Heart Health in 3-2-1

Three steps toward a healthy lipid panel and optimal cardiovascular health

by Emily Dickerson, ND

I am passionate about working with patients to optimize their health and to minimize their cardiovascular risk. I cannot emphasize enough the concept of “epigenetics”, meaning the interplay between our genetic predispositions and our environment. I want my patients and my community to know that each individual has control of their own cardiovascular destiny. A family history of cardiovascular disease does not predict the fate of an individual. Starting today, each and every one of you can start to decrease your cardiovascular risk, using these three simple steps.

  1. Exercise: Exercise is one of the best ways to improve your lipid panel and is essential to any cardiovascular health and wellness plan. Cardiovascular exercise increases HDL “good” cholesterol and decreases LDL “bad” and total cholesterol levels. My favorite forms of cardiovascular exercise include running, biking, and swimming, but if you have physical limitations, you can do whatever activity that gets your heart rate going.


  1. Fish oil: Supplementing with fish oil is essential for optimal cardiovascular wellness. Fish oil is high in omega 3 fatty acids, the anti-inflammatory fats that benefit brain health, heart health, and combat inflammation. Fish oil supplementation helps to lower LDL cholesterol and to increase HDL cholesterol. Two grams of fish oil per day will provide maximum anti-inflammatory benefit.


  1. Diet: Eat as many vegetables as you can! Vegetables are high in fiber, which is essential for helping us to eliminate excess lipids and cholesterol via the bowels. I recommend that my patients eat 7-10 servings of vegetables per day, which comes out to be ~75% of the diet in vegetables.

Cholesterol Ratio and Cardiovascular Risk:

Cardiovascular risk is predicted via the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol. A ratio of less than or equal to 4.5 is considered to be very low risk for a cardiovascular event, while a ratio of less than 3 is considered to be virtually no risk for a cardiovascular event. As the HDL cholesterol increases or the total cholesterol decreases, the ratio improves. Triglycerides are another part of the lipid panel that I like to focus on, as they correlate with the amount of sugar and carbohydrates that an individual has been eating. Additional tests that can be indicative of cardiovascular risk are HsCRP (high sensitivity C-reactive protein), an indicator of inflammation, and LPa (lipoprotein a), a type of cholesterol associated with elevated risk for cardiovascular disease. These tests are incredibly useful because they reflect how the lifestyle modifications that we make can benefit our risk for a heart attack or stroke. These tests can be used as great motivation for improving overall health and wellbeing.

Thyroid Health and Heart Health Risk:

An untreated thyroid condition can have a detrimental impact on heart health. The thyroid impacts the metabolism of every cell in the body and has immense effects on the heart. Did you know that hypothyroidism can cause abnormal lipid levels? Untreated hypothyroidism or even a single abnormal thyroid lab, such as Free T4, can be the cause of elevated cholesterol levels.

Familial Hypercholesterolemia:

If you have been diligent with all of the above lifestyle modifications, thyroid disorders have been ruled out, and your lipid levels are still abnormal, you may have familial hypercholesterolemia. Familial hypercholesterolemia is due to a genetic condition that prevents the body from removing LDL cholesterol from the blood. In this case, medication may be warranted. Statin medications, which can cause substantial side effects, are not the only option. Targeted nutraceutical supplements, when paired with a healthy lifestyle, can be very effective for decreasing cholesterol levels and improving cardiovascular risk.

Call Boise Natural Health Clinic at (208)338-0405 to schedule an office visit to help you achieve optimal health and to decrease your cardiovascular risk.