February is Heart Month!

According to Health Canada, more than 1.4 million Canadians have heart disease and it is one of the leading causes of death.

Risk factors for cardiovascular disease are:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure (>140/90 mmHg) or on blood pressure medication
  • Low HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol)
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Age (men > 44 years; women > 54 years)

It is recommended that if you are male age 40 and older or female age 50 and older, you should get your cholesterol level checked. It is also important to have your blood lipid levels checked if you are diabetic, have a BMI of 27 or higher, have high blood pressure or a family history of cardiovascular disease.

When your doctor sends you to get your blood lipid levels tested, they usually include LDL (bad cholesterol), HDL (good cholesterol), triglycerides and total cholesterol. However, it is interesting that 50% of people who have a heart attack actually have normal cholesterol levels. There are more specific tests out there that measure other markers in the blood like the size, patter and density of the cholesterol in the blood. These added markers have been proving more accurately predict the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Often times, statins are prescribed to lower cholesterol. Examples of statin medications are Lipitor (atorvastatin), Lescol (fluvastatin) and Crestor (rosuvastatin) just to name a few. In 2005, sales were estimated at $18.7 billion in the USA. Statins do a good job reducing LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) but are not as effective at reducing triglycerides and raising HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).  Niacin (vitamin B3) has been shown to be better than statins at increasing good cholesterol and decreasing triglycerides. Fish oil (omega 3) in 2 to 4 gram doses also improves these markers.

The most common side effects of statins are increased liver enzymes, muscle issues and an increased risk of diabetes. Statins also decrease the levels of coenzyme Q10 in the body which contributes to muscular problems. CoQ10 is used by the cells to generate energy and it also functions as an antioxidant. CoQ10 has also been shown to help lower high blood pressure. CoQ10 is found in oily fish, organ meats as well as whole grains.

Bottom Line:

If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol or you are at risk for high cholesterol, the following supplements and lifestyle tips will be helpful:

  • Eat TONS of vegetables
  • Exercise regularly (make sure the exercise you do isn’t too easy and you never feel winded)
  • Take omega 3 fish oils from small fish (sardines, anchovies) at a minimum of 1500 mg combined EPA and DHA per day
  • If you are on a statin, take a CoQ10 supplement (100mg ubiquinol/day)
  • Consider a niacin supplement. Niacin can cause flushing but non-flush niacin also exists

To find out more and to see what regime would be best for you, book an appointment with naturopathic doctor Cecilia de Martino.