What tests are MORE important than cholesterol?

In the conventional practice of early heart disease prevention, cholesterol testing takes center stage. Rarely does it go any further, aside from questions about family history and obvious sources of modifiable risk such as smoking and sedentary lifestyle.

So standard practice is to usually look at your LDL cholesterol, the value that is calculated, not measured, then--almost without fail--prescribe a statin drug. While there are indeed useful values in the standard cholesterol panel--HDL cholesterol and triglycerides--they are typically ignored or prompt no specific action.

But a genuine effort at heart disease prevention should go farther than an assessment of calculated LDL cholesterol, as there are many ways that humans develop coronary atherosclerosis. Among the tests to consider in order to craft a truly effect heart disease prevention program are:

--Lipoprotein testing--Rather than using the amount of cholesterol in the various fractions of blood as a crude surrogate for lipoproteins in the bloodstream, why not measure lipoproteins themselves? These techniques have been around for over 20 years, but are simply not part of standard practice.

Lipoprotein testing especially allows you to understand what proportion of LDL particles are the truly unhealthy small LDL particles (that are oxidation- and glycation-prone). It also identifies whether or not you have lipoprotein(a), the heritable factor that confers superior survival capacity in a wild environment ("The Perfect Carnivore"), but makes the holder of this genetic pattern the least tolerant to the modern diet dominated by grains and sugars, devoid of fat and organ meats.

--25-hydroxy vitamin D--The data documenting the health power of vitamin D restoration continue to grow, with benefits on blood sugar and insulin, blood pressure, bone density, protection from winter "blues" (seasonal affective disorder), decrease in falls and fractures, decrease in cancer, decrease in cardiovascular events. I aim to keep 25-hydroxy vitamin D at a level of 60 to 70 ng/ml. This generally requires 4000-8000 units per day in gelcap form, at least for the first 3 or so years, after which there is a decrease in need. Daily supplementation is better than weekly, monthly, or other less-frequent regimens. The D3 (cholecalciferol) form is superior to the non-human D2 (ergocalciferol) form.

--Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c)--HbA1c represents glycated hemoglobin, i.e., hemoglobin molecules within red blood cells that are irreversibly modified by glucose, or blood sugar. It therefore provides an index of endogenous glycation of all proteins of the body: proteins in the lenses of the eyes that lead to cataracts; proteins in the cartilage of the knees and hips that lead to brittle cartilage and arthritis; proteins in kidney tissue leading to kidney dysfunction.

HbA1c provides an incredibly clear snapshot of health: It reflects the amount of glycation you have been exposed to over the past 90 or so days. We therefore aim for an ideal level: 5.0% or less, the amount of "ambient" glycation that occurs just with living life. We reject the notion that a HbA1c level of 6.0% is acceptable just because you don't "need" diabetes medication, the thinking that drives conventional medical practice.

--RBC Omega-3 Index--The average American consumes very little omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, such that a typical omega-3 RBC Index, i.e., the proportion of fatty acids in the red blood cell occupied by omega-3 fatty acids, is around 2-3%, a level associated with increased potential for sudden cardiac death (death!). Levels of 6% or greater are associated with reduced potential for sudden cardiac death; 10% or greater are associated with reduced other cardiovascular events.

Evidence therefore suggests that an RBC Omega-3 Index of 10% or greater is desirable, a level generally achieved by obtaining 3000-3600 mg EPA + DHA per day (more or less, depending on the form consumed, an issue for future discussion).

--Thyroid testing (TSH, free T3, free T4)--Even subtle degrees of thyroid dysfunction can double, triple, even quadruple cardiovascular risk. TSH values, for instance, within the previously presumed "normal" range, pose increased risk for cardiovascular death; a TSH level of 4.0 mIU, for instance, is associated with more than double the relative risk of a level of 1.0.

Sad fact: the endocrinology community, not keeping abreast of the concerning issues coming from the toxicological community regarding perchlorates, polyfluorooctanoic acid and other fluorinated hydrocarbons, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PDBEs), and other thyroid-toxic compounds, tend to ignore these issues, while the public is increasingly exposed to the increased cardiovascular risk of even modest degrees of thyroid dysfunction. Don't commit the same crime of ignorance: Thyroid dysfunction in this age of endocrine disruption can be crucial to cardiovascular and overall health.


All in all, there are a number of common blood tests that are relevant--no, crucial--for achieving heart health. Last on the list: standard cholesterol testing.

Comments (8) -

  • stuart

    5/13/2013 12:56:55 AM |

    Great summary Dr. Davis.  You're the best!

  • Sol y Sombra

    5/13/2013 11:07:44 AM |

    Thank you for the useful information you provide, Dr. Davis. But I have a question: Does it really take 3-4 years to replenish vitamin D stores in the body?

  • Amy Crain

    5/15/2013 2:26:51 AM |

    Dr. Davis..
    My husband decided to give going gluten free a try after I read your book, and shared many things with him.  He has a number of issues.  HBP and taking meds.  Asthma, knee injuries with multiple surgeries over the years, and based on his lipid panel numbers, his dr. like you said, wanted to put him on a chol. reducer.  He went gf for a month, this past month, and just this week had his blood work done.  His LDL # went up from 146 to 164, and his HDL went from 45 to 47.   His Trig at least, dropped from 190 to 122,  So he now has in hand a scrip for atorvastatin (sp.?)..  Even though my husband would be considered a slender 48 year old, he has lost 6 pounds during this month of being wheat free.  I personally began a trek of losing weight a year ago by cutting wheat and sugar, and lost over 30 pounds, going from a size 12 to a 2.  I never had any blood work done, since I didn't have any health issues.  I was really hoping for better results for my husbands numbers so that we could provide a valid testimony to those unbelievers within our family.  I don't have your book memorized, but I've scanned through the blog posts and comments and found bits and pieces about numbers and how some people experience an increase like my husband Bill did.  Could you give me a bullet point laymen's version of the reason for the increase, if it's a concern, and if not, should he get the prescription filled like the dr. ordered so that he can then do the 3 month follow up to see if the med. worked for lowering the #'s?
    OR should I just go back and do some more reading like of the above post and reread the book?
    Thanks!
    Amy

  • Lowering cholesterol diet

    5/17/2013 3:10:25 PM |

    Hey there,

    thanks for the article. I would also like to know does Vitamin C plays any role in lowering cholesterol? I am thinking about writing a blog post about it so thank you in advance dr. Davis.

  • Geoffrey Levens, L.Ac.

    5/17/2013 8:23:48 PM |

    List makes great sense to me but one question arises: In light of recent research showing increased risks outside range of 20–36 ng/ml, do you anticipate any change in your recommendations as to Vitamin D blood level?
    J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Published online March 26, 2013. Abstract

    Thank you.

  • [...] between triglycerides and HDL, those improve with LCHF diet. You can start reading more here;  What tests are MORE important than cholesterol? | Track Your Plaque Blog  Lipid researcher, 98, reports on the causes of heart disease | News Bureau | University of [...]

  • Stephen in Jacksonville

    6/14/2013 9:20:30 PM |

    Tests are important, and I think that there are more people today who are interested in keeping track of their cholesterol levels. This is why I think we live in such a special time. We have access to more information than ever before, and now people can learn about high cholesterol risks without having to go to the doctor. In fact, I have found a number of sites that allow people to track their cholesterol levels online. Obviously, there are some people who may go overboard with access to this information, but I do think that there are plenty of benefits to be had.

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Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce

Happy Thanksgiving 2012, everyone, from all the staff at Track Your Plaque!

Here’s a zesty version of traditional cranberry sauce, minus the sugar. The orange, cinnamon, and other spices, along with the crunch of walnuts, make this one of my favorite holiday side dishes.

There are 31.5 grams total “net” carbohydrates in this entire recipe, or 5.25 grams per serving (serves 6). To further reduce carbs, you can leave out the orange juice and, optionally, use more zest.

1 cup water
12 ounces fresh whole cranberries
Sweetener equivalent to 1 cup sugar (I used 6 tablespoons Truvía)
1 tablespoon orange zest + juice of half an orange
½ cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves

In small to medium saucepan, bring water to boil. Turn heat down and add cranberries. Cover and cook at low-heat for 10 minutes or until all cranberries have popped. Stir in sweetener. Remove from heat.

Stir in orange zest and juice, walnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

Transfer mixture to bowl, cool, and serve.


Comments (3) -

  • Kathryn

    12/1/2012 9:01:14 PM |

    Wow, sounds good but that is a LOT of Truvia.  The same amount of real stevia would render that inedible.  I've never tried Truvia, so maybe it isn't as sweet as the real stuff.  I like KAL brand stevia.

    BTW, i was excited to learn that you're going to be on Oz on Monday.  Smile  I think your message should be carried to all the Land.  i hope it does get thru (i know TV shows have a tendency to edit so that the message gets diluted or even lost).  Best wishes!  (Well, i suppose it has already been filmed, still.)

  • JT

    1/6/2013 2:25:40 PM |

    Ah Christ, it seems I ate to much fiber yesterday!  Not to take the lords name in vain this Sunday morning just the fiber rich foods have me run down this morning.  But with that said, I think the defective gut will be alright.  That's a nice change!  The gut will thump and pulsate, and make all kinds of fussing through out the day I'm sure, but the typical sickness I would experience seems to be fading on the latest diet.  Kind of nice, to say the least.  Figure eventually fiber foods will be possible for me to eat again.  Not that I'm all that excited about this, a carrot or cucumber doesn't excite, but it would be oh so nice to broaden the monotone diet a bit more from what it currently is.  

    Congrats on the success of the books!  Very nice and wonderful that word is making its way out to "alternative" ideas to improve ones health, particular with the problems that wheat can have on ones health.  Alterative might not be the correct word to use anymore.  These ideas seem to be becoming more mainstream.  There are a good number of unhealthy people out there, that want help, and are motivated to try new ideas.  As can  be seen with your book, many are finding relief from condition they were all to often told by other health care professionals that their condition could not be treated and must be dealt with for life.  For me personally a big motivation for why I spread the word to others about dietary ideas to address heart disease, and now other health issues, was desperation.  I can remember how very sick I was at one time, home bound largely, in a great deal of pain, and desperate for relief.  Back in the internet days often times I would finding myself not wanting to approach others with dietary information to help with conditions.  It was information that would seem foreign to them.  Then simply I would often think of what I've gone through, how sick I had been, and believe maybe this information can help.    

    Well, it's time for me to move on to new pastures.  With being slightly healthier and having more energy here of late, there are other items on the mind.  I've had people seem to suggest ways to make a living continuing this work/hobby, but to be honest I do not believe that possible.  I never have carried much for the attention.  And there are safer hobbies to participate in.  Possibly I can get into cloths tailoring, making my own cloths.  That would be fun I would have to imagine.  

    Oh, I guess to mention too, someday you might hear about me again.  If I do recover there is a good chance I'll write a book, pamphlet, web sight, what have you, detailing about how I solved my stomach issues and hopfully heart plaque also.  It's a shame that from my experience hospitals seem to care so little about dietary ideas.  It isn't strictly correct, but often times I feel as if I've had to invent the wheel for addressing my gut condition.  In an ideal world, that shouldn't have been the case.

  • Helen Howes

    3/27/2013 10:36:53 PM |

    Has this blog died?  It used to be interesting. the last few entries seem just to be over-sweet recipes..
    Sad, really..

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