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In the United States alone, nearly 1 million people a year die of heart disease. Once a condition only of the rich, rates of heart disease are increasing all over the world, even as new cardiovascular medications and treatment techniques multiply.
The inability to prevent heart disease is perhaps the world's greatest ongoing medical failure. Heart disease begins in our teens but usually does not manifest itself until we are in our 60's and 70's, giving us 50 years or more to make the changes that may save our lives if only we know what to do. Here is what you need to do to maintain the health of your heart.
1. Assess your risk of heart disease.
The first step in preventing heart disease is getting an objective assessment of your risk of heart disease. Most doctors will insist on your having regular blood tests for total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. The number that really predicts your risk of heart disease, however, is a fraction of the LDL cholesterol called apo-B.
LDL cholesterol is low-density because it consists of large particles. The largest particles, known as apolipoprotein A1 or apo-A1 particles, are big enough to act as "scrubbers" against artery walls. This kind of LDL doesn't cause heart disease. It actually prevents it.
There is another type of low-density cholesterol that is slightly denser and slightly smaller than apo-A1. It's known as apo-B. This is the kind of LDL cholesterol that can oxidize, calcify, and clog arteries. It's possible to have high total cholesterol and low apo-B so that you are at low risk of heart disease. It's also possible to have low total cholesterol and a high risk of heart disease. The numbers doctors usually measure don't tell the whole story.
Even if your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, apo-A1, apo-B numbers are all in the healthy range, you may still benefit from taking statin drugs. The latest studies reveal that the way statins really prevent heart disease is by fighting inflammation. Chances are that you'll never know you suffer inflammation unless you have a blood test for a compound called C-reactive protein, or C-RP. If you have high C-RP, and about 10% of people who have normal cholesterol do, you still need statins. Some people who just have "high cholesterol," however, don't.
2. Lower your risk of heart disease.
The second essential step to avoid becoming part of the heart disease statistics is doing something about your risk of heart disease. Statin drugs do sometimes help, but they are never enough to ensure good health. What else do you need for a heart-smart lifestyle?
- Keep your blood pressure within normal limits. Blood pressure pills, at least the kind you get outside of a hospital, usually won't lower your blood pressure by more than 5 to 10 "points" (mm Hg). To achieve normal blood pressure, you may need to lower your consumption of salt and canned or preserved foods, make sure you consume 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables every day, learn breathing exercises or use an assisted breath exercise machine like RESPARATE, and control stress.
- Take good care of your teeth and gums. The bacteria that cause gum infections can escape into your bloodstream and cause inflammation there.
- Provide your heart with the nutrients it needs for survival. Taking coenzyme Q10 may not help you avoid a heart attack, but it may help you survive one.