Regardless of your age, it is never too soon or too late to start thinking about prevention of diabetes, heart disease, and strokes. Since most medical conditions develop slowly over a number of years, paying close attention to known risk factors during regular check-ups will allow you to take charge of your health.
Watch Your Waist-to-Hip Ratio (WHR): Where you carry body fat is just as important as how much you carry. People who tend to accumulate fat around the waist (apple shape) have a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure than those who carry excess weight on the hips and thighs (pear shape). Calculating your waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is one way to determine if the weight in your abdomen exceeds that of your thighs. WHR is the measurement of your waist divided by the measurement of your hips.
Bottom Line: Measure your waist at the level of your belly button. Waist circumference greater than 35” for women and 40” for men is associated with increased risk. Aim for a WHR less than 1 for men and 0.8 for women. Or simply enter your numbers into this online WHR calculator.
Keep Your Blood Pressure In Check: Optimal blood pressure level is 120/80. While anything below this number is fine, anything above this means you should begin to take steps to bring your numbers closer to an optimal measurement. If you are concerned, try taking your blood pressure a few times over a period of 3 days. Remember to take it after being seated for at least 3 – 5 minutes. Blood pressure readings above normal can be categorized into different stages: pre-hypertension (120-139/80-89), stage one (140-159/90-99), and stage two (160/100 or more).
Bottom Line: In my practice I have found that overall weight loss, diet modification and stress reduction techniques are the most effective ways of lowering blood pressure.
Favour Your Good Cholesterol: Balance is key and there is no greater physiological example than that of cholesterol. While you don’t want it to high, too low isn’t ideal either. High levels of cholesterol in the blood can cause the inner walls of the arteries to become lined with fatty deposits, a condition known as atherosclerosis or coronary heart disease (CAD). The initial cause of cholesterol deposits on the arterial wall is believed to be your body’s natural attempt to repair inflammation. When the arteries become clogged, blood flow to the heart or other areas may become restricted, leading to a heart attack or other problems related to insufficient blood flow. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL cholesterol, has earned the nickname “good cholesterol”. It is produced in the liver and sent out to remove cholesterol from the blood. The “scavenged” bad cholesterol is then processed through the liver and discharged in the bile to the digestive tract for excretion. High levels of HDL in your blood may help to reduce your risk of coronary heart disease while a low level can increase your risk of heart disease.
Bottom Line: High levels of LDL often result from a diet high in saturated fats and trans fats (i.e. Margarine and hydrogenated oils) so reduce or completely eliminate your intake of these inflammatory fats. Trans fatty acids not only increase LDL levels, but they also reduce HDL levels. Other ways to improve your cholesterol ratio including adding a daily fiber supplement, increasing the monounsaturated fats in your diet (ie. olive oil, avocados, nuts), quitting smoking, and exercising 3-4 times a week.
Hone in on Homocysteine: Homocysteine is a common amino acid found in the blood. However, at high levels it causes cholesterol to change into oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) which is more damaging to the arteries. It also increases the tendency for blood to clot, raising the risk of blood vessel blockages. Homocysteine is measured using a simple blood test at any time of the day without preparation for the test (fasting is not necessary). An optimal homocysteine level is less than 6.3 mmol/L.
Bottom Line: Eating more fruits and vegetables, especially leafy green vegetables, can help lower your homocysteine level by increasing sources of folic acid. Supplementing your diet with folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 is also beneficial for lowering abnormal homocysteine values.
Cool Down Your CRP Levels: C-reactive protein is produced by the body as part of the process of inflammation. Inflammation is currently recognized as a major contributing cause of cardiovascular disease. Elevated concentrations of CRP may indicate a risk factor for heart disease, even when cholesterol levels are normal. The test you should request is called highly sensitive C- Reactive Protein and an optimal number is less than 0.80.
Bottom Line: If your CRP is on the high side, you can reduce it daily exercise, weight loss and with certain supplements such as proteolytic enzymes, proanthrocyanadins (particularly from grapeseeds), essential fatty acids and vitamin C.
Reduce Your Triglycerides: Triglycerides are the main type of fat normally transported in your bloodstream. After eating, fats in your foods are digested and released into your bloodstream as triglycerides. They are transported throughout your body to give you energy or to be stored as fat. Between meals, hormones regulate the release of triglycerides from fat tissues to meet the body’s energy requirements. Excess triglycerides in the blood while fasting are related to an increase in the occurrence of coronary arterial disease. An acceptable triglyceride level is 150 mg/dL or 1.7 mmol/L or less. Triglycerides are typically within the normal range unless you have an inherited tendency toward high levels or you have a problem processing carbohydrates.
Bottom Line: Lower your intake of starchy carbohydrates, reduce or eliminate sugar and processed foods, supplement your diet with fish oil, and boost your intake of healthy fats.