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

By Dr. Suresh Shottam
What’s worse for your Heart than Cholesterol, Blood Pressure, and Obesity?
What’s worse for your Heart than Cholesterol, Blood Pressure and Obesity?

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 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, your blood sugar and not your blood pressure or cholesterol may be the essential factor in determining whether or not you'll suffer from heart disease.

Most people think blood sugar is a concern only for people with diabetes. So, if you do not have diabetes, this news does not apply to you.

Wrong.

Whether you have diabetes or not, the way your body uses sugar 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 of blood sugar tests is that they give you only a short-term snapshot. Doctors sometimes do a Glycosylated Hemoglobin (HbA1c) test, 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 helpful in this context. The ADA recommends an HbA1c target level of less than 7%. However, it is possible (and desirable) to achieve less than 5%.

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

Here's where it starts to get interesting

An increase of 1% in HbA1c predicts:

  • An 18% increase in diseases of the cardiovascular system

  • A 28% increase in clogged arteries

Researchers found that with each 1% increase in HbA1c levels, there was a 30% increase in the chance of death. The not very thrilling news, is it?

Ignoring the blood sugar/heart disease connection while favoring 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.

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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 have diabetes or not.

The good news is that you don't have to prick your finger to draw blood as people with diabetes do; instead, you need to have your HbA1c levels tested at least once a year (more often if you 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 critical for you. It would be best if you had 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 taking the following simple steps:

  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 massive 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 intake of the following herbs and spices: Turmeric, Methi, Basil, Cinnamon, and Tulsi. (These can naturally lower your blood sugar levels)

  4. 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 power).

While it is essential to pay attention to your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and weight, it will significantly benefit you to monitor your blood sugar levels via the HbA1c test regularly. 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!

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