Your blood vessels carry vital nutrients and oxygen to your organs, including your heart and brain, so keeping them healthy and clear is vital to ensure your body stays in top working order.
And, if you want to find out where you stand with your blood vessel health, having your cholesterol levels tested is a great place to start.
But what many people don’t realize is that a standard cholesterol test won’t give you a complete picture of how healthy (or not) your blood vessels are.
While knowing your cholesterol levels is important, there are a range of other biomarkers that can help you understand how well your vascular system is working.
In particular, testing your lipoprotein(a) levels is something everyone should do at least once in their lifetime.
That’s because high levels of this fatty particle in the blood can triple your risk of heart attack or stroke at any age – regardless of your diet or lifestyle habits.
In this article, we’ve outlined three reasons why knowing your Lp(a) levels can help you live a longer and healthier life.
Testing your lipoprotein a levels is something everyone should do at least once in their lifetime.
1. High Lp(a) levels can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke
Lipoprotiens are tiny particles that carry cholesterol in your bloodstream. There are two main types of lipoprotein: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
Cholesterol is essential for building cells, and LDLs transport cholesterol from your liver to where it’s needed.When you have excess cholesterol in your system – for example, from a high-cholesterol diet – your LDL levels will be higher. Over time, this LDL cholesterol can build up in your arteries and cause atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
When you have excess cholesterol in your system – for example, from a high-cholesterol diet – your LDL levels will be higher. Over time, this LDL cholesterol can build up in your arteries and cause atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Eventually, this blood vessel damage can reduce blood flow to your organs and increase your risk of developing heart disease and having a stroke. This is why LDL is often referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol.
HDLs, on the other hand, carry excess cholesterol out of your arteries back to your liver. For this reason, HDL is known as the ‘good’ cholesterol.
While LDL and HDL levels have long been known to affect your blood vessel health, in recent years researchers have been looking closely at the effect lipoprotein(a) – a type of LDL – has on the body.
Importantly, some studies suggest that high Lp(a) levels can triple your risk of heart attack or stroke – regardless of your age, diet or lifestyle.
Despite this, Lp(a) is not typically measured in standard cholesterol tests. To find out your levels, you’ll need to have an Lp(a) test or Advanced Lipid Panel, which will let you know exactly where you stand.
High lipoprotein(a) levels can 3X your risk of heart attack or stroke – regardless of your age or lifestyle.
2. Even fit and healthy people can have high lipoprotein a levels
While high LDL levels can be the result of an unhealthy diet and not enough exercise, your Lp(a) levels are mostly determined by your genes.
About one in five Americans are thought to have high Lp(a) levels – although most are unaware they have the condition.
Because lipoprotein(a) is not affected by diet or exercise, even fit and healthy people can have high Lp(a) levels.
This was highlighted last year when celebrity fitness trainer Bob Harper from the hit tv show ‘The Biggest Loser’ revealed Lp(a) cholesterol was the suspected cause of his sudden heart attack at age 52.
While everyone should get their lipoprotein(a) levels tested at least once in their lifetime, it’s particularly important if you have a strong family history of heart disease or stroke, especially before the age of 55.
There are also certain conditions and times in your life when it may be a good idea to get your Lp(a) levels tested or re-tested.
3. Knowing your Lp(a) levels means you can take action
While the usual methods of lowering bad cholesterol – a healthy diet, regular exercise, and cholesterol-lowering medications – don’t have much effect on Lp(a) cholesterol, this doesn’t mean you can’t take action.
An Advanced Lipid Panel will give you great insight into the way your body transports and stores cholesterol particles.
As well as measuring your good and bad cholesterol levels, Lp(a) levels and triglycerides (another important measure of heart health), this test will give you detailed information about your LDL particles, including how damaging (or not) they are to your blood vessels.
Once you have this baseline information, there are a range of things you can do to improve your blood vessel health.
These include exercising, eating foods high in Omega-3s, and reducing alcohol, refined carbs and excess sugar.
You can also talk to your physician about CoQ10, red yeast rice, and fish oil, niacin and garlic, which can all help improve your HDL to LDL ratio.
Lipoprotein(a) cholesterol is genetic, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take action.