September is Vascular Disease Awareness Month, and many people will be heading to their physicians for check ups and having a basic lipid panel run, a test that checks total cholesterol, low-density lipid (LDL), high-density lipid (HDL) and triglyceride (TG) levels. Here at AIM, we want to take a moment to share a simple analogy to help you better understand some of the other factors that can increase or decrease your risk of cardiovascular concerns.
Let’s model the flow of the blood around our body as city traffic during evening rush hour. In our model, the heart is downtown and the blood vessels are the roads. As we move away from downtown, the roads are large, four-lane highways (the arteries). These eventually split into two-lane highways (the arterioles), then one-lane roads (capillaries) as we reach the rural areas (our extremities). Now, during rush hour the hope is that commuters will get out of the city in a reasonable amount of time. Of course, the alternative is congestion and accidents that can lead to damaged roads and costly repairs. The same is true in our body. It is the job of the heart to get a specific amount of blood, a fluid that carries nutrients, oxygen, and healing properties, throughout the body in an efficient manner. It is important that all of the body’s metaphorical roads are as open as possible so that our tissues can get what they need, when they need it. If a road becomes too congested, accidents can occur, thereby resulting in damage. To repair this damage, our body strengthens our roads by putting down layers of mineral and fat in a process referred to as hardening of the arteries. Some of the factors that can affect both rush hour traffic and our cardiovascular health are:
- Number of commuters needing to be moved, i.e. LDL, HDL, TG. Although cholesterol is usually spoken about in a negative way, it is actually one of the ways our body transports energy around our body. In and of itself, it’s not bad – until you start to have more passengers than the road was intended to carry.
- Size of the commuters (particle density). The less dense your commuter, they easier they are to move. The denser they become, the larger the vehicle (apolipoproteins) you’ll need to carry them around, and the more damage they can do to your roads.
- Size of the road (inflammation makers such hsCRP [high sensitivity C-reactive Protein] and fibrinogen). Inflammation within our cardiovascular system can be caused by many things, including sugar, food sensitivities, and elevated levels of arachidonic acid, which is found in animal-based proteins. Inflammation within our vessels causes our two-lane highway to reduce to a one-lane road, which can increase the incidence of accidents.
- Tendency towards accidents (blood sugar makers, such as a fasting glucose, HbA1c, and TG). Sugar is sticky, right? Think about honey or syrup. If your blood has too much glucose (sugar) in it, when your vehicles bump into one another, they can stick together. Depending on how sticky your blood is will determine if you have a minor fender bender or if there is a 100-car pile up.
At AIM, we run a panel called the CardioIQ that investigates many different factors that can contribute to road congestion. We also have the Endo-PAT, which looks at whether or not your roads are newly paved and smooth (ideal), or if they are like driving on a rocky path (not ideal). We use statins when needed, but recognize there are other treatments available depending on your need, such as dietary and lifestyle changes, bergamot, omega 7’s, fish oils, berberine, alpha-lipoic acid, methylated B vitamins and Red Yeast Rice.
This month, please take a moment and talk with your AIM physician about checking your risks for vascular disease with a CardioIQ and/or an Endo-PAT instead of a basic lipid panel and any other possible treatment options that may be available for you.