The Best Heart Test You’ve Never Heard Of
The leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease. Young, thin people with no outward health problems drop dead every single day. It is great that so many women are getting breast cancer screenings because they have been promoted by organizations like the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Five times more woman die from heart disease than breast cancer. Heart disease kills more women than the next seven causes of death combined! It is a shame that very few people, including my doctor, have even heard of the best way to screen for heart disease.
We are coming upon the four year anniversary of my friend and former business partner, Jed Bernstein’s, death. Jed was one of the fittest people I knew. We used to train together on our bicycles and he had very little body fat. He had completed his first full Ironman Triathlon within a couple of years before his death. He was the last person in the world that I would have expected to die at 42 of heart attack and leave two young children behind.
In 2008, Meet the Press’, Tim Russert, dropped dead of a heart attack at age 58. Statins and blood pressure pills were able to get his blood tests to levels where his internist gave him a 5% chance of dying of a heart attack in the next ten years. He even passed a stress test two months before his death. He was trying to lose weight with diet and exercise, but his clock ran out of time before he could repair his artery disease that he was made aware of ten years prior.
I prefer to live not only a long lifespan, but also a long healthspan. After losing a significant amount of weight in 2017, I received blood results that surprised and disappointed me. My LDL cholesterol was not as low as I would have liked it to be and my HDL cholesterol was not as high as I would have liked it to be. I also received my second NMR Lipoprofile test showing higher than average total LDL particles and higher than average very low density lipoproteins (VLDL). Most blood work shows you calculated LDL based on the Friedewald Formula and they don’t actually measure it. From my research, it seems that the best and latest thinking is that having high LDL is not a problem; the problem is if you have too many of the small dense VLDL particles.
Cholesterol is extremely important for life. Without it, your body would quickly die. Cholesterol repairs your body’s inflammation and is not the cause of heart disease. You see high VLDL particles in your blood work when there is inflammation. That is a good thing. Your body is repairing itself. The problem is when you have chronic inflammation from a poor diet, lack of movement, too much stress, not enough sleep, too much alcohol, smoking, a gut infection, or an auto immune disorder.
I recently watched The Widowmaker documentary on Netflix. It along with the books Cholesterol Clarity and Undoctored convinced me that I need to find out if I have higher LDL numbers because of heart disease or some other inflammation. The documentary tells the history of CT Heart scans that give you a calcium score. A CT scan is a fast moving circular x-ray that takes many images of your heart to find calcium deposits that show if you have any plaque buildup in your heart. In trying to solve my medical puzzle, it would be nice to get a score of zero calcium plaque buildup so I can no longer worry about my heart and look for other causes of my inflammation.
After calling several unhelpful and unfriendly people at imaging centers, I came across Baylor Heart Hospital of Plano. I thought they would be more expensive than the smaller clinics and was surprised to find out that men over 40 and women over 45 can set an appointment without a doctor and get their Calcium score for only $79! Unfortunately there is about a 2.5 month wait right now. They have a large scanner that only scans around your heart and it only takes about 3 minutes. You get your calcium score in the mail in about a week. I received my Agatston score of 1.35 today. It wasn’t zero, like I hoped, but as you can see from the table below, less than 10 is pretty good. With this news I am going to stay focused on my diet and exercise and continue the puzzle of where my high inflammation is coming from. My best guess right now is that it is a stomach bug or my thyroid issue.
One of the more compelling points in The Widowmaker documentary is that Bill Clinton had passed several stress tests with flying colors while president and then in 2004, he had an emergency quintuple bypass surgery. Presidents and astronauts are now required to get CT Calcium scans because the government has realized that it simply too important. If you have concerns about your heart health, wouldn’t it be nice to know what your score is?