Author: Quinn Hand, BHSc, ND - Jan 06, 2014
With January upon us, the infamous New Year’s resolution may be contemplated. While often fleeting and spoken about with a chuckle, this year take note of these tangible and measureable goals that may stop the resolution from being thrown out with the bathwater.
It is never too soon or too late to start thinking about prevention of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Since most medical conditions develop slowly over several years, paying close attention to known risk factors during regular check-ups or with home monitoring will allow you to take charge of your health.
1. Waist Circumference
Waist circumference is a measure of the distance around your abdomen and is one of the most practical tools to assess belly fat as it relates to chronic disease. A larger waist circumference means more belly fat and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease. Waist circumference greater than 35 inches (88 cm) in women and greater than 40 inches (102 cm) in men, means a higher risk of developing chronic diseases. You can easily measure your waist circumference by finding the top of your hip and your last rib, then placing the tape half way between. Make sure the tape is level, snug, but not too tight, and do not “suck it in”. Read the tape measure and record the number.
Bottom Line: If you find you need to reduce your belly fat, overall weight loss in a healthy gradual manner with dietary modification and exercise, as well as blood sugar regulation will be key. Aim for lean proteins, and lots of non-starchy veggies. You can also consider the addition of a soluble fiber supplement that helps balance blood sugar levels to make appetite control easier, as well as to help stop high insulin levels from feeding the belly fat.
2. Keep Your Blood Pressure In-Check
Optimal blood pressure is generally considered to be less than 120/80. While anything below this number is desirable, anything above means you should begin taking steps to bring your numbers closer to the optimal range. If you are concerned, home monitoring or visiting your local drug store can be a good step. Try taking your blood pressure a few times over a period of 3 days. Remember to take it after being seated for at least 3 – 5 minutes. Blood pressure readings above normal can be categorized into different stages: pre-hypertension (120-139/80-89), stage one (140-159/90-99), and stage two (160/100 or more).
Bottom Line: Most often, overall weight loss, diet modification and stress reduction techniques are the most effective ways of lowering blood pressure. Supplements such as omega-3 fish oil (2-4 grams of EPA+DHA per day), magnesium (200 to 600 mg per day) and Coenzyme Q10 (100-200 mg per day) can also be helpful to restore mild blood pressure abnormalities.
3. Hike Your HDL
There has been a lot of debate over cholesterol in recent years. Most authorities suggest our low density lipoprotein (LDL) (sometimes called “bad cholesterol”) should be as low as possible, while others point to the fact that cholesterol (even the “bad” kind) is critical for wellbeing, especially for the brain (see Dr. David Perlmutter’s Grain Brain). The problem arises when there is an imbalance. So, while we don’t want cholesterol too high, too low isn’t ideal either. High levels of cholesterol in the blood can cause the inner walls of the arteries to become lined with fatty deposits, a condition known as atherosclerosis or coronary heart disease (CAD). The initial cause of cholesterol deposits on the arterial wall is believed to be the body’s natural attempt to repair inflammation. If the fatty deposits become too thick or are further damaged by inflammation, the plaque can break off, leading to a heart attack or other problems related to insufficient blood flow. High-density lipoprotein (HDL), sometimes called "good cholesterol”, is produced in the liver and sent out to remove cholesterol from the blood. The scavenged cholesterol is then processed through the liver and discharged in the bile to the digestive tract for excretion. High levels of HDL in your blood may help to reduce your risk of CAD, while a low level can increase your risk.
Bottom Line: High levels of LDL often result from a diet high in saturated and trans fats (i.e. margarine and hydrogenated oils). Trans fatty acids not only increase LDL levels, but lower HDL levels. So reducing, or completely, eliminating your intake of these inflammatory fats is critical. Other ways to improve your cholesterol ratio include adding a daily soluble fiber supplement, increasing monounsaturated fat intake (ie. olive oil, avocados, nuts), quitting smoking, and exercising three to four times a week.
4. Hone in on Homocysteine
Homocysteine is amino acid found in the blood. It is synthesized from the amino acid methionine. The creation and recycling of homocysteine relies on cofactors such as folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6. At high levels, homocysteine can oxidize LDL cholesterol, resulting in a molecule that is more damaging to the arteries, increasing the risk of CAD. It also increases the risk of blood clots, heart attack and strokes. Homocysteine is measured using a simple blood test that does not require fasting. An optimal homocysteine level is less than 6.3 mmol/L.
Bottom Line: Eating more fruits and vegetables, especially leafy green vegetables, can help lower your homocysteine level by increasing sources of folic acid that will help with recycling this molecule. Supplementing your diet with a product containing a combination of folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, or taking these nutrients individually, may also be beneficial in lowering these levels.
5. Extinguish the flames of CRP Levels
C-reactive protein is produced by the body as part of the inflammatory process. Inflammation is recognized as a major contributing cause of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Elevated concentrations of CRP may indicate an increased risk for heart disease, even when cholesterol levels are normal. The test you can request is called highly sensitive C- Reactive Protein (hs-CRP) and an optimal number is less than 0.80.
Bottom Line: If your CRP is on the high side, you can reduce it daily with exercise, weight loss and with certain supplements such as proanthrocyanadins from grape seed extract, resveratrol, omega-3 fish oil and vitamin C.
6. Lower Your Triglycerides
Triglycerides are the main type of fat normally transported in your bloodstream. After eating, fats in your foods are digested and released into your bloodstream as triglycerides. They are transported throughout your body to give you energy or to be stored as fat. Between meals, hormones regulate the release of triglycerides from fat tissues to meet the body’s energy requirements. Thus, they are essential to proper bodily function. However, excess triglycerides in the blood while fasting are related to an increase in CAD. An acceptable triglyceride level is 1.7 mmol/L or less. Triglycerides are typically within the normal range unless you have an inherited tendency toward high levels or you have a problem processing carbohydrates.
Bottom Line: Lower your intake of starchy carbohydrates, reduce or eliminate sugar and processed foods, supplement your diet with omega-3 fish oil, and boost your intake of healthy fats.
Chobanian AV, Bakris GL, Black HR, Cushman WC, Green LA, Izzo Jr. JL, Jones DW, Materson BJ, Oparil S, Wright Jr. JT, Roccella EJ. Seventh report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. Hypertension. 2003 Dec; 42(6):1206–52.
Perlmutter D. Grain Brain. New York: Little Brown and Company; 2013.
Turner N. The Hormone Diet. Toronto: Random House Canada; 2009
Turner N. The Carb Sensitivity Program. Toronto: Random House Canada; 2012