Heart disease, the #1 killer of women, is a topic that we all need to take seriously.
It is sobering to look at some of the US statistics saying that heart disease and stroke cause 1 in 3 women’s deaths each year. Or that approximately 44 million women in the US have cardiovascular disease of some kind, causing one woman’s death every 80 seconds.
On a more positive note, the American Heart Association reports that 80% of heart disease and stroke events may be prevented by lifestyle changes and education. See their website for women to learn more general background information and answers to common questions: www.goredforwomen.org.
Also be sure to check out their entertaining video HERE to help you learn, and remember, the signs and symptoms of heart attacks in women.
And adding naturopathic care will help you to keep up with the cutting edge, take control of your health and be as preventive as possible.
I recently attended a cardiology training, taught by Dr. Steve Parcell, a fellow ND and author of the book, Dare to Live. I will share with you here some of the latest updates, and bust some of the most commonly held beliefs.
#1 Blood Tests: It’s not just about Cholesterol!
Common medical practice has already moved from simply testing total cholesterol, to also looking at “good” HDL, “bad” LDL, and triglycerides. Now there are several other tests available that can reveal more of the story of your cardiovascular health.
Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the artery walls, is only about 35-40% caused by cholesterol. Inflammation, measured by cardio-CRP, also known as hsCRP or highly sensitive C-Reactive Protein, is another very important factor. Without inflammation, the cholesterol can simply pass through an artery along with the blood. However when inflammation is present, irritated artery walls cause more turbulent flow and the cholesterol passing through may stick as a plaque, causing a narrower space for the blood to flow through.
Some other examples of blood tests that may help to inform the picture include homocysteine, ApoB, Lp(a), lipoprotein particle number and size, glucose, insulin, hemoglobin A1C, vit D, CoQ10 and some others that are still not used commonly.
#2 Imaging/Other testing: It’s not just about Stress Tests!
So it turns out that a stress EKG, where they monitor your heart while on a treadmill, can miss many less advanced cases of heart disease. You may have seen stories in the news about people who have died of a heart attack after having a normal result on a stress test just days or weeks prior. We need to be using other methods of assessing heart health to more accurately catch and monitor early to moderate disease.
I admit that this is not my area of expertise and I would not be the one to order this kind of imaging for my patients. However, I thought I’d share with you that Dr. Parcell was recommending a combination of two specific imaging test, a Heart Scan and a CIMT.
The Heart Scan, also known as Coronary Calcium Scoring, can be monitored over time to verify that a treatment plan is working as intended. The word “coronary” means that this is looking at the vessels within the heart itself.
The second test, a CIMT or Carotid Intima Media Thickness, is named after the two layers of the artery wall called intima (inner layer) and media (middle layer). This is an ultrasound of the carotid artery in your neck, and can actually measure the thickness of any plaque in the artery.
Unfortunately, though insurance will usually cover mammograms for the less common and less deadly breast cancer, most insurance plans do not cover these imaging options. Therefore, you will need to talk with your doctor or cardiologist about your options.
#3 Natural Treatments: It’s not just about Statin drugs!
There are many well-studied and highly effective natural treatment options for reducing your risk factors and optimizing your heart health. And when a statin or other prescription drug is needed, a natural treatment approach can help you use the minimal dose and minimize side effects.
- Lifestyle factors include: reducing and managing stress (cortisol causes a LOT of problems for cardiovascular health), getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly, stopping smoking and maintaining an ideal weight.
- Dietary factors include: eating plenty of good fats and colorful vegetables, following an anti-inflammatory diet, avoiding fried foods, reducing salt if you have high blood pressure, decreasing sugar and carbs if you have signs of insulin resistance. The mediterranean diet is one of the most well studied diets for heart health and would be a great starting place.
- Supplements/Herbs to consider: Omega-3 fish oils (high doses that provide at least 2,000mg combined EPA and DHA), red yeast rice (always along with coQ10), resveratrol (concentrated supplement not just from drinking red wine), coQ10, anti-oxidants (to prevent oxidation of the bad LDL cholesterol), and anti-inflammatory herbs.
Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is one of the most effective ways to naturally improve cholesterol. It will increase the good and decrease the bad, will reduce Lp(a), and can also help to shrink plaque build up. The form of niacin to choose is the “sustained release niacin” because the regular one causes flushing and the flush-free one doesn’t work, so steer clear of plain niacin or inositol hexaniacinate. Due to possible elevations, it is important while on niacin over the long term to monitor liver enzymes, blood sugar and homocysteine.
The field of cardiovascular health is changing rapidly. We’ve come a long way (though there’s still further to go!) in recognizing the difference between women and men when it comes to heart disease. We are still learning which assessments and markers are more important, and which treatment approaches will most effectively reduce disease and save lives.
If your other doctor ran a basic cholesterol test and said you were fine, or just offered you a statin drug but you want more options, I’m here for you. If are ready to take a more holistic and proactive approach, and need a guide to help you on your journey, you can learn more about my practice and request a complimentary phone consultation at www.DrAmyDay.com/contact.