Know your healthy numbers

July 5, 2012 at 8:13 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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A very good and informative article on Cholesterol, Blood Sugar, and Blood Pressure.
Know your healthy numbers


Written by
Connie Midey


The American auto inustry has its Big 3. So do colleges and golf. Here are the Big 3 of health numbers, what they mean and what you can do to reach the targets.


Target numbers:

Less than 120/80.

In recent years, readings between 120/80 and 139/89 have been labeled as pre-hypertension, “a warning that the numbers are creeping up and you need to make lifestyle modifications,” said physician Gregory Johns, a Phoenix internal-medicine specialist.

Readings of 140/90 or higher are considered high blood pressure, or hypertension. (Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury.)

Why they matter: “High blood pressure is probably the biggest risk factor for stroke, the (consequence) people are most concerned about,” Johns said.

Sustained high blood pressure makes the heart work harder and can damage heart muscle, and it’s a risk factor for congestive heart failure, heart attack and peripheral artery disease. It also can damage blood vessels in the kidneys, greatly increasing risk for kidney failure in people who also have diabetes, he said.

What you can do: “High blood pressure is extremely common,” Johns said, “but most people have no symptoms. You have to see your doctor on a regular basis to get a blood-pressure check or you won’t know until it may be too late.”

Control blood pressure by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising for 30 to 45 minutes four or five days a week – enough to elevate your heart rate – and following a healthful diet, he said.

In a trial, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan – low in fat and rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products – lowered hypertensive patients’ top blood-pressure number an average of 11.4 points and bottom number an average of 5.5 points. Lower salt intake improved results, too.

If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your doctor may prescribe blood-pressure medicine.

Target numbers:

Total cholesterol: Less than 200.

HDL (good) cholesterol: 40 or higher for men, 50 or higher for women; 60 or higher is considered protective against heart disease.

LDL (bad) cholesterol: Less than 100.

Triglycerides: Less than 150.

Ratio: Less than 5 when the total cholesterol number is divided by the HDL number.

Helen Hilts of DiabeVita Medical Center sets more ambitious goals: HDL of at least 45 for men and 55 for women, and triglycerides of less than 100.

And she’d add another target number: fewer than 1,000 LDL particles, as measured in a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) lipid profile. Most cardiologists order the NMR routinely, she said. With other doctors, you might have to request it.

Why they matter: Cholesterol and triglycerides are measured in milligrams per deciliter as part of a lipid profile to assess heart health. The NMR lipid profile measures the size and number of LDL particles.

“For preventing or reversing heart disease,” Hilts said, “the most important (goal) numbers are high HDL, low triglycerides and low LDL particles.”

What you can do: Researchers “are looking very hard for medicines to raise HDL cholesterol, but they haven’t got one yet,” she said. “The best way to raise it now is through exercise.”

Take good-for-the-heart fish-oil supplements and keep blood sugar at safe levels. High blood sugar sticks to cholesterol molecules, she said, and makes them more likely to clog blood-vessel walls.

A low-carbohydrate diet “will raise HDL a little and lower triglycerides a lot,” Hilts said. “And it shifts the population of your LDL from the small, dense kind, which is bad, to the light, fluffy kind, which is good.”

If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your doctor may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medicine.

Target numbers:

Fasting: Below 99.

Non-fasting: Below 140.

Hemoglobin A1c: 5.6 or lower three-month average.

For people with diabetes (and not pregnant), numbers indicating good control of the disease are 80 to 120 fasting, below 150 non-fasting and below 6.5 hemoglobin A1c.

Why they matter: Hitting the first target number, measured in milligrams per deciliter in a fasting glucose test, means you’re avoiding the high blood sugar that damages blood vessels.

“The higher the numbers, the higher the risk of complications that can happen with diabetes,” said Dr. Chandana Mishra of Endocrinology Associates in Phoenix.

Microvascular complications involve the kidneys, eyes and peripheral nervous system, the latter sometimes leading to amputations, she said. Macrovascular complications cause heart attacks and stroke.

What you can do: “Diet and exercise give tremendous benefits,” Mishra said. A Diabetes Prevention Program study found that 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity and a 5 to 10 percent weight loss reduced the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 58 percent.

If more help is needed, your doctor may prescribe pills or insulin to control glucose levels. People with diabetes can avoid complications and hospitalizations by closely monitoring their blood sugar, Mishra said.

Probably no Big 3 will play a more central role in our lives over the long term than the numbers that define our blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.

Good health is the payoff for making time to monitor those numbers, understand what they mean and take steps to balance them.

“Of course, there are medicines that help with all these conditions,” said Scottsdale family physician Helen Hilts of DiabeVita Medical Center.

“But if you can do it naturally, with lifestyle changes, and let your body do its own balancing act, that’s better.”

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