How to Measure Your Heart Disease Risk

February is Heart Health Month and there is much in the news about taking care of your ticker. Risk factors like cholesterol, blood pressure and inflammation. Diseases like diabetes. Solutions like fish oils.

It can all be a little overwhelming. Should you worry? What do you need to do? Take? Eat?

The starting point is to determine your risk–if you can find the weak spots in your biology, your lifestyle and your genetics, you can make solid informed choices about where to focus your energy.

Last summer we wrote about assessing your risk using the Framingham Risk Calculator. If you know your cholesterol and blood pressure numbers, you can answer a few quick questions and get an idea of your 10-year risk of general cardiovascular disease.

As you can guess, though, it takes more than just a couple of numbers to get a good picture of your risk. In addition to all the lifestyle factors that we can subjectively discuss, we have a great new test that helps answer those questions, and more. It’s called a fatty acid profile, and we use it to assess the levels of “good” and “bad” fatty acids in your body.

A Fatty Acid Primer: Why They Matter

In a broad sense, this simple blood test gives us a look at levels of:

  • Essential Fatty Acids. Your body can’t make these necessary wonders–you have to get them from your diet. Omega 3’s come from places like fish and flax, while Omega 6’s come from places like grain and grain-fed animals. The real secret here is balance. Too much Omega 6 (common in our culture) relative to Omega 3 and you increase your risk.
  • Mono-unsaturated fatty acids. These are the “good” cooking oils, like olive, canola or safflower oils.
  • Saturated fatty acids. These come from meat, dairy, cocoa butter and palm oil–they’re usually solid a room temperature. Some of them have been linked to heart disease.
  • Trans-fatty acids. These are the bad guys. They’ve been modified to make things last longer on shelves, and they’re trouble.

If all this fat-talk makes your head spin, it’s okay. Here’s what you need to know.

  1. These things matter. Research shows these acids and their ratios are linked to everything from heart attack risk and depression, to diabetes and cancer.
  2. The test can help us help you. The test tells us the levels of your fatty acids, how they’re balanced relative to each other, and how you compare to the population norms. That helps us know where to focus lifestyle change, what supplements to recommend and in what dosages, and what we should be keeping an eye on over time to keep you well.

All told, the test is a good indicator of heart health and whether your dietary fats are protecting you or harming you. It’s fast and easy–just a simple blood test!

You can get a great overview of the test here (PDF), or visit the main test page here to get more details, including sample reports.

To arrange a test, call the clinic at 705-444-5331, or email anytime.

7 Ways to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality

Moving to our new home has been very exciting. Out with the old and in with the new! New paint, new carpets, new furniture, new appliances–they are all shiny and beautiful, but they also emit their fair share of solvents and chemicals.

As naturopathic doctors we counsel our patients to avoid as many chemicals in their environment as possible. We suggest they eat organic food to avoid pesticides, use all-natural cosmetics to avoid phthalates, use all natural cleaners to avoid triclosan, and so on.

So how are we dealing with our increased exposure to the solvents and chemicals that come with moving into our new home? The same way you can! Here’s what we’ve been up to.

1. Buy Used When Possible

This is an often-overlooked way to decrease your overall exposure to solvents and chemicals. When you buy or re-use old stuff, the off-gassing has already happened, making that piece of furniture or cabinet more chemically inert.

You will see many of the fixtures and furniture from the old clinic in the new one. Also, I love to check out used furniture stores or building stores, and surf on kijiji. Not only is it cost effective, but the chemical tax has already been paid!

2. Use Low VOC paints

Robinsons Paint and Wall Paper here in Collingwood carries a great line of Benjamin Moore paints that contain zero volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) and are remarkably low odour. (Note: that’s zero VOC according to the standard method used to measure them, EPA Method 24, which isn’t perfect, but is something.)

3. “Bake” a New Room

When the carpets went in, we cranked up the heat for the weekend and then came in on Monday and opened the windows. The idea is that increased heat speeds up release of the solvents, which you can then release from the building. This process can speed up the off-gassing time markedly–you can use it at home when you paint, get new furniture or carpet, or otherwise introduce new sources of VOC’s to your home.

4. Use Room Air Filters 

A good HEPA filter and carbon filter combo does a great job of getting the dust, extra solvents and chemicals out of the air. We used several of these ones, which after some homework seemed like the best value for the dollar.

5. Install an HRV

Older buildings are often said to “breathe”, which is a nice way of saying they’re leaky and drafty. Modern buildings don’t breathe as much, which is much more efficient, but it also means they can get stuffy because they air stays inside.

In our new office, we installed a heat recovery ventilator system, or HRV, which takes fresh air from outside the house, brings it inside, and circulates it through the ductwork. The unit transfers a portion of heat in the stale air being exhausted to the fresh incoming air from outside before being distributed throughout the house, so it doesn’t feel drafty.

6. Put Plants to Work

Nature has its own system for cleaning the air, and you can use it inside, too: plants. Here’s a post from our archives about three plants you can use to scrub CO2, add oxygen, and remove toxins.

7. Support Your Biochemistry

Our bodies have an unbelievable ability to detoxify chemicals. There are double redundant systems to do it, and as your body is exposed to chemicals, those systems kick it up a notch and work even harder. As long as you give your body what is required for those detox pathways to work, they will work remarkably well.

We all drank LOTS of water after the move. (In fact, you’ll notice in a new home you might feel thirstier for a few days. That’s your body’s systems at work.)

We also consumed lots of green juices and smoothies, plenty of fruits and veggies, and herbs and supplements like milk thistle, alpha lipoic acid, N-acetylcysteine, B vitamins, magnesium and many others.

The Upside of Stress

The StoneTree clinic team has had our share of stress this month.

Moving to a new space, packing up an old space, figuring out where everything fits and how to effectively work in a new place is always tumultuous.

All that stress, you might think, would be “bad for our health”, but is it?

The answer is yes…and no. Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. has some fresh insight that suggests that stress might only be bad for you if you believe it is. If we learn how to embrace it, McGonigal says in hew new book, The Upside of Stress, it can in fact make us stronger, smarter, and happier.

McGonigal’s great TED talk on the subject has been watched more than 10 million times. It’s a good intro to the idea, but the book is worthwhile read.