Our Blood Speaks Volumes, If We'd Just Listen!
Blood tests have long been used by the medical community as a means of determining if someone has developed a health issue - everything from anemia to diabetes to leukemia, and more. Not only are we encouraged to get annual blood tests to see if we "have something", but Biometric screenings are becoming more commonplace in workplace wellness programs across the country. The premise is that the sooner our medical practitioners can determine if something has gone wrong, the more likely the progression can be slowed through traditional medical intervention (usually involving a prescription), and in the case of companies, the fewer and lower the claims against insurance policies. Unfortunately, this approach has had limited benefit in lowering disease, primarily because "detection" is nowhere near as effective as "prevention", whether we're talking about disease or something as basic as car maintenance. And in both cases, there are advances in prevention that can be taken advantage of, if we only would.
I equate this to how most people treat the maintenance of their cars. In older days, cars had "idiot lights" to tell us if the engine temperature was getting too hot, or the oil pressure was too low. Unfortunately, in many cases by the time the "idiot light" came on, damage had already been done. At best, steam started coming out of the radiator. At worst, there was serious engine damage that could cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to fix.
Now, cars have more sophisticated diagnostics. The onboard computers tell us exactly what the temperature or pressure is, how much oil life there is left BEFORE we need to change it, how many more miles we should drive BEFORE we need to rotate the tires, etc. This allows us to take a more preventive approach to our car maintenance, thereby minimizing the risk of serious damage.
If only the medical community would develop tests that could tell us if we were on the path to disease BEFORE we actually developed it...oh, wait, THEY HAVE!
Unknown to many medical professionals, and certainly by most people, there are dozens of advanced blood tests that will actually give us a heads-up that we are on the path to a health issue, long before the condition manifests itself into an acute event (like a heart attack or stroke), or a chronic disease like diabetes. Better yet, some can actually predict the likelihood that we will have a stroke or a heart attack, thus giving us the warning to make the lifestyle changes that are necessary (and successful) to reduce, if not eliminate the risk altogether. And the great news is that these tests are covered by most insurance plans, and some companies even offer a favorable cash price for those without insurance (or those who haven't met their insurance deductible).
So why aren't these tests commonly ordered and used as a preventive measure to lower our risk of disease? If you work with a Functional Medicine practitioner, they will likely already know about and order these tests. As for the rest of the medical community, our opinion is that many practitioners are struggling just to stay on top of the new studies being published in their respective fields, and/or don't have the time to learn what these new tests mean and how to explain the results to their patients. Not to mention that lifestyle change is the best course of action in response to an elevated "predictive" marker, and most docs don't have time and don't get paid to offer lifestyle education to their patients. The good news? We at Trinity Health Coaching understand these tests, we know how to explain them to you in terms you'll understand, AND we know which type of lifestyle change will make the biggest impact on improving these markers.
In this post, we will explore a few of the most important markers associated with heart health, while next time in Part 2 we will look at a few metabolic marker tests that you should definitely ask your practitioner to run for your.
How many times have we heard about a friend or family member who suffered a stroke, and the general reaction was "It was so unexpected - he seemed so healthy!" The reality is that you can't tell whether someone is a stroke risk by looking a them from the outside.
The good news is that there is now an FDA-approved test (the only one of it's kind) to determine your risk of stroke. It's called Lp-PLA2 (we refer to it as the "volcano test"), and if your number is highly elevated, you are at risk of having a heart event in the next 6 months! More good news to go along with the existence of the test, is that certain lifestyle changes are POWERFUL at lowering this number and bringing your risk down to normal healthy levels.
Heart Disease Predictors
A traditional lipid panel includes only a handful of markers including LDL-C (total cholesterol). LDL cholesterol (typically thought of as "bad" cholesterol), and triglycerides. Studies have shown that total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol aren't particularly meaningful or predictive, as is supported by the fact that nearly 75% of people who have heart attacks have "normal" cholesterol numbers (per a study of over 100k people released back in 2009). If you want to read a great book on this topic, we highly recommend "The Great Cholesterol Myth", by Dr. Sinatra.
There are much better blood tests than LDL-C, tests that paint a more accurate picture of our health and our risk factor. The first is LDL-P, which mesures the total number of LDL cholesterol "PARTICLES". The more particles there are floating around in the blood, the more "congestion" there is on the highway of our arteries. This increases the time the LDL cholesterol is in our blood, which increases the chances for oxidation and damage, and the more likely a blockage will occur. It's like using mass transit to commute rather than everyone driving themselves - much less traffic, and less chance for a traffic jam. LDL-P is a much better predictor of heart disease than either total cholesterol or LDL-C cholesterol.
A second marker that is also a better predictor of heart disease is sdLDL-C, or small dense LDL-C. This measures how many small, hard LDL particles you have, compared to the beneficial "big, fluffy" LDL particles we actually want. Small, dense LDL particles are the type that "sink" in the bloodstream (like golf balls sinking in a water hazard on a golf course), LDL particles become made "small and dense" when oxidized (damaged) by our unhealthy lifestyles. They become "sticky" and accumulate along the artery walls, leading to blockages. Increased sdLDL-C is a huge risk factor for heart disease, and if combined with high LDL-P, puts you VERY HIGH on the list for a likely heart event.
There are many more we could discuss, but that's enough to try and wrap your brain around for now. So how do you get these advanced tests done, and how do you make sure you get them at an affordable price (even if you use insurance)? More importantly, what do you do to improve these numbers if you do find out you are on the road to disease? Give us a call, or email us, and we'll walk you through things step-by-step. The road to better health is up to you - which path will you go down?
Next time, we will focus on the markers that can help you drastically reduce your risk of diabetes, mental health issues, and more. In the meantime, please stay in touch with us through our Facebook page, follow us on Instagram, or better yet, call us on (915) 861-6758 for a consultation with one of our coaches, and let us help you quickly achieve your personal health goals.