Let’s cut to the heart of the matter — heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 697,000 people die annually of cardiovascular disease. That’s one person every 34 seconds.
Not only is heart disease incredibly dangerous, it’s also strikingly common. By 60 years old, as many as 75% of Americans develop some type of cardiovascular disease.
Those numbers are only going up. A 2022 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that by 2060, cardiovascular risk factors and disease will increase significantly.
Incidences of both heart failure and stroke are projected to rise by 33%.
The Power of Prevention
Those stats are scary, but take heart — you have the power to protect and optimize your heart health. “If you catch cardiovascular issues early, you can make an impact on them,” says Lifeforce Physician Cono Badalamenti, MD, MHSA.”There are a multitude of risk factors that are preventable, treatable, and reversible.”
According to the INTER-HEART global study, some of the biggest risk factors for heart disease include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and abdominal obesity. Many of these risk factors are linked to lifestyle habits that you can improve.
“The conditions that lead to heart disease are all modifiable — excess calories, inflammatory foods, lack of exercise, high stress, poor sleep, and toxin exposure,” says Lifeforce Physician Rachael Gonzalez, MD.
The key is to be proactive. “Heart disease doesn’t happen overnight, but healthy habits also take time to establish and reinforce,” Dr. Gonzalez says.
While only a physician can diagnose heart disease, a first step is to get a clear picture of your current condition and risk factors. That’s where the Lifeforce Diagnostic comes in. The at-home blood test measures key biomarkers related to metabolic condition, organ health, and key risk factors. (You’ll even get a read on your hormone levels and critical nutrient levels, too.)
Here are the six most important biomarkers to know to keep your ticker in top shape.
6 Biomarkers You Need to Know
1. LDL Cholesterol
LDL, which stands for low-density lipoprotein, is often dubbed the “bad cholesterol” because when it’s circulating in higher amounts in your bloodstream, it increases your cardiovascular risk, says Dr. Badalamenti. According to a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, young adults with LDL levels higher than 100 mg/dL had a 64% increased risk for heart disease later in life than those with levels under 100 mg/dL.
LDL is particularly dangerous because of its connection to inflammation. When there is inflammation in the arteries and you have high LDL levels, cholesterol will mobilize to the site of inflammation in an attempt to repair it, explains Dr. Gonzalez. This causes plaque buildup in the artery walls, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Optimal levels: Less than 90 mg/dL
How to optimize it: A healthy diet is essential for controlling cholesterol. In one study, people who made dietary changes, including lowering saturated fat intake and choosing whole grains, lowered their LDL levels by nearly 29%. Dr. Gonzalez recommends increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E-rich foods, and soluble fiber, which are underrepresented in many of our diets.
2. Apolipoprotein B (ApoB)
ApoB is a marker of all the “bad cholesterol” lipoproteins such as LDL, VLDL (very-low-density lipoprotein), IDL (intermediate-density lipoprotein), and Lp(a), explains Dr. Gonzalez.
Dr. Badalamenti notes that primary care doctors don’t always screen for ApoB, but it’s important because it can measure hidden risks for some patients. For example, people on a statin medication may reduce their LDL, but their ApoB could still be high, which presents a risk for heart disease. Lifestyle shifts are essential to bring both levels down.
Optimal levels: Less than 90 mg/dL
How to optimize it: “Focus on reducing your total caloric intake, as well as cutting down on saturated fats, processed foods, refined grains, and concentrated sugars, whether that’s in pasta, bread, sauces, baked goods, or high fructose corn syrup,” suggests Dr. Badalamenti.
3. High-Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein (hsCRP)
This is a marker of inflammation in the arteries, which can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection, or more prolonged factors like smoking, autoimmune disorders, and even emotional trauma, explains Dr. Badalamenti. “When that number is too high for too long, that is a direct risk factor for cardiovascular disease.” Research shows that high levels of hsCRP can increase the risk of a future heart attack.
Optimal levels: Less than 1 mg/L
How to optimize it: Stress contributes to inflammation, so both experts recommend practicing stress reduction techniques such as meditation. (Read more science-backed ways to ease stress here.) Prioritizing a balanced diet and limiting inflammatory foods such as dairy, soy, and corn will also bring down inflammation.
4. Hemoglobin A1C
Hemoglobin A1C — the percentage of hemoglobin floating in your blood that has sugar stuck to it — is often used to diagnose diabetes, explains Dr. Badalamenti. This is crucial to check because diabetes is a leading risk factor for heart disease. “If you have diabetes but have never had a heart attack, you have the same risk of having a heart attack as someone who has already had one,” he says.
Optimal levels: Less than 5.3%
How to optimize it: Again, diet is the most important factor. Dr. Badalamenti suggests lowering fat and processed sugars, while increasing protein and whole, plant-based foods.
5. Lipoprotein (a)
This inflammatory type of cholesterol is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, regardless of LDL levels, explains Dr. Gonzalez. Lp(a) is also thought to contribute to serious blood clots. This risk factor is genetic. “Some individuals have a mutation of the Lp(a) gene and produce a high amount of Lp(a),” says Dr. Gonzalez.
Optimal levels: Less than 75 nmol/L
How to optimize it: If you have genes connected to high Lp(a), you unfortunately can’t change that. However, you can mitigate Lp(a)’s harmful impact by creating a less inflamed environment in your body, says Dr. Gonzalez. To do this, she suggests prioritizing rest, stress reduction, and getting plenty of antioxidants such as alpha-lipoic acid (found in spinach, tomatoes, and carrots) and vitamin E (found in almonds, sunflower seeds, and avocado).
This amino acid is a “critical biomarker that’s often left unchecked by most primary care panels,” says Dr. Badalamenti. “When [elevated levels are] in the blood, it’s an irritant to the blood vessels, and it can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, blood clots, and even dementia.”
Optimal levels: 5-10 umol/L
How to optimize it: Dr. Badalamenti suggests loading up on lots of leafy greens and other sources of B vitamins such as legumes and seeds.
For those who don’t have adequate dietary intake of B vitamins, he also recommends Lifeforce Methylation,** which contains folic acid (folate), vitamin B6, and vitamin B12.
**As part of a well-balanced diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol, Folic Acid, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12 may reduce the risk of vascular disease. FDA evaluated the above claim and found that, while it is known that diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol reduce the risk of heart disease and other vascular diseases, the evidence in support of the above claim is inconclusive.
Take These Steps to Heart
If you haven’t had your cardiovascular risk factors checked, now is a great month to do so. The Lifeforce Diagnostic is a convenient at-home blood test that measures these six biomarkers and more (40+ total), for a clear picture of your metabolic condition, key risk factors, critical nutrients, organ health, and hormone balance.
This article was medically reviewed by:
Vinita Tandon, MD, ABIM Board Certified in Endocrinology and Metabolism
Rachael Gonzalez, MD, ABFM (American Board of Family Medicine) and ABOIM (American Board of Integrative Medicine)
Originally published on February 6, 2023. Updated on February 1, 2024.