If you are like most folks, a blood test is an event that comes once a year along with your annual physical. Typically, within a week, your doctor calls with the results, assuring you they are normal. You may even receive a copy of the test, complete with columns of numbers supposedly confirming your health, but to you are probably meaningless and confusing. So you put the results aside, file them away and carry on with life free of concern. After all, the doctor says you are in the normal range so no worries!
While this “may” be the case, blood tests still raise important questions that even the healthiest of folks should be asking: Does “normal” necessarily mean “healthy”? What can the lab values of a blood test tell you about the current state of your health? More importantly, what can these values tell about your health in the future?
The fact is, blood testing generally has one purpose, and that is to check for disorders, dysfunction and disease. When test results point to a certain condition, measures are taken to bring the appropriate number, the abnormal lab value into the normal range again. However, when results are normal, only rarely is a person told how to stay in this range or better yet, how to achieve an optimal, or target level. It becomes a matter of waiting for the other shoe to drop, leading up to the day when you walk into your doctors office and are told “you are diabetic” or you have a thyroid issues. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
If you know what you are looking for a blood test can essentially be a blueprint of your health & a glimpse of its future. It tells you much about what is going on inside your body, and it can speak volumes about what MAY go on inside of it somewhere down the line. I encourage my clients to use their tests to motivate them to change their dietary habits, start a fitness regimen or alter certain aspects of their lifestyle, like addressing their stress levels and sleep patterns.
In sum, a blood test is an effective and another tool that can be used to see where your health is so you can manage it more effectively. I also like to incorporate a QFA Analysis (Urine & Saliva) not used for diagnosing anything, but is useful in helping to address nutritional weakness.
One of the main focused elements it would seem today is the lipid panels: lipids include triglycerides and cholesterol which are fatty substances found in our blood. Triglycerides can originate in dietary fats, but they are also produce BY the liver when there is an excessive intake of sugar or alcohol in someone’s diet. (more times than not this is what is elevating someone’s triglyceride levels).
Cholesterol is a waxy substance and basic building block of hormones like testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, vitamin D and cortisol. On the lipid profile, cholesterol is divided into total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) the good guy, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or the bad guy. So together with the triglycerides, these substances make up the lipid panel and are measured to check primarily for heart disease and metabolic syndrome issues. Metabolic syndrome is a condition characterized by borderline high blood pressure, insulin resistance and elevated lipids called dyslipidemia which is an issue where unhealthy ratios of cholesterol and triglycerides, even though levels are not necessarily elevated. Usually the additional symptoms would include weight gain, usually in the belly area, a high body mass index BMI. Truth is in the United States adults over 50 yrs. of age have a one in three chance of developing this metabolic syndrome. Because metabolic syndrome is a significant indicator of risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, it is helpful to recognize the risk indicators. The lipid panel is a major tool for early detection.
An additional area that is checked is the homocysteine (an amino acid by product) and C-reactive protein (CRP) which are markers of cardiovascular risk when levels are too high. These are not typically included in a standard blood test, but these 2 biomarkers are measure when more comprehensive blood work is needed to look further.
Keep in mind that “normal” range doesn’t necessarily mean “IDEAL”. This is why a target, or optimal, range is also given. These optimal numbers can vary depending on individual factors, including weight and fitness levels, genetics, oxidative stress and inflammation factors going on. as well as hormone imbalances, and pre-existing issues like diabetes and liver issues.
I want to focus today mainly on the “triglycerides”….
TRIGLYCERIDES: these are the main lipid constituents in the blood & a major source of energy for the body. So here’s how it works, when you take in food, excess calories are chemically converted into triglycerides, which are stored in fat cells if they are not needed for energy. Hormones can also signal the release of triglycerides from fat cells to provide energy. Triglycerides then circulate thru the body with the help of carrier proteins we call lipoproteins, particularly very-low-density lipoproteins, or VLDL. In normal amounts, triglycerides are vital for good health. However, IF you consume MORE calories than you expend, especially from sugar & carbohydrates, your triglyceride level will go up. Elevated triglyceride levels are a major risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and liver disease.
REFERENCE RANGES FOR TRIGLYCERIDES
Triglycerides (mg/dl) Category
Greater than 499 Very High
150-199 Borderline high
less than 150 Normal
TARGET RANGE: 50-100 mg/dL
So when you look at the reference ranges above you can see the target range for adults is 50 to 100 mg/dL. In other words, a triglyceride level of 135 may be “normal,” but it is neither ideal nor necessarily healthy. You can achieve an optimal level by adopting new lifestyle behaviors, and/or by including nutritional supplements and for some they may need lipid-lowering medications. Now while it IS possible to have a triglyceride level that is too LOW, typically levels that are too HIGH is far more the common issue than being too low. Why… well, we Americans LOVE our sweets and carbohydrates a bit too much, and we typically take in far more calories than we burn off for energy. Our portion sizes need to drastically reduce unless you are a hard core athlete who is burning up the quarter mile of calories.
Here are factors that usually will contribute to High Triglycerides:
- Being overweight
- Some medications like beta blockers, diuretics, estrogen, oral contraceptives, steroids,
- Chronic inflammation (means been there for a while)
- Chronic stress
- Depression (esp. when it leads to over eating)
- Diet high in refined sugars and carbohydras and unhealthy fats, like saturated fats and trans fats.
environmental factors, like heavy metals, chemicals/pesticides.
- Excessive coffee or alcohol consumption
- Insulin resistance
- Intestinal issues like leaky gut
- Kidney disease
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Poorly controlled diabetes
- Regularly eating more calories than you burn off
- Sex hormone imbalance
- Underactive thyroid (hypo- thyroid)
Having high triglycerides are a major risk issue for diabetes and insulin resistance, liver disease, metabolic syndrome and pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas. An elevate level also contributes to hardening and narrowing of arteries, which is a specific type of heart disease called coronary artery disease.
When this condition develops, the likelihood of having a heart attack or stroke is much higher. Heartbeat abnormalities (heart arrhythmias), as well as clot formation in other parts of the body can also occur.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT FATS?
Saturated Fats, usually found in animal proteins like beef and port, and full fat dairy like whole milk, butter and cheese.
Trans Fats you may also have heard them called trans fatty acids, these are produced when vegetable oils are hydrogenated to become more stable. the hydrogenation process gives the oil a shelf life, which is why there are used to make processed foods, fast foods and commercial baked goods, and hard margarine.
In the last few years, more and more food makers have begun to take steps to remove this from their products. these fats are very unhealthy and not only do they increase the level of LDL in the body, but they also decrease the HDL which is the good cholesterol. So avoid margarine, and commercially made cakes, cookies, donuts, muffins, etc. and foods that are fried. Start reading your food labels before you buy any pre-made or pre-boxed foods. Does it take more time to shop… initially… but once you begin to get familiar with which companies offer healthier food choices you won’t spend as much time label reading.
Monounsaturated fats. This is a healthy fat that reduces LDL levels without having any negative impact on your HDL level. Monounsaturated fat is critical to promote heart health and found in olive oil, avocados and most nuts. Keep in mind, that all fats both good and bad are dense in calories so even these should be consumed in moderation.
Polyunsaturated fats: these fats lower LDL levels and are essential for good health, two in particular, omega 3 and omega 6, must be taken in thru the diet as they are NOT produced by our body. Omega 6 fatty acids are plentiful in a number of foods, from nuts and seeds to vegetable oils, so most folks get more than enough of the omega 6. The omega 3s on the other hand, are not as abundant, found mainly in fatty fish like salmon, herring and trout and contain the long chain fatty acids EPA and DHA. You want to eat more fish at least 2 servings per week; add chia seeds, flax seeds, flax oil, or walnuts, which are concentrated sources of another omega 3 known as ALA. Fish oil and DHA/EPA supplements are also options.
Understanding the variation among fats is important, and helps you establish success towards achieving a more wholesome diet. Triglycerides/cholesterol levels are largely influenced by excessive intake of carbohydrates and sugar, so its a really good idea to drastically lower your consumption of these foods. In addition, you should remove trans fats from your diet by choosing lean sources of protein, and stick to reducing your dairy intake.
Avoid processed foods as much as possible and eat more fish that are high in omega 3 and low in mercury. Olive, flax and avocado oils should be your “go to” oils for salad dressing and preparing low heat dishes. When cooking use macadamia oil, coconut oil, grape seed oils, sunflower oils these have a high flash point and doesn’t oxidize.
WHAT IF YOUR TRIGLYCERIDES ARE ALREADY HIGH?
Well, having elevated levels doesn’t mean health issues are inevitable. There are a number of steps you can take to reverse the trend and reach for healthier levels.
If your levels are already elevated, 1st things first, begin with… check what you are eating as I addressed above, and some of the supplements I’d recommend:
Omega 3 ( Click product name for more information) – like fish oils that are high in DHA/EPA and or flax oils
Niacin – is vitamin B3 and the body needs it for proper circulation and healthy skin. It assist in the functioning of the nervous system; in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins; and in the production of hydrochloric acid for the digestive system. It is involved in the normal secretion of bile & stomach fluids and in the synthesis of sex hormones. Niacin (nicotinic acid) lowers cholesterol and improves circulation. It is also a memory enhancer.
Here are some symptoms of niacin deficiency:
loss of appetite
low blood sugar
skin eruptions and inflammation
Please note: there are 2 forms of Niacin, nicotinic acid and niacinamide. In the form of niacinamide, it doesn’t cause flushing. However, niacinamide does NOT have all the same properties of niacin (nicotinic acid) Specifically, it is NOT effective for lowering blood cholesterol. That being said taking niacin in the nicotinic acid version will generate a harmless flush. kind of like a bit of a hot flash, and tingling sensation on the skin. usually, last only a few minutes and is harmless.
Other supplements that may be helpful:
Aged Garlic: its used to protect the heart and blood vessels and has been reported to help decrease oxidative stress markers, including those related to blood sugar regulation issues. Aged garlic has also been reported to reduce liver enzymes and fatty liver, as well as decrease the formation of advanced glycation- end products ( AGEs), which are implicated in a various amount of health issues like heart disease, kidney, and cancers. Aged garlic is not reported to interfere with blood thinners.
CoQ10 is important for energy production, oxygen use, high blood pressure and heart health, especially in folks with kidney issues. It can also boost endurance, improve insulin sensitivity, and lower triglycerides and blood glucose levels. This is especially recommended to take if you are currently taking stain drugs, red yeast rice and certain diabetes medications, which may result in a CoQ10 deficiency.
Green tea extract: helps improve antioxidant and lipid levels. When taken with other supplements and diet/lifestyle changes, green tea extract is reported to assist in weight loss. It can also help regulate glucose levels, lower triglycerides and prevent kidney stones that can result from high calcium. If taking an extract use a form standardized to 90% polyphenols (Specifically EGCG). TELL your doctor if you are currently taking aspirin or anticoagulant drugs like warfarin (Coumadin), as green tea extract may increase the risk of bleeding.
L-carnitine: can help lower triglycerides because it helps move fat into cells for the purpose of energy production. Also supports demineralization and has been reported to reverse and prevent symptoms related to hyperthyroidism. food sources are meat, poultry and my least favorite source “dairy”.
Omega 3: fish oil is one of the 1st recommended choices for lower triglycerides. In addition to its anti inflammatory properties, fish oil is reported to lower total cholesterol levels and decrease oxidative stress, which is associated with LDL or bad cholesterol. If you are on blood thinning medications, talk with your doctor as fish oil may increase the risk of bleeding .
Probiotics: help to normalize beneficial flora in the gut, and are reported to decrease triglyceride and cholesterol levels. They are also reported to improve BUN levels and quality of life if folks with kidney issues. If using antibiotics, wait 3 hrs. before taking probiotics.
Red Yeast rice: acts similar to statin drugs and may help to reduce cholesterol. Some studies show it can also lower triglycerides. It is recommended you take CoQ10 when supplementing with red yeast rice.
WHAT TO AVOID:
Inflammation causing foods and I include in this category: trans fats, refined sugars like high fructose corn syrup, (folks check your condiments usually these are LOADED with HFCS), Sodas, anything white, like white breads, pastas, sugars, bagels.
WHAT TO INCORPORATE MORE OF:
EXERCISE only takes about 20 mins. a day 3 to 4 times a week, which is more than the average adult seems to achieve. We do a lot of sitting, with the invention of computers, and most folks drive everywhere they go. Make a point to add more physical movement into your weekly routine.
FIBER a diet high in fiber has been shown to help lower triglycerides. some of these foods would be beans, leafy greens and some whole grains, like oatmeal. Add flax meal and chia seeds in your foods too, like smoothies, salads, sprinkle on your veggies, add to the breading on your meats, add to meat loafs, hamburger patties, whole grain pancakes, and whole grain muffins.
WATER; I cannot tell you how many patients/clients I see who are chronically dehydrated. I hear that I’m never thirsty, I can’t stand water, I’ve heard every excuse you can imagine, yet I aim to tell ya that your body is about 80% water and it needs it to perform every single function in the body. Everyone should be drinking 1/2 THEIR body weight in ounces. If you are not used to drinking water thru out the day, it will take a bit of time to bring back your natural thirst factor so gradually increase your water intake.
REDUCE COFFEE HABIT the coffee craze has gone off the charts. The popularity of coffee which also adds usually a large amount of creamers (real and artificial which has all the bad fats we talked about already) and coupled with the sugars, is a big contributing factor toward high triglycerides.
I will address Total Cholesterol, and high and low cholesterol in another post otherwise it’s gonna feel like I’m writing a book.
If you’d like some assistance with your Nutritional balance/ battle plan. you can go to http://www.jodibarnett758.com and check out my service tab. I’d be honored to work with you. Lets begin this new year, ready to unveil the healthiest version of our health that we can!
Dr. Jodi Barnett N.D.
Prescriptions for Nutritional healing, Phyllis A.Balch, CNC.
Your blood never lies. James B. LaVallen, RPh, CCN
Howard F. Loomis, Jr., D.D., FIACA