Celebrity fitness trainer Bob Harper of The Biggest Loser seemingly enjoyed perfect health. He ate right, exercised every day, and passed his physical exams with flying colors.
On TV, he looked indestructible.
But last year, at age 52, Harper suffered a massive heart attack. He went into cardiac arrest while working out at a New York City gym.
“My heart stopped,” he said. “Not to be dramatic, but I was dead. I was on that ground dead.”1
If a bystander hadn’t given him immediate CPR, he believes he would have been a goner.2
Bob woke up two days later in the hospital feeling lucky to be alive. But he had the same question that his fans did: How could he have a heart attack? After all, he seemed as healthy as a man could be.
What Stopped Bob Harper’s Heart?
Tests revealed Bob had dangerously high levels of a little-known risk factor. It’s called lipoprotein (a) or Lp(a). He had no way of knowing this prior to his heart attack because it isn’t measured during routine exams.3
Lp(a) particles are large, fatty, and “sticky.” They accelerate plaque formation in arteries. They also promote blood clots. People with high levels have a tripled risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke at an early age.
You can have high Lp(a) even if you’re in great shape and your lifestyle habits are impeccable.4
The culprit is heredity. About one in five Americans—that’s 63 million people—unknowingly have inherited high Lp(a).5
Most doctors don’t even know about Lp(a), much less test their patients for it.
Dr. Henry N. Ginsberg of Columbia University is a leading expert on Lp(a). “People don’t know about it. Physicians don’t know about it,” he said. “We have to get an education program out there.”
An estimated 120,000 heart attacks and strokes in the U.S. are caused by elevated Lp(a) each year, according to the Lipoprotein(a) Foundation.
Mainstream medicine lags far behind the research when it comes to Lp(a). The American Heart Association does not recommend that people get an Lp(a) test. So insurance companies generally don’t cover it. But it’s well worth the $50 or so that it costs.6
The next time you have a checkup, ask your doctor to add an Lp(a) test to your blood panel.7
A reading of 60 mg/dL can indicate higher heart disease risk. Levels between 150 and 300 are very dangerous. “Those people can be disasters in terms of cardiovascular risk,” Dr. Ginsburg said.
Natural Ways to Lower Lp(a)
There are no approved medications for high Lp(a). But integrative cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra recommends three natural solutions:8
- A quality fish oil supplement. Take 1 mg a day.
- The enzyme supplement nattokinase. Take 50 mg twice a day.
- A niacin supplement. Start with 100 mg a day and gradually increase until you take 2 grams a day.
Ginkgo biloba supplements—best known for brain health—also have been reported to reduce Lp(a).9
Since his brush with death, Bob Harper is focusing less on being a workout warrior and more about controlling the risk factor he never knew he had.
“Being healthy is not about what you can do in the gym,” he said. “It’s what’s going on in the inside.”
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