develop a chronic back problem.  If you have an episode of back pain do not stay in bed.  Your best bet is to stay as active as possible.  Your goal should be to continue your normal activities, within reason, but modify these activities to fit your current limitations.  Now, if your normal activities include vigorous exercise you may want to hold off on that until your back is feeling better, but you should try to walk if you can.  Rest if you need to, but keeping the joints and muscles of the back active even when they are hurt is the best way for them to heal appropriately.  You should also see a chiropractor.  Chiropractors are trained extensively on the back and know how to provide nonsurgical relief for back pain.

3. Eating Fat Makes You Fat

This is a biggie.  People come into my office for a lot of reasons.  However, regardless of their initial reason I always ask about their diet.  Inevitably someone will tell me they eat a healthy diet because they eat low fat.  People assume that low fat is the best way to keep fat from accumulating around their midsection (and everywhere else!).  This simply is not true.  It seems intuitive that eating fat would make you fat just like saving money makes you rich.  However, things in the human body are hardly ever that linear.  The way the human body stores fat is by secreting a hormone called insulin.  Insulin is secreted when a person consumes carbohydrates (bread, pasta, sugar) and to some degree protein.  Insulin signals the body’s cells to take in the energy in the blood, in the form of sugar, and store it as fat or use it.  Notice that I did not say that fat causes insulin release?  That’s because it doesn’t!  If fat does not cause the body to secrete the hormone necessary for fat storage then how can fat make you fat?  It can’t!  This myth comes from the fact that fat is higher in calorie than other foods but somewhere along the line people made the leap that eating fat caused fat to accumulate in the body.  When fat is consumed it is actually slowly converted to sugar and burned, not stored.

There are many more to choose from, but these are some of the most common that I see in my office.  If you’d like to know more, let me know in the comments section and I’ll post about your questions.

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Fast Food Chains To Offer Statins With Their Meals?

Below is a blog post from cnn.com.  It simply amazes me that a peer reviewed journal would suggest that fast food companies offer statins with their meals to offset their horrible health effects.  See my comments at the end of the article.

CNN Blog Post

A new report in the American Journal of Cardiology suggests that fast food restaurants should offer statins – a popular class of cholesterol-lowering medications – alongside their unhealthy food.

“We propose that the fast food industry is well placed to offer advice and supplements to counteract the cardiovascular harm arising from the foods they purvey,” the report said. “These companies already have an infrastructure for providing a variety of condiments… A generic statin could be added to the panoply of items in the self-service tray at little additional cost.”

The study – which likened taking a statin before eating to putting on a bike helmet before biking – was based on analyses of other scientific studies, and concluded that taking the drugs could offset the risk of eating fast food just enough to render the food harmless.

“Most of the primary prevention statin regimes we examined, with the exception of pravastatin, had the strength to counteract the increase in risk caused by an unhealthy diet; or eating an additional 36 g[rams] of total fat or 2.8 g[rams] of trans fat per day – approximately equivalent to a Quarter Pounder with cheese and a small milkshake,” the British researchers said in the study.

But Dr. Ralph Sacco, president of the American Heart Association, says that not only isn’t the solution that simple, it could be dangerous.

“There are other things regarding obesity that are important that a statin won’t neutralize, such as diabetes and high blood pressure,” Sacco said. “Even though we agree statins have a lot of good evidence in reducing cardiovascular and stroke risk, there are certain risks with any medications.”

The risks are relatively infrequent but include liver damage, muscle cramps and long-term muscle damage.

The British researchers concluded that the risks of eating fast food are much greater.

“Statins have been shown to be safe even at high doses,” the report says. “The documented safety record of statins is substantially better than that of fast foods, which carry not only direct cardiovascular risks, but other risks due to obesity.”

But regardless of whether the benefits do in fact outweigh the risks,  Sacco says there are far better ways to reduce the negative effects of obesity.

“If you can control it with diet and exercise, that would be our preference rather than having to take a medicine.”

Dr. Court’s Comments

This is perhaps the most ridiculous recommendation I have ever seen from a mainstream medical publication.  They are suggesting that fast food chains offer cholesterol lower medications, called statins, with their meals to offset the negative health effects they have on human physiology. This is the pinnacle of not taking responsibility for one’s health.  Why take responsibility if you can take a pill to supposedly offset the detriments to your health from eating the most unhealthy foods in the world?

Statin medications are not as safe as Big Pharma would like you to believe. Statins are HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, that is, they act by blocking the enzyme in your liver that is responsible for making cholesterol (HMG-CoA reductase). The fact that statin drugs cause side effects is well established—there are now 900 studies proving their adverse effects, which run the gamut from muscle problems to increased cancer risk.

For starters, reported side effects include:

  • Muscle problems, polyneuropathy (nerve damage in the hands and feet), and rhabdomyolysis (a serious degenerative muscle tissue condition)
  • Anemia
  • Acidosis
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Immune depression
  • Pancreas or liver dysfunction, including a potential increase in liver enzymes
  • Cataracts

These side effects hardly seem harmless and to give them as an option with your value meal from McDonald’s is outrageous.  It is a great marketing ploy by the pharmaceutical industry to get as many American’s on statins as possible.  Think about it.  Wouldn’t this kind of strategy significantly increase sales of statin drugs?  Of course it would.  And where do we start and stop giving them to people.  Does a 3 year old eating a happy meal get a statin to go with it?  What about people who are already taking statins?  Do they just take extra because you really never can get to much medication can you?  The slope is a slippery one and I cannot believe this has even been suggested.

I was happy to see the president of the American Heart Association take the other side of this story.  He mentions that statins do nothing to offset the other health complications of fast food like diabetes and high blood pressure.  This is true.  You can’t take a statin to avoid diabetes.  What he doesn’t mention is the fact that those kinds of food – food high in refined sugar – are notorious for raising inflammation in the body.  When you raise inflammation you raise the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and osteoporosis to name just a few.  You can’t control inflammation by taking a statin.  Some new research does suggest that statins lower one of the inflammatory enzymes called CRP.  But that’s just one.  There are others that are still detrimental to one’s health.

This kind of a recommendation is dangerous.  Period.  It is also irresponsible for the American Journal of Cardiology to publish such information.  It plants a dangerous seed.  This kind of a recommendation encourages people to continue to make poor decisions regarding their diets.  It gives them an excuse to continue to destroy their health under the pretense that they are offsetting their bad decisions with a pill.  Instead, we should be encouraging people to make healthier choices regarding their diet and lifestyle.

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6 Blood Tests Everyone Should Ask Their Doctor For

At the Vreeland Clinic we use nutrition and diet to manipulate health.  Our main goal is to improve overall health and help people feel energetic and youthful.  To know if we’ve achieved our goal we rely, in part, on our patients to inform us on how they are feeling.  This is not, however, the only marker we use to “check up” on our patients.  We use a wide variety of blood work to make sure that along with feeling great, our patients are protected from the dangers of aspects of disease that do not always manifest in overt symptoms until it’s too late.

This blood work is a huge part of our practice and today I am going to share with you the blood work that you should be asking for when you go to your doctor.

1. Particle Size Cholesterol Test

Now, cholesterol is an interesting subject.  Knowing the total number is useless.  Knowing the breakdown of the “good” cholesterol (HDL) versus the “bad” (LDL) is a little more revealing but still is far from telling the whole story.  What you need is to find out the particle break down.

Cholesterol testing has historically been used as the standard indicator for cardiovascular disease classified as HDL (good) or LDL (bad). However, it is actually the lipoprotein particles that carry the cholesterol throughout the body, not necessarily the cholesterol within them, that are responsible for key steps in plaque production and the resulting development of cardiovascular disease.

It is the particle size that is important.  Small, dense and hard lipoproteins are dangerous while light and fluffy particles are not quite as worrisome.  We know that just as many people with low cholesterol have heart attacks as people with high cholesterol.  If total cholesterol was a good indicator of heart disease then why do people with “healthy” levels have heart attacks? It’s because your total cholesterol doesn’t tell the whole story.  You must know the particle breakdown to have any real idea about your cardiovascular risk.

Below is a schematic from SpectraCell Laboratories that illustrates why this type of test is important.  They are a national lab that runs these tests and their panel is called an LPP panel.  There are many other companies that can do these tests.  The other lab I am familiar with is Atherotech Diagnostics Lab.  They call their test the VAP panel.  Either test works.  Your doctor can order these tests easily. (Please click the picture to enlarge it).

2. Fibrinogen

Fibrinogen is an important factor in blood clotting and increases in response to tissue inflammation.  Fibrinogen can help predict the risk of heart disease and stroke.  Fibrinogen will not only be high in people with heart disease, but it’s also high in other inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.  High levels of fibrinogen also increase the risk of venous thrombosis (blood clots).  Blood clots are silent killers that are often discovered too late.  This is a simple test that almost all labs are capable of running.  If you take appropriate steps, lowering fibrinogen can lower your risk of many inflammatory diseases.

3. Hemoglobin A1C

Having your fasting blood sugar tested is very valuable, but it’s just a spot shot.  It only tells you what your blood sugar was at the moment your blood was drawn.  And if you followed the instructions, you fasted before that test so your blood sugar is likely as low as it’s going to get.  (Remember with blood sugar, lower is better than higher).  High blood sugar leads to diabetes.  A hemoglobin A1C (or HbA1c) checks your blood sugar control over the last 2-3 months.  A much better check!  High HbA1c is an independent risk factor for heart disease for people with or without diabetes.  Higher HbA1c leads to an increased risk of heart disease and vice versa.  HbA1c is another test that every lab can perform and is easily ordered by any physician.

4. DHEA

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands and is a precursor to the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone.   Blood levels peak in one’s twenties and decline significantly as we age.  They reach a level of about 20%-30% of one’s youthful peak between the ages of 70 and 80.  Healthy levels of DHEA supports immune function, bone density, mood, libido and a healthy body composition.  This is another easy test to order and almost all labs can perform it.

5. Homocysteine

Homocysteine is formed in the body from the metabolism of the amino acid methionine.  It is inflammatory in nature.  High levels have been associated with an increased risk of heart attack, bone fracture and poor cognitive function.  Other studies have linked high homocysteine to macular degeneration and gall stones.  Some patients, because of a genetic defect in the way they metabolize folic acid, have very high homocysteine.  Lowering this is critical for long term health.  It is easily lowered with activated B12, activated B6 and activated folate.  Homocysteine is easily performed at any lab.

6. C-Reactive Protein

CRP, as it is abbreviated, is another inflammatory enzyme.  CRP is a powerful predictor of systemic inflammation and is a great indicator of risk for heart disease and stroke.  It may predict heart disease years before it becomes problematic.  It identifies at risk populations while they are still healthy.  This truly is a great tool.  A review of epidemiological data shows that CRP was able to predict heart attack, stroke, peripheral artery disease and sudden cardiac death in healthy individuals with no history of cardiovascular disease.  Again, this is a simple test and can easily be ordered by your doctor.

This list is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a good start.  Each individual person may require more testing depending on their specific condition.  These are, however, a great way to evaluate your overall health and predict disease that might await you years down the road.  Once you have found your specific risk factors appropriate steps can be taken to avoid the consequences in your later years.

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