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How Can You Improve Heart Health? Lifestyle Factors and Screening Tests


17.9 Million people worldwide die from heart disease each year, making it the leading cause of death. High blood pressure, raised blood sugar levels, elevated cholesterol levels, and obesity are common risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

It often goes undetected due to in-depth biochemical markers being not routinely checked by your primary care doctor. For example, do you remember Bob Harpur, the fitness trainer from The Biggest Loser who suffered a heart attack in 2017? He and his doctors believed he was in peak physical condition. However, they never assessed his lipoprotein(a) levels, which was the culprit in this case.

Comprehensive screening for heart health and healthy lifestyle choices are vital to prevent cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke. This article covers what is important for heart health and how we can help you assess your risk factors for cardiovascular disease.


Heart Disease Risk Factors

Common risk factors for Atherosclerotic Heart Disease Include:

  • Apolipoprotein-B or Apo-B for short is a better predictor than LDL-cholesterol for atherosclerotic disease. It is more Central obesity (fat located around the abdomen) increases your risk of cardiovascular disease by 59%.

  • Insulin resistance and hyperinsulinaemia are the most significant independent cause of heart disease. The clinical presentation of insulin resistance is metabolic syndrome, which is characterised by obesity, hyperinsulinemia, hypertension, and dyslipidemia, which have all been associated with cardiovascular disease.

  • Lipoprotein(a) (Lp(a)) is an indication of genetic causes of atherosclerosis, inflammation, and thrombosis.

  • Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is one of the predominant risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke.

  • Homocysteine is usually converted into other amino acids with the help of vitamin B12. When homocysteine levels are elevated, it damages the lining of the arteries and increases blood clotting, which results in blockages in the arteries.

What is Important For Heart Health?

Cardiovascular disease is a group of chronic lifestyle conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels. While genetic factors may be associated with the development of poor heart health, most heart disease can be prevented through healthy lifestyle practices, including good nutrition, regular exercise, effective stress management and sufficient good-quality sleep.

A diet high in refined sugar and saturated fat is associated with high blood sugar, insulin, and cholesterol levels, contributing to an increased risk of heart disease. To reduce your risk, your dietary choices should include whole grain carbohydrates, vegetables and fruit for their fibre content, lean protein, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as dark oily fish.

The current recommendations for exercise state that you should aim for 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every week, which translates to half an hour of exercise five days a week. If you know or suspect that you have cardiovascular disease or any of the risk factors associated with poor heart health, you should speak to your doctor before starting an exercise routine.

Stress, depression and anxiety can increase your risk of heart disease. Stress management is, therefore, an important factor in heart health. Exercise, meditation, yoga, and connecting with friends can all help to keep your stress levels under control.

Sleep is as essential for overall health and well-being as diet and exercise. Developing a healthy sleep routine is essential if you battle to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. The average person needs 8 hours of sleep every night for the body and brain to function well.


Heart Screening Tests: Identify Your Risk Factors

It’s just as important to screen for heart health as it is to adopt a healthy lifestyle. To make it easier for you to identify your risk factors for heart disease, The Integrative Medical Centre has developed a Comprehensive Heart Health Programme.

Your journey begins with a consultation with a holistic medical doctor, and includes a range of tests designed to assess all aspects of heart health. Your assessment consists of a comprehensive panel of blood tests, a stress ECG, an ultrasound of your carotid arteries, and an Omega-3 fatty acid test. We leave no heart-health stone unturned.


#1 Comprehensive Blood test

As Bob Harpur’s case illustrates, it’s vital to look beyond the standard recommended blood tests to establish your heart disease risk. Our comprehensive panel of tests include the following:

  • Advanced lipid profile:: Standard total cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol, cholesterol/HDL ratio, and triglycerides tests, as well as direct LDL cholesterol, apolipoprotein B, and lipoprotein (a).

  • Diabetic Screen: Fasting glucose, HbA1c, and fasting insulin.

  • Kidney profile: Stand kidney function tests, including sodium, potassium, chloride, urea, creatinine, and eGFR, and urine microalbumin/creatinine ratio.

  • Inflammatory markers: Hs-CRP

  • Nutritional profile: Ferritin + Iron studies, homocysteine, vitamin B12/ folic acid, and Vitamin D.

  • Thyroid function: Free T3, Free T4, and TSH.

  • Haematology: Full blood count

#2 Stress ECG

Knowing how your heart responds to external stress can help your doctor make informed decisions about your heart health. A stress ECG is performed using a treadmill and can help diagnose coronary artery disease and arrhythmia and guide your doctor towards the best treatment for you.


#3 Ultrasound Imaging of Carotid Arteries

Ultrasound imaging of the carotid arteries assesses your risk for stroke and cardiovascular disease. It’s a simple, non-invasive procedure that uses sound waves to examine the blood flow in the carotid arteries that deliver blood from the heart to the brain.

Carotid ultrasonography measures the carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT), or the thickness of plaque buildup in the artery walls. It can help your doctor determine the severity of atherosclerosis. For example, clinical research shows that the thicker the CIMT, the greater the risk of a stroke or heart attack.


#4 Comprehensive Omega-3 Fatty Acid Test

Research shows that people who eat Omega-3-rich fish at least once a week are less likely to die from heart disease than those who don’t eat fish at all. These benefits are derived from the long-chain fatty acids commonly found in fish and seafood, EPA and DHA.

The Omega-3 index is a test used to measure the levels of EPA and DHA in your blood. More specifically, it records the number of fatty acids in the membrane of your red blood cells and determines the percentage of EPA and DHA present.

Your risk of heart disease is considered low if your Omega-3 index is 8% or higher, and a result of less than 4% indicates high risk. A recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that an Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency is a more significant predictor of mortality than smoking.

Considering that less than 20% of the world’s population consumes adequate amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids, knowing your Omega-3 index is a valuable way to monitor your risk of heart disease. In addition, the test can be repeated every 3-6 months to assess the benefits of medical interventions and dietary modifications.


Conclusion:

Heart health depends on numerous factors, from lifestyle to genetics. Your body relies on your heart for blood and oxygen supply to perform all the functions it needs to carry out every minute of the day. Therefore, poor heart health can affect every part of your body.

Implementing a healthy lifestyle that includes good nutrition, regular exercise, effective stress management, and sufficient sleep is the first step towards ensuring your cardiovascular system is healthy.

Equally important is regular heart health screening. However, the blood tests commonly used to screen patients for blood tests can miss some crucial details. Holistic healthcare practitioners have designed our Heart Health Programme to assess your heart health comprehensively.

Book your discovery call to learn more about how we can help you maintain a healthy cardiovascular system.