I’ve said before that cholesterol isn’t the best way to predict your heart disease risk. In fact, back in January, I sent out a Daily Dispatch about four other markers that are much more important in assessing your heart health: fasting blood glucose, fasting insulin, hemoglobin A1C, and homocysteine levels.
Recently, a reader asked me for specific target ranges for these tests. I’ll get to that in a moment. And I’ll also tell you about a few other important factors to consider in assessing your overall heart health. But first, a little background on why these particular markers are so critical.
Blood glucose (sugar), insulin, and hemoglobin A1C are usually associated with diabetes. So why are we looking at them for heart disease as well?
Because researchers are realizing that many people who are diagnosed with heart disease today tend to be different from their stressed-out, hard-charging, under-exercising fathers and grandfathers who also smoked and drank too much.
Instead, these people most likely have metabolic disorders that result from a lifetime of eating the wrong foods and drinking the wrong beverages. And it turns out the same diet choices that lead to diabetes also lead to heart disease.
Doctors routinely measure fasting blood glucose and insulin levels as well as hemoglobin A1C in people with diabetes. The first two of these tests are well known, but you may not be as familiar with hemoglobin A1C. This test gives a good long-term measure of your average blood sugar numbers over time.
Unfortunately, many doctors still don’t measure homocysteine levels and do not take them seriously. But they should. Your body uses homocysteine to make protein and to build and maintain tissue. However, too much of this substance may increase your risk of stroke, certain types of heart disease, and peripheral artery disease.
So, without further ado, here are the targets for these four critical heart disease markers.
Fasting blood glucose. The ideal range is 65 to 99 mg/dL. However, if your hemoglobin A1C is at a healthy, lower level, your doctor will likely be less concerned if your blood glucose is over 99 in a single test.
Fasting insulin. A normal level is below 5 uIU/mL, but ideally you’ll want it below 3.
Hemoglobin A1C should be between 4.4 and 6.5 percent.
Homocysteine. The Mayo Clinic says a normal level is between 4.4 and 10.8 µmol/L.i
To help get all of these numbers where you want them, focus on improving your diet. Eat like you’re on top of the food chain. Specifically, you should incorporate plenty of foods that are rich in folate and B vitamins (dairy, eggs, and meat).
For more details, refer back to the free report you received when you first subscribed to Insiders’ Cures called The “Top of the Food Chain” Cure for Obesity. If you don’t still have your copy, you can download and view this report for free by logging on to the Subscriber page.
New research also shows that red bush (rooibos) lowers blood sugar. See “The South African secret to maintaining healthy blood sugar” in the September 2013 issue of Insiders’ Cures.
I also recommend talking with your doctor about the possibility of taking metformin. This diabetes drug is actually based on an ancient herbal remedy called goat’s rue or French lilac. Studies have proven metformin to be both safe and effective. And it is the only drug that lowers blood sugar while also reducing the risk of heart disease. (For more on metformin and what to watch out for when taking it, see the December 2013 issue of Insiders’ Cures,)
But as I mentioned above, there are a few more important factors to consider in assessing your overall heart health. And, unfortunately, your doctor is even less likely to monitor these markers. Unless, of course, you insist on it.
Three more heart health markers you should keep close tabs on
Other important measurements you should consider are C-reactive protein (CRP) and fibrinogen. CRP is a marker of inflammation. Research has linked CRP to increased risk of coronary artery disease. And fibrinogen is a protein involved in blood clotting. Elevated levels can lead to dangerous artery-blocking clots.
Combined with the other parameters I mentioned above, these tests can help your doctor assess your overall risk of heart disease.
Your CRP level should be less than 1 mg/L, and your fibrinogen level should be between 200 and 400 mg/dL. To achieve this, follow a healthy, balanced diet. High-quality fish oils are particularly helpful at reducing the chronic inflammation that can boost your CRP level.
And keep in mind that research is also showing that your vitamin D level may be just as important as other tests in determining your risk of heart disease. A blood level above 50 ng/ml is healthy, and a daily dose of 4,000 to 5,000 IU of vitamin D is safe and appropriate for everyone.
One final heart-healthy tip: Avoid excess iron. It can potentially accumulate in your heart muscle and other tissues, eventually leading to organ failure in some people. I’ve also conducted research with Nobel laureate Baruch Blumberg that showed that excess iron in the body increases the risk of cancer in both men and women.ii Never take a supplement containing iron unless you have been diagnosed by a doctor with an iron deficiency.
I “Blood tests for heart disease.” http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-disease/art-20049357. Accessed March 24, 2014.
ii “Moderate elevation of body iron level and increased risk of cancer occurrence and death.” Int J Cancer. 1994 Feb 1;56(3):364-9.