For many years, I've had cholesterol readings around or above 200, which is the number that most will say is the threshold that crosses you into the ‘danger zone'.
It's something that bothers me, but it's not my top priority.
I've had two reports run in the last six months, one for an annual physical and the other for a life insurance qualification test. Here are the general results.
November 2013: 219
January 2014: 213
Suggested Range: 70-199
LDL (aka the ‘bad' type)
November 2013: 162
January 2014: 156
Suggested Range: 50-129
HDL (aka the ‘good' type)
November 2013: 43January 2014: 45
Suggested Range: 40-90
Triglycerides (the ‘plaque' enabler)November 2013: 66
January 2014: 58
Suggested Range: 30-149
So, looking at these, here are the takeaways:
- My cholesterol is above 200. Not good.
- My LDL levels, the ‘bad' stuff, is above the recommended threshold. Also not good.
- My HDL levels are within acceptable range. This is good.
- My triglycerides are on the low end of the range. This is very good.
Now cholesterol is often associated with heart disease. There is a correlation between higher cholesterol and plaque formation in arteries.
But here are some interesting things:
- Triglycerides are thought to be the enablers to let plaque start forming on the walls of arteries. My interpretation, after reading through a lot of medical studies, is that it sort of acts like glue. The higher triglyceride levels will lead to more opportunity for plaque formation, which leads to heart attacks and strokes. But, if you have less triglycerides, there is less ‘glue'
- Triglycerides also play a role in how bad the LDL is for you. High LDL and high triglycerides tend to mean that the LDL particles are smaller in size and greater in number. In non-scientific speak, this basically means that you've got lots and lots of these ‘bad' things going around. Since triglyceride levels are higher, you have more glue, so even though the LDL particle are small, they start getting stuck. This equates to plaque buildup, which leads to greater chances of heart disease.
- However, low levels of triglycerides not only provide less ‘glue', but for some reason it means that the LDL particles themselves tend to be bigger. So, you have a lot less LDL particles, but they happen to be bigger.
- What does this mean? Essentially, I have less ‘glue', there are less overall particles to stick to the glue, and the particles are big enough that they tend not to stick.
The bottom line, my cholesterol readings indicate that while I have a high level of LDL, which is leading to a higher than normal overall reading, it does not tend to put me at risk of increased heart disease. Simply put, the LDL itself isn't bad, it's when it forms plaque that it turns bad, and my readings seem to show that the LDL is not plaque forming.
It's Not Just Me
You might think that I'm grasping at straws, but my life insurance company doesn't think so. They got my readings, and still qualified me for the ‘best health' plan. Now, from what I've read about the life insurance industry, they tend to be a pretty conservative bunch. They don't take a lot of chances. So, if there was any risk that my numbers were of greater than average concern, they certainly would have called me and told me that I didn't qualify for the best rates.
So, I have some validation.
I Do Have A Plan
This doesn't mean that I'm unconcerned. I am. I would love to cross below the 200 mark and stay there, both with the LDL and the overall number (though I realized they are 100% correlated in my case). I plan to get tested regularly. If my triglyceride levels do start rising with the other numbers staying the same, I would start getting very concerned.
But, staying watchful is good. Exercising is good. Eating more nuts and more fish is good. Eating less margarine and fats is good. These are things I've slowly incorporated and will continue.
What I won't do right now is consider any type of medication. The medical profession used to recommend various medications as a matter of course. They've recently started revising this, with the understanding that not all levels above 200 come out to the same level of risk and the same health issues. I've spoken with my doctor and he agrees: Monitor but don't treat. The drugs that they prescribe often work, but just like any medication, there are risks of side effects. I'm of the personal opinion that I don't want to take on the risk of side effects unless I'm certain that it's worth the risk.
From everything I know, I'm not there. My doctor's not there. I hope I never am.