Thursday, July 5, 2012

I Have High Cholesterol and I Don't Care

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you may know that I love to talk about cholesterol.  You know about my many blog posts on the falsity of the lipid hypothesis, the idea that high cholesterol causes heart disease.  It's been by far the most covered topic on my blog (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10).  It's always been a major topic of interest to me, because I feel so strongly that people are being misled when it comes to cholesterol.  It's my view that high cholesterol (recognized by most doctors as higher than 200 mg/dl) is completely overrated as a risk factor for heart disease, and that cholesterol-lowering drugs are unnecessary/useless/potentially harmful for 95% of the population.  Everyone is always so damn worried about their cholesterol, and they don't need to be.  So I'm "that guy".  I'm the guy who scoffs at doctors when they prescribe statin drugs for women with cholesterol levels of 210.  I'm the guy who shakes his head when an otherwise healthy person returns from the doctor's office upset about having high cholesterol.  And I'm DEFINITELY the guy who laughs when you start eating egg white omelets every morning to fix it.  That's just hilarious in so many ways.

What in holy hell...

Now it's one thing to challenge the mainstream ideas on blood lipids; anybody can read books and come up with a take on it.  But it's a totally different animal when you find out that YOU have high cholesterol... very high.

According to my first blood lipid panel, my cholesterol was 408 mg/dl.  Said my doctor, "People with cholesterol this high are the ones who have heart attacks in their 30s."  Suddenly I began to question my beliefs... What if conventional medicine has been right all along?  What if cholesterol really is a killer?  Will it kill me?  Am I eating too much fat?  Do I need to take Lipitor?  But most of all, am I really prepared to disregard all of the conventional wisdom on cholesterol and heart disease when it's my life at stake?  As you can see, it's a little more difficult to keep being "that guy" when I'm the one with high cholesterol; and not just high... super high.

Well, fortunately it's come down quite a bit since then; 287 mg/dl at most recent measurement.  Still a bit high compared to the average person, but high cholesterol runs in my family, so there's not a whole lot I can do outside of taking statins.  We all know that's not gonna happen.  And although high cholesterol runs in my family, heart disease does not.  Yes, do a double take.  Cholesterol and heart disease are not inextricably linked. Anyway, here's the breakdown of my three blood lipid tests...


I've highlighted the out of range labs in red, and the good ones in green.  As you can see, my total cholesterol and LDL came down significantly from the first test.  But there's more to a blood lipid profile, and by every other marker I'm at low risk.  Actually, every other measurement is immaculate.  HDL is very high, triglycerides are very low, total:HDL ratio is perfect, my LDL particles are large and buoyant, and my CRP (measure of inflammation) is almost zero. 


Why did my cholesterol come down 121 points?

First test
At the time of my first test, I had been eating very low-carb paleo; less than 100 carbs a day.  I was eating lots of vegetables and meat, especially fatty conventional meat from Stew Leonard's... I'll admit, not the best option.  I ate very little dairy and grains at that time.  Roughly 60% fat, 25% protein, 15% carbs.

Second test
My diet had not changed that significantly from the first to the second test, in which my total and LDL dropped dramatically.  I began to increase my carb intake a little, and I cut back on the conventional fatty meat for sure.  I ate more full-fat dairy and eggs, as well as some rice and potatoes.  The macronutrient ratios likely didn't differ much from that of the first test:  55% fat, 25% protein, 20% carbs.

Third test
I would say my diet has changed more from the second to the third test than from the first to the second.  I now eat significantly more gluten-free grains like rice and corn, as well as potatoes.  I still eat around 4 eggs each day and drink whole milk regularly.  But of course, meat, vegetables, and fruits are still a major part of my diet.  Oh, and grass-fed butter.  What would I ever do without you.  I would estimate my diet at about 40% fat, 25% protein, 35% carbs. 

So what accounts for the huge drop in total and LDL cholesterol?  Well, I think that first test was a bit of an aberration.  I don't have any data before that, but I would guess that it hasn't always been as high as 408.  My super-high cholesterol was a likely result of just starting a low-carb, high-fat diet.  It is well documented that high-fat diets can increase blood cholesterol in the short-term.  In the long-term though, cholesterol returns to normal levels.  I discussed this here.  This is exactly what happened in my second test, where the fat content of my diet had only minimally changed but my cholesterol dropped 100 points.  It's also possible that I just don't do well on a super-low-carb diet.  Who knows.

Could I lower my cholesterol further if I adopted a low-fat, plant-based diet?
Yes, I'm sure I could.  But why would I?  Cholesterol isn't the end-all-be-all when it comes to overall mortality... actually it pretty much sucks as a predictor of heart disease too.  Take this statistic for example... about 50% of those hospitalized with heart attacks have normal total cholesterol levels.  50%!! (proof)  Why don't we just base our heart disease risk on a coin flip!?  We need to take into account HDL, LDL particle size, triglycerides, and CRP... total cholesterol on its own is pretty useless.  And it's probably the grass-fed dairy/meat and egg yolks that are keeping my HDL high, so no vegetarian for me thanks. 


Bottom line... I've done some pretty extensive research on this topic ever since I got my cholesterol scare, and I've come to a few conclusions.  
1.  If my cholesterol stayed over 400 I'd be concerned... that would indeed be a problem and could be indicative of familial hypercholesterolemia.  Total cholesterol isn't a great predictor of heart disease, but when it's this high, there could be a real issue.  These people really can have heart attacks in their 30s, and they benefit tremendously from statins, as much as it pains me to say it.
2.  Having a total cholesterol around 287 may or may not be an issue; it depends on HDL, LDL, triglycerides, and other markers of health.  If I were a fat, diabetic, out-of-shape loaf with a 287, low HDL, and high triglycerides, then there would be something to worry about.  However, I'm in great shape, have fantastic HDL, triglycerides, and CRP, and have no blood sugar issues.  I'm not worried.
3.  Rather than waste my time and energy worrying about my cholesterol, I plan on getting periodic heart scans to find my calcium score, which is a direct measure of how much plaque I have built up in my arteries.  Why concern myself with shitty risk factors when I can measure my risk directly?

So I have high cholesterol and I don't care.  It's time to get out of the dark ages; we've got bigger things to worry about than total cholesterol.  Tell all your friends.

23 comments:

  1. I LOVE this! The fact that high cholesterol runs in your family but heart disease doesn't is not a surprise. You are a great example of the science behind all of this cholesterol business. I do not even know where they came up with the range for cholesterol.

    I am glad to see that your LDL particles are large. The small ones are what cause heart attacks and now you don't have to worry about that.. not that you ever really did but I can imagine seeing your first labs must have surprised you. I think people freak out over cholesterol wayy too much. And most don't even know what any of it means.

    Another great blog post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you had to guess...

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      Find out here: How To lower cholesterol?

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      Delete
  2. You got yourself a new follower!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I get ldl apheresis every two weeks- hate it but can't take the meds. I now have aortic and carotid stenosis which is being 'watched' - I am now 68 years old and pretty nervous. Gotta do something - so i am interested in your blog - you now have another new follower!

      Delete
  3. Hey Burn, just found your post via Google.

    FYI I have total cholesterol in the 450 range. My HDL wasn't quite as good as yours, just below 60.

    I don't understand your reasoning as to why you wanted to lower your total cholesterol to below 400. Do you believe you would be unhealthy if you continued on the diet you were on that lead to levels of above 400? You don't have familial hypercholesterolemia so I don't understand why you bring it up in relation to yourself.

    Interested in your reasoning as my levels are a bit higher than yours were.

    ReplyDelete
  4. wow burn. you are the best. High Cholesterol can be cure by dieting. You are on the right way.

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  5. I am a 52 year old woman who has had high cholesterol for years. I took a statin drugs just once and it nearly debilitated me. I was so lame I couldn't walk. I thought I was just getting old and was developing arthritis or something. I went to see a Physician who was open minded about natural methods of healing and she told me to cease and desist the statin drug immediately. She said it was poisoning me! Two weeks later I was back to my old self. My current Physician knows better than to even suggest statin drugs for me. I refuse to do it! My cholesterol consistently runs around 250 and my triglycerides are around 280, yet my "good" cholesterol is pretty much normal. HUH? Pretty confusing if you ask me. My mom is 80 years old, healthy as a horse and has had cholesterol in the 300s for years. I feel just like you Burn, I have high cholesterol and I don't care! It is nice to read your post and have an affirmation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awesome, thanks for sharing! It's always good to hear about others who are healthy with high cholesterol.

      In terms of women, specifically, you'll be interested to read these other posts I've written:
      http://thehealthycow.blogspot.com/2011/11/new-study-low-cholesterol-more-deadly.html
      http://thehealthycow.blogspot.com/2011/07/do-cholesterol-lowing-drugs-save-lives.html

      It appears that high cholesterol is especially benign for women. Maybe someone should tell the medical establishment?

      Thanks for reading!

      Delete
    2. The studies never applied to women or older people. Only a very few young men. And the studies were very biased and flawed. IOWS, they mean diddly!

      Delete
    3. half the Alzheimer's cases are caused by Statin Drugs. I personally know of a person who was given the drugs and his memory got severely affected. The doctor argued. But, it became very apparent, and he was takenn off the drug, but it didn't do any good at that point. He died in his mid 50's.
      Every hear of the American Astronaut, Dr. Duane Graveline? The statins almost did him in, too. He has a website: www.spacedoc.com
      Also, there is a site called "The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics" www.THINCS.org
      where you can get the truth from independent researchers.

      Delete
  6. Boy, am I glad I found this blog!
    My cholesterol has been high all my life! Only 40 years ago, it wasn't considered high! They keep lowering the numbers so they get everyone on drugs! I'm older now, and 3 years ago mine was 351, and I don't care, either! If if was a terminal disease, then why ain't I dead after 40 some years! It's all based on poor science, and on about 5 trials put on by the drug companies. Never mind the dozen or more independent trials that claim cholesterol has nothing at all to do with heart disease! This is going to be the biggest embarrassment to the medical profession in their history, once the truth comes out! We have been hood-winked!
    I wrote to Uffe Ravanskov, doctor, scientist, and auther of "The Cholesterol Myths", and he wrote back, congratulating me on my high cholesterol! He said that everyone knows that the higher your cholesterol the longer you live and the less you die from all causes!
    What a joke they've played on us. And what a cash cow!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thank you. My Doc called me today to tell me my cholesterol is 278 and I about sh*t a brick. I'm in excellent health otherwise (not overweight and exercise a lot) so I was stumped. He said my LDL is about 18 points too high but I don't know how bad that really is...he said he wants to re-test again in 3 months.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I got the same call today - 278 - adjust diet and wait 3 months. She also wants to put me on thyroid meds. I'm currently taking BRHT for perimenopause and feel most of my physical symptoms are due to my changing hormones. What a trip!

      Delete
  8. My doc told me that before menopause estrogen protects women - but now i am way past menopause - and no statins for me!

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  9. Low grade systemic inflammation certainly has a place in the development of coronary heart disease. However, heart disease is multifactorial and inflammation does not exclude other factors. Poor cholesterol ratios (TC/HDL) is still a risk factor. And there are others: cholesterol oxidation, insulin resistance, free radicals, lack of omega-3 fatty acids (increases the risk of arrhythmias and thrombosis), endothelial dysfunction, vascular and aortic calcification etc.
    generic zetia

    ReplyDelete
  10. Nice post. I'm a firm believer that cholesterol can be controlled by food. I lowered mine from 260 to 180 in less than a month without changing my diet other than eating two bars a day from steponefoods.com

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  11. maggie.danhakl@healthline.comSeptember 30, 2014 at 1:57 PM

    Hi Brendan,

    I hope all is well with you. Healthline just published an infographic detailing the effects of high cholesterolon the body. This is an interactive chart allowing the reader to pick the side effect they want to learn more about.

    You can see the overview of the report here: http://www.healthline.com/health/cholesterol/effects-on-body

    Our users have found our guide very useful and I thought it would be a great resource for your page: http://thehealthycow.blogspot.com/2012/07/i-have-high-cholesterol-and-i-dont-care.html

    I would appreciate it if you could review our request and consider adding this visual representation of the effects of high cholesterol to your site or sharing it on your social media feeds.

    Please let me know if you have any questions.

    All the best,
    Maggie Danhakl • Assistant Marketing Manager

    Healthline • The Power of Intelligent Health
    660 Third Street, San Francisco, CA 94107
    www.healthline.com | @Healthline | @HealthlineCorp

    About Us: corp.healthline.com

    ReplyDelete
  12. Nicole.lascurain@healthline.comOctober 24, 2015 at 5:10 PM

    Hi Brendan,

    First off, I came across your site and wanted to say thanks for providing a great heart-healthy resource to the community.

    I thought you might find this article helpful to your readers who are trying to lower their cholesterol, as it shows photos of what 100% of your daily value of cholesterol looks like. It’s quite shocking! http://www.healthline.com/health/high-cholesterol/daily-value

    Naturally, I’d be delighted if you share this article on http://thehealthycow.blogspot.com/2012/07/i-have-high-cholesterol-and-i-dont-care.html , and/or share it with your followers on social to help them make better food choices. Either way, keep up the great work Brendan!

    All the best,

    Nicole Lascurain | Assistant Marketing Manager
    p: 415-281-3100 | e: nicole.lascurain@healthline.com

    Healthline
    660 Third Street, San Francisco, CA 94107
    www.healthline.com | @Healthline

    ReplyDelete
  13. Bad Cholesterol mainly affects the brain functioning.
    Refer http://astermedcity.com/blog/Readmore/how-does-bad-cholesterol-affect-brain-function/30860

    ReplyDelete
  14. thanks to this burn you helped me stop worrying about my high cholesterole level

    ReplyDelete