Getting to the Heart of the Matter 

February is American Heart Month  — a time dedicated to encouraging heart-healthy lifestyle choices and the prevention of heart disease, the number one killer of both men and women in the United States each year.  Many people at risk for heart disease are not even aware they’re in poor cardiovascular health until an episode occurs.  That’s why the emphasis on heart disease education is on preventing it.

We’ve long known that traditional risk factors like having high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle increase the risk for heart disease, as does smoking and obesity.  But what if you’ve worked to make some lifestyle changes, gone to the doctor for regular check-ups and blood work and been told everything is fine and within normal range? You should be in the clear right?  Not necessarily.  Conventional blood chemistry analysis may not paint the whole picture of potential risk.

Know your Numbers

Cholesterol, blood pressure and weight, among other factors, are all directly related to heart health, so it’s important to know what healthy numbers are and where you stand in relation to them.

Clinical blood work done by your doctor at your annual physical typically includes a basic metabolic panel, a complete blood count and lipid profile which gives a pretty good, precursory look of your health status.  However, differences in conventional and functional medicine are revealed when it’s time to read the results of the blood work, which shows both a pathological range (the presence of disease) and a functional range (your potential for it.)  Because conventional medical practitioners are primarily concerned with diagnosing existing disease, they focus on levels in the pathological range.  But looking at the functional range of your blood chemistry analysis can reveal lurking health dangers and help you address them before they are a real problem, a matter of particular importance with heart disease.

Cholesterol presents a similar conundrum and opportunity.  Conventional cholesterol screening is concerned only with determining how high or low your total is, but not the underlying causes of what might have it “out of range.”  Functional ranges allow us to investigate cholesterol’s relationship with other physiological aspects such as adrenal and thyroid functions, inflammatory markers, glucose and triglycerides to form a better overall picture of what’s taking place in a patient’s body and determine if further testing or measures are needed as a means of preventing heart disease.

Some of these measures might include a high-sensitivity C-reactive protein test to better assess your risk of a heart attack or stroke, or the addition of certain supplements such as coenzyme Q-10 or turmeric to lower your potential for a cardiovascular episode.

Analyzing the parts of your blood profile that are on the high or low end of normal and then determining what body systems might be out of balance to cause this can help your heart, and whole body, function at optimal levels, preventing disease before it presents.

Live a Heart Healthy Lifestyle

While it should go without saying that eating a nutritious diet, getting regular exercise, and managing stress is vitally important to heart health, it cannot.  We all know this to be true, but hectic schedules often leave us too exhausted to do what we’re supposed to do.  It’s important to make heart health a priority, because let’s face it, if we don’t have time to do these things, we certainly don’t have time to recover from a heart attack or stroke.

Matters of the heart like chocolate and flowers often associated with Valentine’s Day tend to lose priority when March rolls around, but let’s use American Heart Month to make a new commitment to cardiovascular health that lasts all year long.

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