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What Two Surprising Factors Can Predict Your Risk for Heart Disease?

overweight, belly fatA large 10-year study found that half of all fatal heart disease cases, and a quarter of all non-fatal cases are linked to being overweight and having a high body mass index (BMI) or large waist.

Body mass index and waist circumference are well known risk factors for cardiovascular disease, but the researchers said their work showed BMI and waist size could actually help predict your risk of dying from, or developing heart disease.

Overweight people are defined as having a BMI of between 25 and 30, and obese people of 30 or more, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). BMI is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared. Waist circumference measurements in men were defined as between 94 and 101.9 cm for overweight and more than 102 cm for obese. In women these measurements were 80-87.9 cm for overweight and more than 88 cm for obese.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Heart disease is one of the easiest diseases to prevent and avoid, but you simply must be proactive in order to do this. Many people don’t realize that the most common symptom of heart disease is actually sudden death -- not chest pain or shortness of breath. Most of the time there are NO warning signs, so that’s why knowing, and monitoring, your risk factors is critical.

Having a high body mass index (BMI) or a large waist have long been linked to heart disease risk, and now this new study has found they may also predict your risk of dying from heart disease as well.

However, previous studies have found that while being overweight or obese can raise your heart disease risks, the place you carry your fat may be an even bigger factor.

Body mass index (BMI), which gauges weight in relation to height, is only a crude way to judge obesity-related heart disease risk. It does not measure where fat is on your body or how muscular you might be. Athletes and completely out-of-shape people can have similar BMI scores, for instance, and previous research has demonstrated that a potbelly is a better predictor of heart trouble than total weight.

Why is Belly Fat so Dangerous?

Your body has two types of fat: visceral and subcutaneous. Subcutaneous fat is found just under your skin, and is the type that causes dimpling and cellulite. Visceral fat, on the other hand, shows up in your abdomen and surrounds your vital organs including your liver, heart and muscles.

Visceral fat is the one that is linked to heart disease, diabetes and stroke, among many other chronic diseases. And while it’s often referred to as “belly fat” because it can cause a “beer belly” or an apple-shaped body, you can have visceral fat even if you’re thin.

You may think that fat is simply an inert substance, however, fat cells are an active and intelligent part of your body, producing hormones that impact your brain, liver, immune system and even your ability to reproduce.

What’s more, the hormones your fat cells produce impact how much you eat and how much fat you burn.

One of these hormones is leptin, and leptin sends signals that reduce hunger, increase fat burning and reduce fat storage. That is, if your cells are communicating properly and can “hear” this message.

If you are eating a diet that is high in sugar and grains -- this is the same type of diet that will also increase inflammation in your body -- as the sugar gets metabolized in fat cells, fat releases surges in leptin. Over time, if your body is exposed to too much leptin, it will become resistant to the leptin (just as your body can become resistant to insulin).

And when you become leptin-resistant, your body can no longer hear the messages telling you to stop eating and burn fat -- so you remain hungry, and store more fat.

Leptin-resistance also causes an increase in visceral fat, sending you on a vicious cycle of hunger, fat storage and an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and more.

Another Important Heart Disease Risk Factor

Aside from carrying extra weight around your middle, one of the most important risk factors for heart disease is your cholesterol to HDL ratio.

Keep in mind that your total cholesterol level is just about worthless in determining your risk for heart disease, unless it is close to 300 or higher. And, perhaps more importantly, you need to be aware that cholesterol is not the CAUSE of heart disease.

If you become overly concerned with trying to lower your cholesterol level to some set number, you will be completely missing the real problem.

In fact, I have seen a number of people with levels over 250 who actually were at low heart disease risk due to their HDL levels. Conversely, I have seen even more who had cholesterol levels under 200 that were at a very high risk of heart disease based on the following additional tests:

  • Your HDL/Cholesterol ratio

  • Your Triglyceride/HDL ratios

HDL percentage is a very potent heart disease risk factor. Just divide your HDL level by your cholesterol. That percentage should ideally be above 24 percent. Below 10 percent is a significant indicator of risk for heart disease.

You can also do the same thing with your triglycerides and HDL ratio. That percentage should be below 2.

How to Virtually Eliminate Your Heart Disease Risk

If you are at risk of heart disease, then simply applying the Take Control of Your Health program will virtually eliminate your risk -- sometimes quite rapidly – because it helps to significantly reduce inflammation in your body. And, keeping your inflammation levels low is key if you want to reduce your risk of heart disease (as well as many other chronic diseases).

Among the key points to remember are:

  • Reduce your intake of grains, including corn-based foods, and all sweets and potatoes, dramatically.

Any meal or snack high in unhealthy carbohydrates generates a rapid rise in blood glucose and then insulin to compensate for the rise in blood sugar. The insulin released from eating too many carbohydrates promotes fat and makes it more difficult for your body to lose fat, and excess weight, particularly around your belly, is one of the major contributors to heart disease.

  • Exercise regularly.

Exercise not only lowers inflammation in your body, it is also one of the best weapons to fight visceral fat, which again is linked to heart disease.

Remember, you can be thin, underweight even, and still have dangerous visceral fat around your organs. If you are thin, but rarely exercise, this may be you. And if you have a beer belly or a lot of fat around your midsection, you can also bet on the fact that you’re holding onto visceral fat.

The good news is that exercise can drastically reduce any visceral fat, and quickly too, so check out my primary principles of exercise video to get started.

  • Get your omega-3 fats!

High-quality, animal-based omega-3 fats such as those in krill oil help protect your heart from disease. Studies have shown that omega-3 works by preventing the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries.

  • Optimize your vitamin D levels.

Researchers recently found that people with the lowest average vitamin D levels had a 124 percent greater risk of dying from all causes and a 378 percent greater risk of dying from a heart problem!

Those are massively increased risks -- risks that could have been avoided simply by optimizing vitamin D.

Further, researchers from Finland also showed that when compared with the participants with the highest vitamin D, those with the lowest levels had a 25 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease or stroke. And when only stroke was looked at, those with the lowest levels had twice the risk as those with the highest.

A previous study even found women who take vitamin D supplements lower their risk of death from heart disease by one-third.

It’s also been suggested that the more sunlight you get, the better your cardiovascular health will be, as there are a number of physiological mechanisms triggered by vitamin D production through sunlight exposure that act to fight heart disease, such as:

  • An increase in your body's natural anti-inflammatory cytokines

  • The suppression of vascular calcification

  • The inhibition of vascular smooth muscle growth

So please watch my one-hour, free vitamin D lecture to find out how to get your levels into the healthy, disease-fighting range.

  • Optimize your iron levels.

Iron can be a very potent oxidative stress, so if you have excess iron levels you can damage your blood vessels and increase your risk of heart disease.

Ideally, you should monitor your ferritin levels and make sure they are not much above 80 ng/ml. The simplest way to lower them if they are elevated is to donate your blood. If that is not possible you can have a therapeutic phlebotomy and that will effectively eliminate the excess iron from your body.

  • Manage your stress levels with healthy emotional outlets.

One of the most common contributing factors to heart disease -- and for that matter, cancer -- is unresolved emotional stresses. Anger, stress, guilt, sadness -- really any emotion that doesn’t make you feel good -- can lead to heart attacks, obesity and strokes. Even the best diet in the world is not likely to overcome the damage created by lingering emotional stresses.

Further, when your body is under the stress response, your cortisol levels rise. And when your cortisol is chronically elevated, you’ll tend to gain weight around your midsection, which further increases your heart disease risk.

While you cannot eliminate stress entirely, you can work to provide your body with tools to compensate for the bioelectrical short-circuiting that can cause serious disruption in many of your body's important systems. By using techniques such as Meridian Tapping, you can reprogram your body’s reactions to the unavoidable stressors of everyday life.