My Cholesterol Isn't A Problem After All
I went to the doctor last Wednesday for a follow-up visit to check my cholesterol. Less than 24 hours later I received my results…my numbers were down. This should have been a reason to celebrate, but I couldn’t because I thought they’d be much lower…normal even.
How could I still have high cholesterol after eating a pretty strict plant-based diet for about four months? I know you’re probably reading this and going, “why would she expect a drastic change?” Well, it’s partly because I found it odd that I had high cholesterol in the first place. I eat pretty well and my other tests indicated that, as well as my HDL and triglyceride numbers. I thought maybe my quarantine binging was what triggered this and was certain that once I removed the junk and added back the things I knew I needed, I’d be good. To have that not be the case…well, I found it puzzling. And that made me decide to dig a little deeper.
What was interesting to me is that as I mentioned, my HDL (good cholesterol) was above the recommended level (this is good) and my triglycerides were way below the recommended level (this is also good), but my LDL (bad cholesterol) was way above the recommended level (not good) and my total cholesterol was above the recommended level (also not good). I found it interesting because the triglycerides part is really what tells you that you’ve been eating junk and my numbers were in line with how I eat. Also, as I stared closer I realized that while the HDL and triglycerides were the true test result numbers, the total cholesterol and LDL were determined by a calculation.
Hmmm…so the numbers that are actually tested were better than normal, but the calculated numbers indicated that I was at risk. That’s odd, no? Maybe the calculation is wrong?
And with that hypothesis, I started digging.
Very quickly, I came across a medical study from 2001 that showed that low triglyceride levels affected the calculation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol values.* Then I found another** from 2008.
I also found a response from a heart doctor where a patient with pretty similar numbers to my own inquired the same thing. The doctor explained that there were two different types of LDL and added that “people with high good cholesterol levels (60 mg/dL or more) and low levels of triglycerides (less than 100 mg/dL) may actually be at a lower risk for heart disease than people with normal cholesterol levels who have lower levels of good cholesterol and higher levels of bad cholesterol.”
While I was thrilled to find this scientific information that proved my theory, I couldn’t help but be deeply bothered that my doctor didn’t mention or have this information. She was very close to prescribing me with medication even though all of my other blood work and vital signs were great. When I brought this information to her office’s attention, they mentioned that there was another test that could test my LDL and total cholesterol directly, but they offered no indication that they knew about these studies or that they cared.
If I wasn’t studying nutrition and didn’t get a thorough understanding of how food affects the body as well as the shortcomings of the medical system, I don’t know if this would have looked into this. This makes me very concerned that there are other people that could be taking medication unnecessarily, not just for this, but for other things. I already knew that people were unnecessarily given medication for things that could be treated with a change in diet, but it never dawned on me that the tests could also be wrong.
While I find this all deeply troubling, I don’t regret the experience because it was still the catalyst for me reaching out to my biological father and that healing was very necessary for my growth. I also needed to clean up my diet because and address my insulin resistance (another story for another day).
This also gives me a chance to tell you this:
Don’t be afraid to be your own advocate when dealing with your health. Ask questions when you don’t understand something. If something isn’t sitting right with you, get a second opinion. Don’t assume that doctors know everything.
*Teh Y. Wang, PhD; Michel Haddad, MD; Thomas S. Wang, PE. Low Triglyceride Levels Affect Calculation of Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Values
**Seyed-Ali Ahmadi 1, Mohammad-Ali Boroumand, Katayoun Gohari-Moghaddam, Parvin Tajik, Seyed-Mohammad Dibaj. The impact of low serum triglyceride on LDL-cholesterol estimation.
***J Jeppesen 1, H O Hein, P Suadicani, F Gyntelberg. Low triglycerides-high high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and risk of ischemic heart disease.