Heart Health

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Are there really benefits associated with very low LDL cholesterol levels?

very low ldl cholesterol levelsCholesterol is not all bad.

Cholesterol is a type of fat which plays an important function in every cell wall. Cholesterol is used by the body to make other substances, such as hormones, which are essential to our health and well-being.

While cholesterol is found in some foods, the body also produces needed cholesterol in the liver.

Low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol carries cholesterol from the liver to cells.

High-density-lipoprotein (HDL) returns “extra” cholesterol in circulation to the liver.

Diet and lifestyle choices, as well as health conditions, can cause the cholesterol balance gets skewed and heart disease risk rises when LDL levels become too high and/or HDL levels drop too low.

This is where many patients are prescribed statin medications to lower LDL cholesterol levels back to a healthy range, reducing heart disease risk.

No connection between very low LDL cholesterol levels and mortality?

There was a publication not too long ago claiming no association to be found between LDL cholesterol and mortality.

This was a review of 19 studies with over 68,000 participants finding no evidence between LDL cholesterol and mortality.

I was interested to see this because it seems like we are taking it too far in our efforts to lower LDL cholesterol to lower and lower levels. Cholesterol does have a relevant role in health.

Statins are still warranted in many cases to lower LDL cholesterol

Unfortunately, the study methodology was weak and the research doesn’t hold up under closer scrutiny. There is stronger researcher supporting the connection between using statin drugs to lower LDL cholesterol for reduced heart disease risk.

How low is too low for LDL cholesterol

Current recommendations for people at cardiovascular risk seem to be the lower the LDL cholesterol, the better.

An LDL cholesterol level below 70 mg/dL is the standard goal if you are at high risk for heart disease.

During the past 10-years there has been new research leaning towards very low LDL cholesterol levels, dropping guidelines even lower to less than 60 mg/dL. These studies are seeing the risk for heart attack and other cardiovascular events reduced further with this additional decrease in LDL cholesterol levels.

What is the right LDL cholesterol level for you?

If you are not at high risk for heart disease, aim for an LDL cholesterol of 100 mg/dL or less. It you are at risk for heart disease, discuss goal levels with your doctor.

Statins are frequently prescribed to lower LDL-cholesterol levels, but lowering levels through diet and lifestyle changes is a valid option for many individuals. It typically takes 4-6 weeks to see results. For further guidance on diet and lifestyle changes to lower cholesterol levels, access my free ecourse “How to Lower Cholesterol in 8 Simple Steps” here.

All the best,

Lisa Nelson RD
Health Pro for HealthCentral

9 Quick Fixes to Boost Your Fruit and Veggie Intake

fruits and vegetablesHere are nine easy ways to ensure you eat the recommended five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

1. Eat on the go.
An apple, orange, banana, and pear are all portable fruits you can eat on the go without advance prep. Fruits provide vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant enhancing the body’s response to free radicals and protecting the arteries from oxidative damage.

2. Salads.
Shop the produce shelf for ready-made salads. Select dark green, leafy lettuce varieties, such as romaine, endive, and spinach.

3. Pizza.
Top your pizza with extra chunks of tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, spinach leaves, and pineapple. Tomatoes are rich in nutrients that directly impact heart health, including potassium, niacin, vitamin B6, and folate

4. Breakfast.
Use strawberries, bananas, blueberries and other fruits to pancakes, waffles, and toast. Colorful berries are a rich source of polyphenols and antioxidants.

5. Vegetable snacks.
Snack on raw baby carrots, pepper slices, cauliflower, broccoli, and celery. Cardiac physician Mark Houston recommends consuming 4 stalks of celery daily.

6. Fruit snacks.
Keep one-serving size bags of dried fruit in your car or desk for a convenient and still healthy snack. A 1/4 equal one-serving of dried fruit.

7. Pasta and omelets.
Mix in frozen or fresh vegetables with your pasta and omelets. Canned vegetables are high in sodium, while frozen or fresh vegetables usually have no added sodium.

8. Soup and sauces.
Boost nutritional value of soups and sauces by adding a kidney beans, green beans, corn, or peas. Beans provide both soluble and insoluble fiber to promote healthy cholesterol levels.

9. Smoothies.
Enjoy a healthy, refreshing smoothie made with frozen fruit, yogurt, and ice. Add a tablespoon of ground flaxseed to boost omega 3’s.

Remember… your goal is to consume 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables EVERY DAY.

7 Cruciferous Vegetables to Promote Heart Health

cruciferous vegetables

Do you consume 2 ½ cups of vegetables daily as recommended by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans?

Cruciferous vegetables are a nutrient-rich option for boosting daily vegetable intake. These vegetables are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamins K, C, and E, folate, calcium, and potassium.

Research indicates there may be a link between some of the nutrients and phytochemicals contained in cruciferous vegetables with reduced cancer risk and improved cardiovascular health.

Here are 7 cruciferous vegetables to incorporate in your diet:

#1 Kale

One cup of Kale provides over 1000 mcg of vitamin K. The fiber, potassium, folic acid, and vitamin C found in kale support heart health. Select dark, colored bunches of kale, avoiding yellow and brown leaves.

#2 Broccoli

Microwave or steam broccoli instead of boiling it to reduce nutrient losses. You can consume both the stalks and the florets. Broccoli is a rich source of the enzyme sulforaphane, which is involved in liver detoxification and three B vitamins ( B6, B12, and folate) that reduce homocysteine levels.

#3 Cabbage

A good source of Vitamins C and K, consume cabbage raw, cooked, or fermented. Fermented cabbage, such as sauerkraut, provides additional probiotic benefits.

#4 Cauliflower

Cauliflower is a rich source of giver, vitamin C, and folate. Boiling cauliflower results in significant phytonutrient loss. Instead, consume cauliflower raw, sautéed, or steamed for the greatest nutrient “bang”. Research shows cholesterol-lowering properties of cabbage are increased when steamed.

#5 Arugula

Both mature and “baby” forms of arugula have a peppery taste. While most commonly consumed in salads, arugula can also be sautéed. This is a very low-calorie vegetable, providing Vitamins A, C, and K, folic acid, potassium, calcium.

#6 Kohlrabi

Low in calories, kohlrabi provides B vitamins, phosphorous, potassium, and calcium. Both bulbs and greens are both edible. The bulbs can be consumed cooked or raw, while the greens are typically steamed or sautéed.

#7 Bok choy

A great source of calcium and vitamins A, C, and K, both the leaves and stalks of bok choy are edible. Bok choy is most commonly consumed in stir-fries and soups, but consider adding the more tender “baby” bok choy to salads for a fresh, crunchy texture.

Tips as you add cruciferous vegetables to your diet…

  • Avoid overcooking.
  • Incorporate in veggie trays
  • Use to “beef up” salads
  • Add chopped cruciferous vegetables to soups and stews

All the best,
Lisa Nelson RD
Health Pro for HealthCentral

Folic Acid Benefits for Heart Health

folic acid benefits

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is synthetic form of the water-soluble vitamin B9. Folate is the natural form of this vitamin found in foods. There is debate surrounding which form of vitamin B9 is healthiest – folic acid versus folate, but I don’t want to explore that argument today. For the sake of our discussion, folic acid is equal to folate and I’m using the terms interchangeably.

Folic acid plays an important role in energy production and the immune system.

What folic acid benefits are connected to heart disease?

Homocysteine is an amino acid that comes from the normal breakdown of proteins in the body.  Folic acid is one vitamin supporting the breakdown of amino acids. Research has suggested that deficiencies of folic acid and other B vitamins lead to elevated homocysteine levels, which has been evaluated as a potential risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

How much folic acid do you need daily?

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What to stock in a natural, family-friendly medicine cabinet

Children seem to have more bumps, bug bites and scrapes than anyone else in the family. Yet most over-the-counter (OTC) remedies have side effects that are risky to our little ones.

Sherry Torkos award winning pharmacist and author of Saving Women’s Hearts, has taken a moment to share some of her favorite picks for smarter, safer alternatives that are especially good to have on hand in the spring and summer. According to Torkos, most of these can be used for kids as young as two years old as well as the adults in your household.

  • For painful bruises and bumps: Apply an ice pack to the area: 10 minutes on/10 minutes off. Ice helps relieve pain and reduce swelling, without the risk of serious side effects associated with aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Similasan Arnica Active Spray might also be effective.
  • For minor cuts and scrapes. Look for creams that contain calendula, which helps stimulate healing. Torkos family uses Calendula Intensive Skin Recovery by Weleda. It contains bees wax, sesame oil and calendula.
  • For itchy skin caused by bug bites, poison ivy or poison oak: Oatmeal can help calm and soothe skin itching, but ready made products can be expensive. Instead, grind whole oats in a coffee grinder to release their oils. Put a half cup of the ground oats into the bath water. Add a couple drops of lavender. Another alternative is Desert Essence Tea Tree Oil Skin ointment. Tea tree oil has antiseptic, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. It helps take the sting and itch out of bug bites, and it’s good for minor cuts and irritations.
  • For foot fungus: Kids tend to get athlete’s foot because their feet get moist from playing sports, or they spend a lot of time at the neighborhood pool. Make a foot soak by putting a couple of drops of tea tree oil into a small basin of water.

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Mediterranean Diet for Weight Loss and to Prevent Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is the presence of three or more of the following conditions…

  • Fasting blood sugar of 100 mg/dl or higher
  • Systolic blood pressure of 130 mm Hg or higher and/or diastolic blood pressure 85 mm Hg or higher
  • HDL cholesterol less than 40 mg/dl in men or 50 mg/dl in women
  • Triglycerides of 150 mg/dl or higher
  • Waist circumference 40 inches or greater for men and 35 inches or greater in women in the US

This “cluster” of factors known as metabolic syndrome doubles heart disease risk with a five-fold risk increase of developing Type 2 diabetes. Metabolic syndrome has also been connected to cancers, including prostate, breast, endometrial, colorectal, and liver.

Metabolic syndrome affects 35 percent of US adults and 10 percent of adolescents.

Here are three steps to counteract metabolic syndrome:
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