Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sexy Cholesterol

My Cholesterol is sexy.

In 2008, during my RD internship, I had my cholesterol checked at the WVU health fair.  When I got the results back I was thrilled.  No risk of heart disease!  Little did I know, or so much had I forgotten, cholesterol is about much more than just heart disease.  I didn't realize my cholesterol was actually TOO low.  Sure my weight was fine, and my blood pressure was low 110/60, and I worked out religiously; but was I really "healthy?"


After starting with NW&W I learned that normal cholesterol is actually between 140-220. (140 may even be on the low side)  Ultimately, total cholesterol tells us nothing!  When I told Dar about my exceptionally low cholesterol levels, her jaw about hit the floor.  Very low cholesterol is a sign of autoimmune disease and/or cancer.  Also, women with very low cholesterol tend to die sooner than women with higher cholesterol.  YIKES!  Some endurance athletes also have very low cholesterol, but I wouldn't count my training at the time for a 1/2 marathon as high enough mileage (20-30miles/wk) to put me in that category.  However, during that year I did develop seborrheic dermatitis, to go along with my chronic dandruff.  I already had rosacea like my grandmother, and within a year would develop Reynaud's syndrome in my fingers.  All are symptoms of autoimmune diseases, and are often associated with Lupus.  again YIKES!

High cholesterol does not cause heart disease, elevated cholesterol is a symptom of inflammation.  The cause of the inflammation is what causes the heart disease.  Smoking, excess alcohol, trans fats, high blood sugar, exposure to toxic chemicals, processed carbohydrates, high blood pressure, stress.  Notice that a high fat diet isn't on the list.  Cholesterol increases with inflammation because it floats through our blood stream repairing the damage caused by those inflammation makers. Cholesterol is also used to make hormones (estrogen, testosterone, adrenals...), repair nerves, make bile for fat digestion, it is a structural component of cells, and it synthesizes vitamin D.  Hmmm....all of those sound like things I want to have happen.

Due to my diet of processed carbs and lack of protein and healthy fats, my cholesterol was too low to help repair my body.  This is part of the reason I experienced 5 stress fractures in high school, and never got my period until the age of 16.  More on that and the female athlete triad later.  I didn't have enough fat or protein in my diet to make healthy cells, or cholesterol, or hormones.  I was a train wreck and didn't even know it.  I now believe that for the past 26 years I have been lactose intolerant, and may have a mild gluten sensitivity.  Consuming low fat dairy 3x every day along with cereal, bread, and granola bars began to stimulate autoimmune reactions throughout my body.

 Now that I have been following a lower carb, higher fat/protein, whole foods diet my cholesterol is up!  You don't hear people getting excited about higher cholesterol very often do you?  But I am.  Now my body can make hormones and repair tissues.  Health is about more than weight, or exercise, or physique.  It's about how well the body functions.  My weight is the same, actually it's about 4-6 lbs less than back in 2008.  However, I'm stronger now than I was then and I'm able to recover from my workouts faster.  Today my cholesterol levels are...

LDL= 78
Trig= <45
Total/HDL= 2.18

Those are some sexy cholesterol numbers.  What I think is most amazing is the difference in my Trig/HDL ratio.  This number is typically not printed on any lab results, but it helps indicate cardiovascular disease risk.  A number less than 2 is great, but less than 1 is ideal.  Even though my LDL or "bad" cholesterol is up, there is a good chance it's made up of big fluffy Type A particles.  So all in all, my blood vessels are healthy, and so is the rest of me.


  1. I have a hard time keeping all these numbers straight. Any tips?

  2. Other than learning through repetition and experience, not really. I used to say that you want High HDL and Low LDL (but not too low). You also want your triglycerides to be less than 100, but less than 50 is optimal otherwise Terrible things might happen!

  3. Most people want to achieve high HDL while diminishing their bad cholesterol. So i was surprised when i read that you've worked so hard to increase both types of cholesterol. Now i understand why you had to do what you did and i am so happy that you are comfortable with your current level of health and fitness. This reminds me that i need a check up for cholesterol levels soon. I do not want to be ignorant about my heart health anymore. Thumbs up for writing such informative blogs.

  4. Thanks Tim! I guess it's true what they say...eggs do raise your cholesterol. :-) In a good way at least.