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Key Heart Tests

Heart Health should be the most important health focus for anyone over 40, as this is the one condition that has the greatest impact on shortening the lives of Americans. 

A new study, presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions conference in 2018, found that testing a patient’s coronary calcium levels is a better predictor of blocked coronary arteries at risk for a heart attack and the need for revascularization than standard risk-assessment equations used in medical practice today. Those equations use factors like cholesterol levels, family history, age, gender, etc. 

“With coronary calcium, we’re looking at a marker indicating the actual presence of anatomic disease—we’re not just looking at probabilities of disease based on a patient’s standard risk factors,” said Jeffrey L. Anderson, MD, a cardiologist and cardiovascular researcher at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City. “The risk factors are worth knowing, but they don’t tell whether or not you actually have the disease.”

Cardiovascular disease remains the greatest cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States. Two-thirds of Americans with cardiovascular disease come from the very large, and what’s traditionally been considered the low-risk portion of the population based on standard risk factors, which means a lot of at-risk people are missed during screenings.

One great aspect of Heart Health is that with the proper steps taken, you can dramatically reduce your risk of ever dying from a heart attack.  This is the number one killer in America and it is Very Avoidable. It’sextremely frustrating, and sad, that all too frequently I hear of someone who has died of a sudden heart attack at much too early of an age.  Especially when I know that it could have been prevented if they had done the tests I recommend and followed the necessary steps that were indicated based on their results. These steps are usually simple, yet critical, and provide a wide range of other health benefits. 

Unfortunately, many doctors (and patients), think cholesterol testing and a treadmill stress test are the most important heart tests.  Let me make this perfectly clear, neither is!  The first test I recommend is far superior for detecting atherosclerosis, while the second test is critical for accurately determining your risk of Sudden Cardiac Death.

The other great news about these tests is they are reasonably priced for the value they provide.  The Heart Scan in Santa Barbara is only $150, the lowest price I know of in the U.S., and the Brainspan test, which includes theOmega-3 Index test, is now only $125. Come on in and we can get you set up for both, or either one.  By the way, both of these tests are very simple processes.  

Why the Heart Scan is so Important

I have been studying this test and using it with patients for over 13 years now and I strongly recommend the Heart Scan test for all men over 40 and all women over 45. Make that 5 years earlier if there is a significant family history of heart disease or if you exercise vigorously.

I wish I had a test this good for other key areas of long term wellness! The Heart Scan test allows us to very clearly know the amount of hard plaque you have in your heart. It can determine if you don’t have any hard plaque at all (which is the case for most of my patients), if you do have hard plaque, and therefore are at risk, how great that risk is, and over time if your plaque is increasing at a fast rate, average rate, slow rate, not increasing or actually reversing. Since plaque build up and/or rupture are what cause the vast majority of heart attacks, this test provides the clearest picture of your risk of heart attack now and in the future. It clearly shows if you have any calcified plaque at all in your coronary arteries and if so, exactly how much, in how many different spots and exactly which areas of the arteries.

Cholesterol tests are relatively insignificant compared to this test, as someone can have perfectly great cholesterol levels and still have calcification; conversely, someone can have terrible cholesterol numbers and have totally clear arteries. I have seen this in my patients, and all doctors who have used the Heart Scan with any frequency have seen the same.

Another test that cardiologists rely heavily on is the stress test. This test usually picks up decreased blood flow in the arteries of your heart, after it has reached at least 70% blockage! I have even seen patients with blockage greater than 70% who passed the stress test. When you fail the stress test you are ready for surgery! Fail it and they are scheduling you for a stent, bypass surgery or one of their other surgical options.

If you have a zero calcium score on the Heart Scan, which most of my patients have, plus an excellent result on your Omega 3 Index Test, then your risk of a heart attack today or in the near future is practically non-existent! A zero score means you have no hard plaque in the arteries of your heart. That’s great news!

If you have a score greater than zero, then we know we need to take extra steps. This can include a lifestyle and nutritional plan to at least slow down if not stop the plaque from progressing, retesting in 1 – 2 years depending upon your score, and in some cases a referral to a cardiologist to find out if the blood flow to your heart is dangerously low. If you have a score greater than zero, future tests will clarify if the lifestyle and nutritional plan is effective at slowing, stopping or reversing your plaque. We’ve had very good results in this area with a high percentage of patients who follow the plan.

This is a condition that, if it exists, we want to know about immediately. I have seen 3 non-patients this year after they had a heart attack, and all of these heart attacks could have been avoided if they had had this test before. Again, if you are clear with a score of zero, we want to know that also.

There has been much misinformation regarding the amount of radiation the Heart Scan exposes you to. I have researched this a number of different times; it is a relatively low dose of radiation (full body scans are another thing). The amount of radiation falls within the same range as what we are exposed to living on planet earth for one year.

The actual test itself is quite simple and takes less than a couple of minutes. Additionally, in Santa Barbara we are very fortunate to have this test available for only $150, when the same test can cost as much as $600 or more in other areas.

If you are interested in this test, just let me know and I will write you a requisition. I then usually have the results within a day. 

By the way, I make no money for referring you for this test. If your results are zero, I call you up with the Great News. If they are other than zero, I set up an appointment with you to discuss your specific picture and what can be done to try to slow, halt or reverse your calcification process.

The Omega 3 Index
The New Champion in Testing for Cardiac Risk

In the past I have referred to the Heart Scan as the “Most Important Test.” I still promote that test and recommend it to anyone over 45 years old. 

However, the Omega-3 Index take-home test has become the new “Most Important Test,” with the Heart Scan moving into second place. Both of these tests are far more important than cholesterol testing. They are important for different reasons, as they each measure very different markers of cardiovascular risk.

Your Omega-3 Index is the most important number relative to your risk for Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD). This is the type of heart attack where an individual frequently dies within 1 – 30 minutes, usually with no time for aggressive intervention. It’s the kind of heart attack where an apparent healthy individual—possibly only in his or her 40’s or 50’s and who may even recently have passed a cardiovascular stress test with flying colors—has a heart attack out of the blue and dies. These heart attacks most commonly result from a rupture of soft plaque, causing a sudden and severe clot that dramatically blocks blood flow in the arteries of the heart. They can also be the result of a sudden, severe arrhythmia.

The Omega-3 Index has been used for years in research for many conditions related to omega-3 fatty acids, and has only recently been made available for testing with patients. There is a significant body of research clarifying the importance of this ratio relative to cardiovascular health. 

It very specifically measures all the omega-3, 6 and 9 fatty acids in your red blood cells and scores the index of your EPA/DHA compared to the rest of your omegas. Individuals with an index in the desirable range (greater than 8%) have up to a 90% decreased risk of Sudden Cardiac Death compared to individuals with a score in the undesirable range (below 4%).

Having your EPA/DHA levels in the desirable range provides protection far greater than any single medication. Some experts have concluded it offers better protection than five different heart medications would provide. This comes from a nutrient that has extremely low levels of complications and provides many other health benefits: It reduces the risk of other diseases, from age-related dementia, including Alzheimer’s, to age-related macular degeneration and numerous mental/emotional conditions. Additionally, a recent study published in JAMA indicates that a high Omega-3 Index may slow the biological aging process.

Knowing your Omega-3 Index allows me to very specifically determine if your dosage of EPA/DHA is at the level that will provide you with maximum cardiovascular protection. How much EPA/DHA it takes to bring an individual into the desirable range varies tremendously. I have seen individuals who take my lowest recommended dosage (1 gram of EPA/DHA per day) in the desirable range, and seen rare individuals who need three times that amount to reach the ideal range. 

Your Omega-3 Index cannot be predicted with certainty without analyzing your blood. There are numerous variables that influence how much EPA/DHA an individual needs: from genetics to absorption, diet, activity levels, medications, gender, weight and other lifestyle factors. Measuring the levels of omegas in your red blood cells clarifies exactly where your index falls and whether your intake is sufficient or not. 

The other nice aspect of this test is that it is a simple take home test that anyone can do. It takes about 5 minutes (most of this time is spent filling out the form) and is dropped in the mail on the same day you do the test. I usually receive your results within 3 days and usually I just call to let you know your results and how to optimize your intake of omega-3s, specifically EPA/DHA, based in this info. 

Be Smart and Order Your Omega-3 Index Test Today
If you want to take this test, just call or stop by the clinic and pick one up. You can also pick one up for any family member over 40 years old. My price for this test is $99. This is a 50% reduced cost from just a couple of years ago.  

I strongly recommend this test for all men over 40 and all women over 45. Please let me know if you have any other questions about this test. If you need more information on omega-3 fatty acids, please see the article “Omega-3’s – EPA/DHA” on my website, or call the office for that article.