There’s much more to heart health than cholesterol. The average person is overly focussed on their cholesterol level at the expense of greater risk factors that may be missed and are potentially more deadly.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and every 25 seconds somebody has a heart attack. Heart disease is often described as a silent killer because it may give no warning signs at all. A heart attack often strikes a middle aged person who considers themselves fighting fit.

Approximately 50 percent of people who have had a heart attack, did not have elevated cholesterol levels. Cholesterol status is a poor indicator of risk of heart disease anyway, but my point is that a significant number of people who have had a heart attack did not see it coming.

In the medical literature there is a great deal of information about what really causes heart disease and what the true risk factors are. Unfortunately most of this information never makes it to the public. On television and in newspapers you tend to hear the same old message - avoid saturated fat and keep your blood cholesterol as low as possible, and that should protect you from heart disease.

There is much more to the story, and cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease. Inflammation is. If you wish to be proactive about your health, here are 6 blood tests you must have.

  • HbA1c (also known as glycated hemoglobin)
    This test measures your average blood sugar level for the previous 3 months. Specifically it checks how much glucose is bound to the hemoglobin in your red blood cells. Red blood cells live for 3 months. It is important to know your fasting blood sugar level. Diabetics are at much greater risk of heart attacks and strokes, even if they have low blood fats such as cholesterol. Worryingly, even mildly elevated blood sugar is a significant risk factor for heart disease.
    Usually this blood test is only given to diabetics, but there are millions of people with undiagnosed diabetes, and people in that grey zone between normal blood sugar and diabetes. Ideally you want your HbA1c to be below 5.5. If you need help getting your level down, see the eating plan in my book Diabetes Type 2: You Can Reverse It. Diabetics excrete more magnesium in their urine, therefore are at high risk of deficiency. Magnesium deficiency can raise blood sugar and cause spasm of coronary arteries, which may block blood flow to the heart.
  • Homocysteine
    Elevated homocysteine is a risk factor for much more than just heart disease; if your level is high you are also more prone to depression, infertility, osteoporosis and dementia. That’s quite a list of serious diseases. Having too much homocysteine in your body can have an abrasive scratching effect on the inner lining of your arteries. This promotes oxidative damage, clot formation and plaque accumulation.
    The most effective way to lower your homocysteine level is to increase your intake of B vitamins; particularly B12, B6 and folic acid, as found in these capsules.
  • Vitamin D
    It was once thought that the only function of vitamin D in our body was to enable calcium absorption for strong bones. We now know that vitamin D acts more like a hormone than a vitamin in our body and every cell of our body has a vitamin D receptor. That means it has numerous functions and benefits.
    We make vitamin D when we expose our skin to the sun’s UVB rays. Many people lead indoor lifestyles and therefore do not produce sufficient levels of vitamin D in their body. In fact several studies have shown the average person has insufficient levels of vitamin D in their blood.
    People without enough vitamin D are more prone to high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and an inability to lose weight. These are all risk factors for heart disease. Vitamin D also has a natural anti-inflammatory effect and too much inflammation promotes oxidation of cholesterol, which can harm the arteries.
    An optimal blood level of vitamin D is between 30 and 50 ng/mL. Most people require approximately 5000 IU of natural vitamin D3 each day to maintain this level.
  • C reactive protein
    This is a protein your body produces in large amounts if there is a great deal of inflammation in your body. It is not a specific test because inflammation can be caused by several different factors. Infections, immune system disorders, obesity and diabetes can all raise inflammation. If this is allowed to continue, you may have a greatly increased risk of heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis and macular degeneration.
    Some researchers believe elevated C reactive protein is a much bigger risk factor for a heart attack than raised cholesterol.
    Losing weight and consuming more vegetables can help to lower C reactive protein. Overt infections and hidden infections need to be treated as well.  Fish oil and magnesium help to lower C reactive protein.
  • LDL particle size
    LDL stands for Low Density Lipoprotein and it is a type of cholesterol that’s commonly referred to as “bad” cholesterol. It’s really not that bad; we need some of this cholesterol in our body. You have probably had a blood test where the total number of LDL particles was measured. In fact, a more useful test is to have their particle size checked. Small, dense LDL cholesterol particles are far more plaque producing than large, fluffy LDL cholesterol particles. A standard cholesterol blood test does not differentiate between small, dense LDL and fluffy, large LDL. Not every lab offers this test, and it can be expensive. If your blood triglyceride level is high, you are guaranteed to have too much of the harmful small dense LDL particles.
  • Thyroid function test
    If your thyroid gland is underactive, this can increase your cholesterol and other blood fats. It will probably also cause you to gain weight, and raises your risk of developing syndrome X (also known as metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance). An underactive thyroid gland is called hypothyroidism and it is remarkably common.
    If you have not had a blood test to check your thyroid gland in the last couple of years, please have one soon. The main hormone to get tested is TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone). In order to get a more complete picture of your thyroid gland health, it is best to also have a blood test for T4, T3 and thyroid antibodies. I have explained this in detail in my book Your Thyroid Problems Solved.

As you can see, there is so much more to preventing heart disease than just focusing on cholesterol. If you would like to learn more about protecting your heart, see my book Cholesterol: The Real Truth.

The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.