PANTETHINE: A CRITICAL PLAYER IN A HEART_HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
A Healthy Blood Lipid Profile Goes Beyond "The Lower the Cholesterol, the Better"
by Cathleen London, MD
Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans, accounting for more than 40 percent of all deaths in the United States. While heart disease is a broad term, it is used by doctors to describe atherosclerosis, the main cause of heart attacks and strokes. The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP), a division of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has just released the latest guidelines for identifying and managing risks for coronary heart disease (CHD). If you are like many health_conscious individuals, you may be willing to take several steps to prevent heart disease. You make healthy food choices, you exercise, and you probably take several supplements for your general health. However, you may be confused about what other steps you can take. You may wonder what role cholesterol and blood lipids play in cardiovascular health. You may wonder if you have any risk factors for heart disease, and what you can do in terms of prevention. If you have already been diagnosed with heart disease you may be wondering how you can supplement the program your doctor has given you.
Atherosclerosis results from the buildup of plaque along the walls of blood vessels. It begins when the lining of the vessel is damaged. Fat carrying proteins, called lipoproteins, attach themselves to the damaged surface, causing cholesterol to build up. The low density lipoproteins (LDL) start to break down, or oxidize, releasing free radicals, damaging nearby cells. The more LDL_cholesterol (LDL_C) in your blood, the more it can buildup on the blood vessels. This whole process sets off the immune system to try to repair the damaged site, sending in specialized white blood cells, called macrophages, which eat the LDL_C, however when they become full of LDL_C, they become useless foam cells, which contribute to the plaque formation. Chemical signals called growth factors are released, which cause fibrinogen (a sticky substance) to adhere to the plaque, attracting platelets. All these things together form a stiff plaque on the artery wall, and ultimately block the artery. Your blood flow can be reduced by 90% before you feel any symptoms, but then in is too late, CHD has occurred.
These plaques have the unfortunate propensity to break loose, causing strokes, heart attacks and other ischemic conditions, such as angina, poor kidney function, reduced eyesight, poor circulation in the legs (claudication). If in addition to poor lipids levels someone has other risk factors, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), or diabetes, then these events are accelerated. A heart attack (also called a myocardial infarction) is when something blocks the flow of blood to your heart – a clot, a spasm or an accumulation of plaque. A stroke is brain damage that occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, either by a clot or when a blood vessel bursts. High blood pressure plays a crucial role in the development of heart disease and stroke. The higher the pressure the greater the stress on arteries, and the more rapid the buildup of plaque. For reasons that are not entirely known, diabetes also increases plaque formation.
Blood Lipid Profile
When doctors order a lipid profile, they are measuring the levels of all the cholesterol in your blood, both good and bad. These include: Total Cholesterol (TC), Low density lipoprotein (LDL_C – also known as the bad "lousy" cholesterol), Very low density lipoprotein (VLDL_C _ another bad player, "very lousy"), High density lipoprotein (HDL_C – the good "healthy" cholesterol) and triglycerides (TG _ yet another bad player). They may order additional tes