Heart disease researchers have discovered that atherosclerosis and inflammation often begin when the smooth cells lining artery walls are injured or irritated. Some of this damage is caused by LDL cholesterol that''s been dangerously altered by free radicals that harm healthy cells; tiny, damage-causing LDL particles known as small dense lipoproteins; a protein called apoB that carries cholesterol into artery walls; and homocysteine, a naturally occurring amino acid.
Many of these newly discovered risk factors can be measured by new tests and provide extra information about your heart disease risk in addition to the more commonly used cholesterol tests. Your doctor can give you more information about whether or not these tests are appropriate for you.
If you have one of these new tests, and want to record the results in Health-Minder, be sure to read this issue''s article on Entering Results of New Tests. To enter the results, you will need to know what is a normal result. So what are these tests, and what result is considered "NORMAL"?
Having some homocysteine in your blood is normal-and apparently harmless. But more than a dozen studies suggest that even slightly elevated levels of this amino acid might double, triple, or even quadruple your risk of heart attack or stroke-even when cholesterol levels are normal.
Results: Normal levels are 5 to 15 micromoles per liter, but heart disease risk begins to rise at levels above 9.
Treatment: Get plenty of folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 by eating nine servings a day of fruits and vegetables. Folic acid -rich foods include asparagus, broccoli, spinach, and orange juice. For insurance, take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid, 2 mg of B6, and 6 mcg of B12-or have 100% fortified cereal for breakfast. According to Burt Berkson, M.D., in his book All About B vitamins, scientists report that B-complex vitamins significantly reduced homocysteine serum levels in over 600 individuals.