February is American Heart Month!
February was designated American Heart Month in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, nine years after he suffered a heart attack. That means we’re celebrating the 57th American Heart Month, and here’s why:
With cardiovascular health having such severe consequences, the month of February used to encourage heart-healthy behaviors.
On a personal level, heart health is very important to me. In 2014, my cholesterol was at 279 mg/dL (normal range is 100-199 mg/dL), my LDL Particle number was at 2,643 (normal ranges is under 1,000 nmol/L). Finding out that I’ve been living with extremely elevated cholesterol came as a huge surprise given that my diet was very clean, I had just completed by degree in Nutrition and at that time, I was a very active runner.
I decided to go on a journey to learn as much as I could about this topic and to find the best lipidologist and cardiologist in the Southeast. I discovered Dr. Thomas Barringer. He, too, was very perplexed with my current levels. He decided to run several additional tests to see if there was something underlying that would be causing my cholesterol to stay so elevated. Test results indicated that I had Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FM). FM affects the way the body processes cholesterol. As a result, people with familial hypercholesterolemia have a higher risk of heart disease and a greater risk of early heart attack. The gene is inherited and the condition is present from birth.
If that wasn’t enough, Dr. Barringer also discovered that I also had an elevated Lipoprotein A. It turns out that between a third and a half of people with FH also have an elevated Lp(a). This puts me at a higher risk for even earlier heart disease or stroke than having FH alone.
The level of Lp(a) found in a person’s blood is entirely genetically predetermined. This means that unlike other cardiac risk factors, Lp(a) can’t be modified by diet or exercise. Your level of Lp(a) is the same at age 5 as at age 45.
I quickly realized, I had no control over the genes I was dealt but I certainly could take control of other factors! After reading countless books, listening to podcasts and asking as many questions as possible, I made a conscience decision to make changes. My focus was to decrease my total cholesterol and to do what I could to treat my heart with love. After reading Dr. Michael Greger’s book, How Not To Die, I decided to go primarily plant-based with my diet, decrease my stress levels and move my body more. Since I do carry two inherited genes, neither which respond to diet and exercise, I was prescribed the smallest dose of a statin drug. Against everything I believe, I agreed to take this medicine. Today, I’m happy to announce that through the change in my diet, implementing yoga, meditation, and a small dosage of statins, my cholesterol numbers are better than they’ve ever been!
If I wouldn’t have taken the time to get my cholesterol tested, do the necessary research and then take ACTION, I may not be here today.
Please join me throughout the month of February in feeding our minds full of heart-healthy knowledge! You never know what you may learn or perhaps who you may help along the way! <3
To get started, check out this resource on Taking Care of Our Hearts, Together
Photo credit: NIH
How Not To Die, Dr. Michael Greger,