How’s your heart health? For years, you’ve probably heard that you need to be concerned about three numbers: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, lowdensity lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides to prevent heart disease.
Big surprise! Many cardiologists are throwing out the old lipid panel and simplifying their cholesterol approach to just one number: the oxidized LDL number. The data are through the roof that this is the best marker for monitoring heart disease. Most people aren’t even aware that the American College of Cardiology, the Cleveland Clinic, and even the American Heart Association are looking at this one number to determine if cholesterol is indeed a risk factor.
When LDL cholesterol becomes oxidized—which can be caused by lifestyle factors including stress, chemical exposure, poor diet, and smoking—its cells go from smooth to spongy and tacky. That’s when inflammation begins, which puts you at greater risk for a heart attack.
It’s Like Rancid Salmon
This is breakthrough knowledge. Healthy LDL cholesterol can eventually condense into HDL, which is recycled by the liver. But when LDL floats around in your system for too long, nothing good happens. It makes you vulnerable to disease.
Think of cholesterol as if it were heart-healthy salmon. Is it fresh or is it rancid? Whereas healthy cholesterol is cardio-protective, rancid—or oxidized—LDL cholesterol causes heart disease. There is no middle ground. When LDL cholesterol is oxidized, it attracts the immune system, just as rancid salmon attracts flies.
Genetics and Cholesterol
For the most part, three factors guide cholesterol levels: diet, exercise, and genetics. Genetics determine how susceptible your cholesterol is to becoming oxidized, thus setting off the cascade of illness we know as atherosclerosis—the thickening of artery walls. In addition to the most important number—oxidized LDL—we look at the ApoB:ApoA1 ratio to determine susceptibility for oxidation.
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Many people with genetically poor ratios feel like they are doomed to develop heart disease, which is not true! Supplementing with tomato extracts high in lycopene, as well as products that contain plant sterols, can improve both the ApoB (responsible for carrying cholesterol to tissues) to ApoA1 (promotes fat efflux from tissues to the liver for excretion) ratio and the oxidized LDL numbers.
We are also now starting to see nutritional supplements come into the market that are clinically tested and shown to lower oxidized LDL. The first is NovaHue Cardio, a synergistic blend of natural, non-GMO tomato extract and phytosterols. This blend already has six well-controlled human clinical studies supporting its claims.
Interrupting Heart Disease
We need to change our definition of cardiovascular disease risk factors if we want outcomes to improve. Beyond the lab markers and standard risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, poor diet, alcohol, and family history, we need to look at ourselves individually. Each of us needs to “find our inflammation.” So if you have a sore back, or poor gums and teeth, you have to work at getting that better. Someone else may have hip pain or depression. Those also have to get better. (We now know that depression is a result of inflammation and free radicals, the same things that contribute to heart disease.) When we look at risk factors as individuals, we will start to make real progress against this disease.
Most people think that a heart attack happens when plaque builds up then breaks away, just as a piece of ice might break from an iceberg. It’s not like that at all. It’s more like a tear or eruption inside of a blood vessel that allows rancid cholesterol to rush into the space.
Knowing your oxidized LDL number is the first step in interrupting this disease process. There’s now a simple, non-fasting blood test that your physician can order through labs. Your oxidized LDL level should be less than 60 U/L. If it’s above that level, there are a number of actions you can take. Retest in 90 days to see if the changes are working.
To improve your oxidized LDL number, it’s smart to:
>> Stop smoking. Smoking accelerates LDL oxidation.
>> Limit alcohol. Alcohol—even wine—can also accelerate LDL oxidation.
>> Improve your diet. Choose fresh over processed foods. Eat a variety of foods. And make sure you eat a minimum of 3 cups of fruits and vegetables each day. Some types of DHA fish- and plant-based oils reduce cholesterol fats by lowering triglycerides. When the triglycerides rise beyond 150, the liver may pump out extra cholesterol for protection. Good DHA fish- or plant-based oil can lower the triglycerides, thus lowering the need for cholesterol. In addition, it can stimulate the liver’s release of bile, thus eliminating more cholesterol from the body.
>> Increase your activity. Exercise helps to protect your heart health, in part by lowering stress. Exercise also increases a protective form of cholesterol in HDL. It will improve the vital cholesterol ratio of ApoB to ApoA1, or the potentially oxidizable or disease part of LDL cholesterol in ratio to the potentially protective part of HDL cholesterol.
>> Consider supplementing your diet. Some antioxidants have been shown to reduce oxidized LDL.
If you choose to try a nutritional supplement, be selective. One huge deciding factor should be whether the finished product has been researched and evaluated for its effectiveness, not just the individual ingredients.
All the claims on a package don’t matter if what’s inside doesn’t work for you. Healthcare is becoming individualized and customized now more than ever. Know your oxidized LDL number. If you’re not testing regularly, you won’t know if you are gaining the desired benefits. There is a lot you can do to support your heart naturally.
By Decker Weiss, NMD, FASA