Understanding Blood Tests: Heart
Your blood is like your body’s running scoreboard. On that scoreboard is a list of statistics about your body’s health and vitality. And a simple blood test can be an effective way to stay on top of your heart health game.
Though blood tests are easy to get, the results aren’t always easy to understand. And that’s a problem when those scores and statistics are essential to your present and future health. I don’t want this frustration to prevent you from taking action on your blood test results. Or worse, I don’t want it to prevent you from getting a blood test.
Your blood test results have several indicators specific to your heart health. I want to single out a few important ones and explain what they mean and what you can do to stay within healthy ranges. Please read on.
C-reactive Protein (CRP)
Inflammation is your body’s response to injury or infection. Your liver dispatches C-reactive protein (CRP) to that infection or injury via the bloodstream. It’s a neat and efficient immune response, but chronic inflammation can lead to atherosclerosis, which is when blood passage through your arteries is narrowed by the accumulation of plague.
Blood tests can show you exactly how much CRP is in your blood. But, it won’t show you where your body is inflamed. And it can’t tell you why you have inflammation. Elevated CRP will simply give you an idea of how much internal inflammation you have. And when combined with other blood test results and risk factors for heart disease, it colors in some of the gray areas of your overall heart health picture.
Your CRP level can vary so, if you test high, I recommend you have it measured again a couple weeks later. You may see it labelled “hs-CRP” on your test results which simply means “high sensitivity CRP”. Levels consistently above 2.0 milligrams per liter of blood indicate a higher risk of heart disease.
If you have consistently elevated CRP, you should talk with your doctor about ways to lower it. And I suggest supplementing those interventions with daily curcumin. Many studies show that curcumin has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-cancer superpowers[i]. Research shows 500 mg, three times daily, as a way to cool down chronic inflammation. Look for a supplement with enhanced bioavailability (either added piperine or gamma cyclodextrin – both which are safe and natural) so that your body absorbs the curcumin better.
P.S. And that’s just a preview of the many ways that curcumin is good for your heart health.
Homocysteine is an amino acid in your blood that’s produced by your body’s metabolization of protein. High levels of it is called hyperhomocysteinemia, and it’s often the result of:
- Eating too much animal protein
- Not eating enough fruits and vegetables
- Low levels of folate and vitamins B6 and B12
- Kidney disease
Hyperhomocysteinemia is closely associated with heart disease and neurological disorders in several studies. It’s believed that those amino acids attach to blood platelets, increasing the risk of clot formation.[ii]
But the medical community isn’t certain if elevated homocysteine levels are a possible cause of heart disease or the result of heart disease. While the science isn’t settled on whether it was the chicken or the egg, one thing is certain: Heart disease and homocysteine often go hand in hand.
Therefore, I think it’s wise to play it safe and keep homocysteine levels within a healthy range – which is between 4.4 and 10.8 micromoles per liter of blood.
Research on homocysteine is still in its infancy compared to other heart health indicators. For now, the best intervention for high homocysteine levels is to counter it by consuming more folic acid, B vitamins (found in green, leafy vegetables) and consuming less animal proteins. Reducing your overall stress levels could help, too.
Calcium is vital to your bone health. And about 99% of your body’s calcium is stored in your teeth and bones – where it should be.
But when too much calcium is in your bloodstream– called hypercalcemia – it can lead to abnormal heart rhythm and even cardiac arrest. And that’s on top of other symptoms such as abdominal pain, bone pain, depression, and kidney stones.
Calcium can infiltrate your bloodstream a few ways:
- Overactive parathyroid glands
- Body acidity and mineral imbalance releasing calcium from your bones
- Excessive absorption of calcium by your intestines
- Inadequate calcium excretion by your kidneys
- Chronic immobility causes bones to release calcium into the blood
- Excess amounts of calcium and vitamin D supplements (Vitamin D stimulates your digestive tract to absorb calcium)[iii]
Normal blood calcium levels, for adults, range from 8.5 to 10.3 mg/dL. There may be a subset reading of ionized calcium. If so, anything above 4.6 mg/dL is considered normal.
If you have hypercalcemia, or if your levels are too low, it’s important to work with your doctor and specialists to find the cause(s) and determine the best way to treat it.
Cholesterol levels are divided between high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein LDL. The simpler version is HDL is the good cholesterol and LDL is the bad cholesterol. While HDL is converted into vitamin D3 and other hormones, LDL is more likely to clog your arteries and plays a more significant role in heart disease.
HDL levels between 50 and 60 mg/dL are considered good. Generally speaking, anything above 60mg is great—anything below 50 is insufficient.
Meanwhile, the range for healthy and unhealthy LDL levels is a little more nuanced so here’s a handy chart.
|Optimal||Less than 100 mg/dL|
|Good||100 to 129 mg/dL|
|Borderline high||130 to 159 mg/dL|
|High||160 to 189 mg/dL|
|Very high||Above 189 mg/dL|
Finally, a note about triglycerides. After foods are broken down and converted into sugar, any sugar that isn’t used as fuel is converted into triglycerides. They’re the main form of fat stored in our bodies. And, thanks to our ancient genetics where we used to live through periods of feast and famine, triglycerides are stored as an energy reserve for when there is no food available.
Obviously, we no longer live like our hunter/gatherer ancestors, so we rarely need those energy reserves. Instead those fats can build up to dangerous, heart-threatening levels. Here are some ranges to look for on your blood test results.
|Healthy||Below 150 mg/dL|
|Very high||Above 500 mg/dL|
I recently wrote extensively about HDL, LDL and triglycerides, including ways you can achieve healthy levels of each.
Other Tests Important to your Heart Health
There are two other tests not associated with your blood that are critical markers of your heart health: blood pressure and EKG.
You’ve likely had hundreds of blood pressure (BP) tests in your lifetime. It’s standard procedure at nearly every doctor visit. Your local pharmacy may even have a self-service blood pressure machine in its waiting area. That goes to show how important it is to keep tabs on your BP.
Blood pressure is simply a measure of the force of blood pushing against your artery walls. Systolic pressure measures the pressure during a heartbeat. Diastolic pressure is the measure of pressure, between beats, when your heart is at rest. These two numbers make up your BP reading, expressed as systolic over diastolic (for example, 120/80 mmHg).
Anywhere between 90/60 mmHg to 120/80 mmHg is considered a healthy BP. If your systolic pressure falls between 120-130, your BP is considered elevated. If your overall BP ranges from 130/80 to 139/89, it’s considered Stage 1 Hypertension. A BP at or above 140/90 is considered Stage 2 Hypertension.
Over time, high BP puts undo stress on your artery walls, creating microscopic tears, nooks and scar tissue – ideal locations for plaque to build and cause blockages.
Your age and family medical history can significantly influence your BP. But so does your lifestyle. BP can be significantly reduced by improving your diet, drinking plenty of water every day, exercising regularly, getting good sleep every night, getting a handle on stress, and putting an end to bad habits like smoking and excessive drinking.
Nattokinase is a fantastic natural way to help get BP under control, especially if lifestyle changes aren’t giving you the results you hoped for. Nattokinase has been shown, in research, to be safe and effective for lowering BP in as little as eight weeks[iv]. Plus, it’s natural and side-effect free! I recommend that you take 2,000 FU/day (fibrinogen units) of nattokinase.
Finally, I want to mention EKG tests and how they relate to your heart health – especially if heart disease runs in your family.
An EKG (Electrocardiogram) records the electrical activity of your heart. It can detect arrhythmia in real time. It can also show if current chest pain is caused by an inadequate blood and oxygen supply to the heart, or if you have structural abnormalities.
EKGs are routinely recommended if you have hypertension or if your PCP detects signs of arrhythmia. It can also be ordered if you suddenly experience heart palpitations, chest pain, rapid pulse, or shortness of breath.
Your blood is vital to your heart health, but so is your body’s wiring. If your circuits aren’t firing they way they should, EKGs can help pinpoint the reason. They can also detect early signs of “the big one” so you can prevent a heart attack or stroke instead of spend months or years recuperating from one.
Keep Your Ticker Ticking
Blood test results will show vital markers of nutrients, waste, indications of disease, and more. For doctors, it’s all very basic. For you, the acronyms and medical lingo can look like somebody spilled alphabet soup all over the paper.
Better-informed patients are more likely to be healthier patients. I hope this information helps cut through the confusion of blood tests and helps you keep your ticker ticking.
[i] Deguchi A., “Curcumin Targets in Inflammation and Cancer.” Endocrine, Metabolic, and Immune Disorder Targets. 2015;15(2):88-96. Review
[ii] Moretti, R. & Caruso, P. “The Controversial Role of Homocysteine in Neurology: From Labs to Clinical Practice.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Published January 8, 2019.
[iii] “Hypercalcmia: Overview.” Mayo Clinic. Last reviewed Feb. 18, 2019.
[iv] Kim JY, Gum SN, Paik JK, Lim HH, Kim KC, Ogasawara K, Inoue K, Park S, Jang Y, Lee JH. “Effects of Nattokinase on Blood Pressure: a Randomized, Controlled Trial. Hypertens Res 2008;31(8):1583-8.