Friday, June 20, 2008

Tim Russert's Death- A big surprise? I don't think so.

A recent article in the Health section of the New York Times describes in detail how Mr. Russert's physicians were nothing short of shocked at his recent death from sudden cardiac arrest. After all, he was on an "aggressive" treatment regimen to lower his significantly elevated risk of heart disease, including high blood pressure medication and statin drugs to control his cholesterol.

What more could one ever need to prevent heart disease?

Well....Lots of things!

For starters he should never have started that statin drug, a class of drug that research shows is completely useless in all but a small minority of cases. The fact that even though he was on this drug, his triglycerides were still too high and his HDL was still too low, proves that statins do nothing to affect these more accurate predictors of heart disease.

High triglyceride and low HDL levels are caused by excessive consumption of carbohydrates, and too little exercise. This deadly combination results in excessive outputs of insulin and the storage of fat in both the mid-section (another true risk factor for heart disease) and around the internal organs.

High insulin levels also contribute to systemic inflammation in the body, which in all likelihood is the truest risk factor for heart disease of all.

It's also important to remember that statins actually reduce your body's ability to manufacture Coenzyme Q-10, a key component for proper heart function!

The strangest thing about this article is that in one section it does everything short of literally telling you that statin drugs are not nearly as helpful as improving dietary habits and exercising:

"If there is any lesson in his death, his doctors said, it is a reminder.... that people, especially those with known risk factors, should pay attention to diet, blood pressure, weight and exercise — even if they are feeling fine." If statin drugs were as effective as they are touted to be in drug ads, why the important reminder?

Because they aren't.

If you want to start truly reducing your risk factors for heart disease, at the very least consider the following:

  1. A "primitive" diet, that avoids the majority of high carb foods like sugars and flour, reduces or eliminates grain and dairy intake, and instead focuses on lots of veggies, a moderate amount of fruit, good quality proteins and fats from healthy animals raised in a natural way, and other healthy fats from nuts and seeds, fish oil, avocados and olive oil.
  2. Exercise at least 5 days a week, with at least 2 of those days involving an interval based exercise routine. (If you have known heart disease or risk factors, check with a doctor first to learn how to properly implement this style of exercise)
  3. Practice stress reduction techniques such as meditation, prayer, progressive relaxation and deep breathing exercises on a regular basis.
  4. Get your vitamin D levels checked.
  5. Drink green tea every day.
  6. Consider a vitamin K2 supplement, or one with it as a component.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Blood Sugar Levels Important for Everyone, Not Just Diabetics

A new study out of New Zealand has provided insight into just how important it is to keep your blood sugar levels much more in check than previously thought.

It used to be that most doctors didn't even bat an eye until their patients' fasting blood sugar levels rose higher than 126, the cut-off point for diagnosing diabetes. In recent years the medical profession has become more picky about things and now people with fasting blood sugars higher than 110 are considered 'pre-diabetic', which is basically just a nice way of saying, 'You better get your act together right now my friend, or trouble's coming'.

In fact, some the lab I use regularly to test my patients' blood cuts off 'normal' blood sugar at 99! Are we going overboard a bit? Are we being too picky? Is this just another ploy by the pharmaceutical industry to try and get the standard for a blood marker lowered for no good reason other than selling more drugs? (i.e. The Great Cholesterol Con)

Unfortunately, this doesn't appear to be the case. This new study out of New Zealand looked at hemoglobin A1C (Hgb A1c) levels in over 47,000 people. Hgb A1c is a marker that gives information on what a person's blood sugar levels have been averaging over the last few months. It is considered a much more valuable marker for determining true risks for high blood sugar than a single measurement of fasting blood sugar is, because it basically gives an average over time, rather than one single measurement, which can be affected by numerous things.

The typical goal for diabetics is to get under a Hgb A1c of 6, but the "normal range" is about 4-5%. Until now, most people thought that if your levels are under 6, you're doing pretty well.

Well...not so much.

The New Zealand study has found that, from an optimal level of 4, the higher your HgbA1c rises (even if you are still within the "normal range") the more likely you are to die!

I must say, that was news to me. Being a fairly healthy person thus far, I have never had my HgA1c checked, but I will be doing so soon.

This study brings up two important points for me:

1) A simple screening blood test (if looked at with a truly discerning eye) can reveal A LOT about your health. It's not just for checking to see if you can "justifiably" be put on cholesterol-lowering drugs, which seems to be how it is being used these days in the conventional medical field. This is why every one of my new patients is asked to get one done. (I will by, the way, be adding HgA1c to the typical panel I run)

2) It reinforces in my mind the notion that, if you care about your health or the health of your loved ones, it's simply not good enough to just be "normal". In other words, if you don't have a diagnosable disease, does that mean you are truly healthy?

Maybe....Maybe not.

Another way to look at this is, while they are still obviously important, don't let some once-a-year physical exam or lab test that comes back "in the normal range" fool you into thinking you are optimally healthy. If you want to thrive in life and be a happy and functional human being well into your later years, examine the various parameters of your diet and lifestyle and MAKE SURE you are as healthy as you can be!

In the case of blood sugar levels, make sure you are eating a diet filled mostly with protein rich foods like good quality meats, nuts and seeds, healthy fats, vegetables and a moderate amount of fruit. Also make sure you are exercising regularly. In particular, regularly partake in exercise routines in which you are following a pattern of short bursts of high intensity work, followed by a period of rest, repeated over and over until tired. This form of exercise seems to be particularly good for your heart and blood sugar levels.

Also, do your best to reduce stress in your life and, perhaps more importantly, learn to moderate your response to the stress that you do have, by practicing stress relieving activities such as meditation, breathing exercises, progressive relaxation, prayer, etc. High stress levels usually result in high outputs of cortisol in your body. Amongst other things, one of cortisol's jobs is to literally increase your blood sugar levels by telling your liver to release extra amounts from your storage depots.

This was an important function during ancient times when our stresses mainly came from infrequent scenarios when we needed to physically act in a vigorous manner in order to catch something, fight something or run away from something. Lots of sugar in the blood for fuel was important in such circumstances. These days, however, our stresses rarely require physical action from us. They are mostly just mental. Unfortunately, the response in our bodies hasn't changed though. We still release a lot of cortisol and, in turn, a lot of blood sugar into our systems.

According to this recent study, that is not such a good thing.

I could go on and and on about this, but I'll end this by saying if you want to be really healthy:

Eat well. Exercise. Get your Hgb A1c levels checked. And, if you're stressed out, make sure it's because you are being chased by a large animal.