Blood Work

So the number one killer of firefighters in the US is still Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)… CVD has been the leading cause of death by a huge margin for quite while and recently the 2010 NIOSH report on Line of Duty Deaths (LODD), a document that thoroughly reviews a few specific LODDs, has two CVD related cases in it; both firefighters died from massive heart attacks one on the treadmill during an annual physical and another in working fire. In the “preventative measures” section of each article it lists “screening for CVD” and “annual physical fitness evaluations” as primary steps for the department to take in an effort to reduce LODD from CVD related causes. So what does CVD screening mean? A good place to start is blood work; not just any panel of tests will do though, for any of the information to be relevant a few parameters must be on place.

Here is what to ask your Doc for and why:

  • Total Cholesterol
  • HDL
  • LDL
  • LDL particle size
  • Triglycerides
  • Glucose
  • C-reactive protein

Total cholesterol:  At this point I’m sure everyone has heard of cholesterol; a measure of the total compilation of blood lipids and proteins that escort fats and cholesterol around the body via the blood. Total cholesterol includes high-density lipoprotein (HDL), Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and Very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL). Because of the broad range of particles in this measurement “total cholesterol”, as a marker of health, only tells part of the story; as humans, the norm is 120-140mg/dl.

HDL: This is the “good” cholesterol, if you want to assign labels, and it is responsible for “scrubbing” the arteries and transporting unused fats back to the liver for processing. It is affected by several things including genetics and exercise but like all things it is wildly influenced by diet. For HDL you should shoot for a number over 50mg/dl.

LDL: If you ask anyone on the street they will tell you that these are “bad” cholesterol and they cause plaque build up and heart disease, naturally it is more complicated than that. LDL do the opposite of HDL in that they transport fats from the liver out into the body via the blood stream; where it gets sticky is that there are several types of LDL. There are the normal large-puffy LDL (type or pattern A), small-dense LDL (type or pattern B), and the aptly name “intermediate” particles for everything in between. Generally type A LDL is considered innocuous, it is large and puffy and bounces around the arteries with very little chance of becoming stuck. Type B on the other hand is considered atherogenic because it tends to lodge in the arterial walls and is responsible in part for plaque build up. Historically blood levels of LDL have been between 40-70mg/dl however the real emphasis should probably be on particle size not the total number. People who have predominately type A LDL are at much lower risk of CVD than those with predominantly type B LDL. To recap; total should be 40-70mg/dl but the type, A or B,  is much more important.

Triglycerides: These are a measure of circulating blood fat; contrary to popular belief  they are not elevated by a high-fat diet, in fact quite the opposite is true. Elevated triglyceride levels are a clear indication of the bodies intolerance to or inability to effectively metabolize dietary carbohydrate, which when deemed excess by the liver is globbed together in groups of three and released into the blood. B Shift Breakdown: insulin resistance or high carb in take = high triglycerides… Our ancestors had triglycerides on the 50-80mg/dl range and generally anything under 100 is considered safe from a CVD perspective. That being said strength athletes (highly insulin sensitive) and those following a paleoish diet can routinely be in the 30-40 range which is awesome. If you are a drinker this is something to watch out for as alcohol can really jack with your triglyceride levels.

Robb Wolf’s Rule for Boozing: Drink enough to optimize your sex life, not so much that it impacts your blood lipids.

C-reactive protein (CRP): Long story short, this is a marker of systemic inflammation. CRP is a by-product of immune cell activity and indicates a response that could be totally normal or an indicator of health problems. CRP can and should be elevated any time the immune system is battling an infection of any kind. But what happens if your CRP is elevated and you don’t have any obvious infection?  It could mean that your body is fighting a hidden battle in places like your gums and gut lining, CVD is linked very closely with gingivitis. Healthy levels of CRP are below 1.0mg/l.

There are several ways to get your blood work done, one of course is to ask for it during a check up with your Doc another is to send away for a kit online. Whichever you choose be sure that you get it done and if your numbers are not what they should be please look to your diet before you start taking any medication.





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