It’s the leading cause of death for men, women, and most ethnic and racial groups. It kills more people than all forms of cancer combined. And one person dies from it every 37 seconds. Heart disease continues to be the greatest threat to American health, and yet, our healthcare system fails to prevent this deadly disease. One way to tackle this issue is to be proactive and access your bloodwork and DNA data—insights into genetic predispositions and nutrition and lifestyle habits can help you make make critical changes for a healthy heart. Take it from these three (young) InsideTracker users, who were shocked by their blood work and made immediate changes to their diet and lifestyle in the name of heart health.
Cholesterol—healthful in moderation; deadly in excess
Before we tell their stories, let’s do a quick review of the relationship between cholesterol and heart disease. Cholesterol is a very important nutrient that helps form cell membranes and synthesize hormones and vitamins. However, it’s been well documented that high levels of cholesterol circulating in the blood contribute to the progression of heart disease. We can use three blood biomarkers of cholesterol—LDL (bad), HDL (good), and total cholesterol— along with triglycerides and inflammation as warning signs for heart disease. LDL cholesterol is potentially troublesome because of its ability to oxidize and harden inside blood vessels, which creates blockages, reduces blood flow, and can lead to blood clots.
To learn more about the relationships between the cholesterol biomarkers, check out this article: "Does Your Total Cholesterol Even Matter?
Heart disease doesn’t happen overnight though—it often takes years to develop. And unfortunately, many people don’t experience symptoms until it's too late. Understanding the warning signs early on is an effective way to prevent it later in life.
Case study 1: From high-fat to high-fiber“I felt like something was off.” Jason Jaksetic’s persistent fatigue and brain fog compelled him to learn more about his health, particularly his bloodwork. He had heard about InsideTracker through his connection with Spartan Race and decided it was time to get some answers.
“After testing with InsideTracker, I learned that my cholesterol was through the roof! My total cholesterol was 230mg/dl” (current guidelines recommend total cholesterol should be kept below 200mg/dl). He also discovered he had high levels of fat in his blood (triglycerides) and inflammation throughout his body. “My dad's friend died of a heart attack in his early forties, which was very shocking because I’m 37, so I’m not too far off.”
Jason wasn’t ready to stop there. He took InsideTracker’s DNA test and learned he was genetically predisposed for high cholesterol. “I felt like I could always eat whatever I wanted and get away with it. But after learning about my predisposition, I realized I had to make changes.” He was a competitive endurance athlete at the time, focused on a low-carb, high-fat/protein diet, but quickly realized this way of eating wasn’t suiting him. Consuming a large amount of saturated fats (mostly found in animal products) can result in elevated LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Guided by InsideTracker’s personalized recommendations, Jason ate less overall meat and more fish. Fatty fish—including salmon, mackerel, halibut, tuna, sardines, and trout—contain a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids, an unsaturated fat which improves measures of heart health such as lipid (like cholesterol and triglycerides) and inflammation levels, and reduces the overall risk of cardiovascular disease. [3-5]
Jason also began incorporating nuts into his diet, eating about a handful or two of almonds daily. Nuts— high in fiber, healthy fats, and several micronutrients—help improve biomarkers associated with heart health like inflammation.[6-9]
Lastly, given his genetic predisposition, Jason started supplementing with a plant sterol—another recommendation from InsideTracker—as an extra precaution. Plant sterols, found in many fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, are substances that prevent the body from absorbing cholesterol, thereby helping to lower blood cholesterol levels.[10-11] To date, Jason has lost over 17 pounds and has improved several of his biomarkers. He feels a sense of satisfaction and relief knowing he’s taking the necessary steps to protect himself and his heart.
Case study 2: Frustrations with primary care
Feeling frustrated with his family doctor, Chad Ebersole took matters into his own hands. His doctor had refused to order him a blood test for certain biomarkers, claiming it wasn’t necessary due to his young age of 27. “While I may be young, I care very deeply about my health and performance, so knowing what I can improve upon is important to me,” commented Chad.
He turned to InsideTracker for some guidance and was shocked to learn his inflammation was optimized but cholesterol and triglycerides were not. “I was actually surprised...I thought this was going to be the other way around.” He concluded that the high cholesterol must have been due to the lack of fiber in his diet. Fiber removes excess cholesterol from the body, preventing it from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Unfortunately, most Americans fail to eat the recommended daily requirement of fiber (25-38g), and find themselves with elevated LDL cholesterol levels. Furthermore, fiber is an important nutrient for controlling body weight as it helps to fill us up and keep us satiated after meals.
Chad followed his personalized recommendations immediately. “I’m adding avocados at least three times a week and trying wheat products recommended by InsideTracker such as kamut—it’s actually really good!” Both avocado and Kamut are nutrient-dense foods and rich in fiber. Consuming avocado also promotes heart health as it improves blood flow and reduces markers associated with heart disease.[13-15] Chad plans to retest with InsideTracker in 6-12 months and is hoping to see improvements in his cholesterol and triglycerides. As evidenced by his dietary dedication and discipline, Chad has boosted his chances of a healthy future.
Case study 3: Effects of self-supplementing
Trevor Baxter was experiencing blood flow issues, ongoing twitching in his neck, dry, itchy skin, and would often break out in rashes. “All sorts of weird things were happening,” mentioned Trevor. Physicians ran several blood tests but everything came back inconclusive—no one could pinpoint the cause of his symptoms. After hearing about InsideTracker through a podcast, he bought the Ultimate test to receive a comprehensive and digestible picture of his health. “It made sense after seeing all my bloodwork. My LDL cholesterol was high, my B12 was really high, and my iron and ferritin were also high.”
Many of these biomarkers are associated with high red meat intake. Plus, Trevor had been supplementing with vitamin B12, which skyrocketed his blood B12 levels. After seeing his results, Trevor immediately stopped the B12 vitamin and significantly reduced his meat intake. He ate more foods high in unsaturated fats, including nuts and nut butter. He also swapped his coconut oil for avocado oil—consumption of coconut oil, which is around 92% saturated fat, tends to lead to unfavorable lipid levels and can increase one’s risk for heart disease.[16-18]
“My dry skin improved, I no longer break out in rashes, my energy level is high, and I just feel better,” commented Trevor after a few months of implementing these changes. “I’ve convinced three other guys at my gym to take InsideTracker tests!” Trevor plans to test again in March and is looking forward to seeing how his blood work has reflected his dietary modifications.
The recap of prioritizing heart health in young adulthood
- Celebrate Heart Health this month by taking action. It’s never too early—or too late—to start implementing changes to your diet and lifestyle. Your heart will thank you. Here’s what you can do today:
- Test your blood for early detection of elevated levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and inflammation. Check out our blood test plans here to find one that works for you.
- If heart disease or high cholesterol runs in your family, then as an extra precaution, test your genetic predisposition for these markers. You can learn more about our DNA testing here.
- Reduce your red and processed meat intake. Instead, focus on sources of unsaturated fat such as fatty fish, avocados, and nuts.
- Focus on a high fiber diet, including foods such as oats, legumes, whole grain, and fruits and veggies.
Improve your cholesterol with our free eBook, Cholesterol-Lowering Recipes.
Diana Licalzi, MS, RDDiana is a Content Strategist and Team Nutritionist at InsideTracker. As a Registered Dietitian and self-proclaimed "biohacker," Diana enjoys researching and testing the latest trends and technology in the field of nutrition and aging. You'll often find Diana completing a 24-hour fast, conducting self experiments, or uncovering strategies to increase longevity.