I got some blood results back last week, and one result was eyebrow-raising… LDL cholesterol (the so-called “bad” form of cholesterol) was high. What was weirder is the fact that historically I have had very low cholesterol, probably way too low – in the range of 120-130 total cholesterol. Now this test was showing me that my LDL is 125 (normal reference range 60-99). My total cholesterol now is 194, just below the top of the reference range of 200.
Before anyone starts worrying about me, let me say that a significantly more important marker than LDL cholesterol is the LDL to HDL ratio. If this is 4:1 or higher, some changes are probably necessary to avoid a high heart-disease risk. My HDL is 57, meaning my ratio is just over 2:1 which is about as good as it gets (although I’ve seen women with close to 1:1 ratios, which I can’t argue with).
Also included in the cholesterol reading is triglycerides, which essentially is a reading of fat cells in the blood. High triglycerides aren’t just a heart disease marker, they are also correlated with type II diabetes. In the range of 30-149, mine were 48, which is probably exactly where they should be.
So here is the question of the day, and it took me a little longer than it should have to answer it, considering I am a nutritionist and all. About 6 years ago I became a vegetarian except for fish and eggs, but about two years ago, I reintroduced poultry and beef (trying to eat the healthy, humane, and organic versions as best as I can, just as I advise clients). Prior to six years ago, I ate meat and my cholesterol was low. During the vegetarian years, my cholesterol was low. How come when I reintroduced meat, my cholesterol went up, when it never had been high before?
The answer is that now when I eat meat, I pay no attention to the fat content. I eat ground turkey and beef that is not lean, I eat the chicken skins, I eat the egg yolks (although for most people, egg yolks do not raise serum cholesterol). Because I used to focus on leaner meats, my cholesterol never rose. So now that I don’t avoid the fat, my cholesterol has risen.
Do I think that I am at risk for heart disease more so than before? Almost certainly not, because of my stellar LDL to HDL ratio, low triglycerides, and the fact that cholesterol is not the true cause of heart disease. Inflamed and oxidized LDL cholesterol are the true culprits, and the simple cholesterol numbers don’t tell this story. Other important risk markers are CRP (C-Reactive Protein, a whole body inflammation marker), and homocysteine, which can be controlled with vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid.
Additionally, many people don’t know that cholesterol is the precursor to pregnenolone, which itself is the precursor to most hormones in the body. A low cholesterol level, as I had before, was probably a hindrance for the entire hormonal cascade.
Will I lower animal fats now, knowing my LDL is high? I think I will just a little bit, to bring them to the top of the range rather than above it. However, I don’t even think this is necessary for any reduction in heart disease risk, provided I stay away from the three real main causes of heart disease:
1. Processed foods
2. Trans Fats / Deep Fried Foods
3. Sugars and White/Refined Grains