In one of those strange timing events, just as I pushed the red start button on my iced tea maker the phone rang. I jumped. Of course I know the iced tea maker doesnâ€™t ring, but geez, that was weird.
The call was from my doctorâ€™s nurse, Kelly. She cheerfully gave me the results of my blood tests from last week, and made it clear she would take the time to answer any questions. I love good customer service and appreciated her attitude, and yet I felt she was more of a conduit delivering information as opposed to one who had the answers. As a result I listened, made mental notes of things I wanted to check out on my own, and thanked her for the call.
Iâ€™ll skip over most of the details because in general all is well, but hereâ€™s one piece I wanted to share with other womenâ€¦my cholesterol numbers were up.Â When Kelly gave me that bit of information she didnâ€™t break the cholesterol number into HDL (the good stuff), and LDL (the bad stuff).Â She just said that it was up about twenty points from last year.
She then went on to say my estrogen and progesterone were within normal levels, but on the very low end of normal. It was up to me if I wanted to have the doctor tweak the prescription, however, she would prefer I leave things as they are.Â I little bell went off in my head.
After the call I headed to the computer to do some research. My first stop was Dr. David Williams website– http://www.drdavidwilliams.com.
(I would suggest checking out his website for more details on cholesterol. Go to the â€œView/ Health topicsâ€ tab on his homepage. Â Under that, I like to go to the â€œTopics from A-Zâ€ link.)
Iâ€™ve been taking his newsletter for years and always find Dr. Williamsâ€™ work interesting and honest.Â I pulled up his articles on foods that help lower and maintain good cholesterol, and a few other of his observations which I have included here â€”
Foods that help maintain a good cholesterol level:
- Fish and Fish Oil, Flaxseed
Supplements that aid in maintaining/lowering cholesterol levels:
- Coenzyme Q10
- Vitamin C
- Citrus Pectin
- Red Yeast Rice
- Chromium (Brewerâ€™s Yeast)
Determining what a normal blood cholesterol level is may seem easy, but itâ€™s not as simple as you would think. There are several different types of cholesterol to consider, and experts keep changing what they consider the ideal levels to be.
A prime example was when our National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in 2004 suggested that anyone with LDL cholesterol of more than 100 mg/dL needed to be treated, replacing the previous recommendation of 130 mg/dL. The American Heart Association quickly agreed, and millions of otherwise healthy individuals in this country were instantly â€œat riskâ€â€”and candidates for cholesterol-lowering prescription medication.
The Truth About Cholesterol Guidelines
Cholesterol ratios can be helpful (e.g., the amount of HDL cholesterol as compared to the amount of total cholesterol) in determining risk, but the truth is that no one knows the best cholesterol levels for optimal health. This is one of the reasons why itâ€™s far more helpful to focus on the known causes of heart disease than on hitting a specific cholesterol number.
If your cholesterol level is in the 300s or higher, you should certainly address it. The more total cholesterol you have, the more there is to become oxidized and collect in your arteries. Levels at or around 200 or so shouldnâ€™t cause you concern, though. A healthy diet and adequate physical activity will keep your blood lipid levels in the normal range.
A Special Note to Women About Cholesterol Testing
You probably donâ€™t know about this, but it may significantly affect the outcome of your next cholesterol test.
Researchers have found that a womanâ€™s cholesterol level can vary as much as 20 percent depending on what phase of her menstrual cycle she is in. In a study of healthy, regularly menstruating women ages 18â€“44,Â HDL cholesterol levels increased and total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides dropped when estrogen levels were rising. The effect peaked and then went the other way at ovulation.
Test results for one-fifth of the women in the study exceeded the â€œdesirableâ€ cholesterol levels at least once. It makes you wonder just how many women are taking cholesterol medication based on misleading results.
That was interesting. But I wanted more because I had a hunch my falling estrogen due to menopause was playing a role in my rising cholesterol. I then went to Everyday Health and read an article about menopause and cholesterol.
As it turns out, there has been a proven link between estrogen loss and higher cholesterol. And, unfortunately, at this point no one has figured out why the LDL stays high and the HDL stays low after the post-menopausal transition.
My inner-skeptic wanted to know who had funded the studies because the majority of the sites I checked suggested going on medication if the numbers were high. Dr. Williams, however, does NOT suggest that route. Here are a few of his comments:
â€œThe only “easy” way to reduce cholesterol levels is to correct the problem, which is our diet. The “easy” way is not to treat the symptoms (cholesterol build-up).
Drugs force an action on the body that is sometimes necessary, but in this case you’re playing with a time bomb. One thing that happens with cholesterol-lowering drugs is that they stop the chain of reactions that enable the body produce cholesterol. As a result, it stops one step short and forms desmosterol instead. Therefore, you don’t have cholesterol, but this demosterol build-upâ€”and it can cause cataracts in the eyes!
When you avoid the true cause of a problemâ€”and just concentrate on treating the symptomsâ€”you will end up chasing symptom after symptom for the rest of your life. Don’t burn down the barn to get rid of the rats!â€
While I agree completely, that leaves me still wondering how to proceed. Â My doctor suggested I exercise more and eat less fat in my diet. Well, I already get plenty of exercise, both by using weights and in aerobic forms.Â I also disagree with eliminating fats from oneâ€™s diets. Bad fats, yes, all fats, no. I use olive oil, butter, coconut oil, and eat fatty fish like salmon and char. (Sardines are also excellent, but I just havenâ€™t convinced my taste buds to love those little guys.)
The irritating thing is that I was praised for my healthy lifestyle while talking to the doctor (remember my gold star?), and then when the blood results came back I wasnâ€™t doing so good. Whaa???
Have any of you found that your cholesterol levels rose around menopause? If so, what did you do? Please share your story so we can all learn.
For now I am not going to stress about this. I understand my body is undergoing a huge transformation and I need to support it rather than bombard it with fear tactics. Iâ€™ll keep checking the research, questioning the funding behind the research, and make decisions based on what is right for my body. Iâ€™ll keep you posted!
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