Tuesday, February 7, 2017

What’s worse for your Heart than Cholesterol, Blood Pressure and Obesity?

If you, (like millions) are convinced that cholesterol is the main culprit in heart disease, consider the following eye opener:

“Half of all heart attack victims have normal cholesterol levels. Consequently, doctors are looking for new methods to improve heart disease prevention.”
     The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide

The above statement clearly indicates that in many cases of heart disease, cholesterol is not the culprit, as is commonly believed.

According to research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, it may be your blood sugar and not your blood pressure or cholesterol that is the most important factor in determining whether or not you'll suffer from heart disease.

Most people think blood sugar is a concern only for diabetics. So, if you’re not diabetic, this news does not apply to you, right?


The way your body uses sugar, whether you’re diabetic or not, can increase or lower your risk of heart disease.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) has established the following blood sugar guidelines:

  • 90 mg/dL to 130 mg/dL before meals (fingertip blood sample)
  • 110 mg/dL to 150 mg/dL at bedtime (fingertip blood sample)
  • Less than 180 mg/dL one to two hours after meals

However, the disadvantage with blood sugar tests is that they give you only a short-term snapshot. Doctors sometimes do a test called Glycosylated Hemoglobin (HbA1c), which shows how well blood sugar levels have remained within a safe range over the previous 2 to 3 months. This information is a lot more useful in this context. The ADA recommends an HbA1c target level of less than 7%. However, it is possible (and desirable) to achieve a level of less than 5%.

The lower the HbA1c level, the lower the rate of disease complications.

Here’s where it starts to get really interesting…

An increase of 1% in HbA1c predicts:
  • An 18% increase in diseases of the cardiovascular system
  • A 28% increase in clogged arteries

What's more, researchers found that with each 1% increase in HbA1c levels, there was a 30% increase in chance of death. Not very thrilling news is it?

Ignoring the blood sugar/heart disease connection while favouring blood pressure and cholesterol control, has made us miss the mark in our approach to heart disease prevention in many cases. Studies reveal that lower HbA1c levels significantly lower your chance of cardiovascular disease and death, even if you're older, fatter and suffer from high blood pressure and cholesterol.

So what does all this mean?

You've got to monitor and control your blood sugar to protect your heart. It doesn't matter whether you're diabetic or not.

The good news is that you don't have to prick your finger to draw blood like diabetics do; instead you need to have your HbA1c levels tested at least once a year, (more often if find you’re at risk). The HbA1c level for those with healthy hearts and the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease is less than 5%. (Diabetics, please note: This test is even more important for you. You need this in addition to your fasting and postprandial blood glucose tests).

In the meantime, no matter who you are, you can lower HbA1c levels and help your body control blood sugar by doing the following:

  1. Reduce your calorie intake: Calorie Restriction offers many benefits such as improved glucose control, better cholesterol and blood pressure levels, longer life, anti-aging, etc. Even a 10% reduction shows exceptional benefits. However, reducing calories too much will have the opposite effect as it will drive the body into starvation mode. (As always, it’s a question of balance) 
  2. Choose low glycemic foods: Low glycemic foods are foods that will not trigger a huge spike in blood sugar. Some examples are: Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, whole grains, fruits such as apples, etc. (Avoid or reduce refined grains, sugary desserts, etc.)
  3. Increase your exercise: Both aerobic and anaerobic exercises will have a beneficial effect on blood sugar. Strength training builds muscle which forces the body to burn more calories at rest (to maintain the muscle).

While it is important to pay attention to your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and weight, it will greatly benefit you to also monitor your blood sugar levels via the HbA1c test on a regular basis. This humble test may make the difference between success and failure in your battle against heart disease…which sometimes doesn’t give you a second chance!

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