I had a bit of a nasty surprise this week.
On Tuesday, I went to the doctor’s office to have my routine thyroid check done and my prescription renewed. Usually I just have some blood drawn to measure my TSH, but because it’s been a long while since my last total health checkup, the doctor ordered a full blood work up.
On Wednesday, the nurse called. “We got most of your test results back. Your thyroid is perfect, so we renewed your prescription. All your other numbers so far are terrific! We’re just waiting on the lipid panel now, so we’ll call you when we get it.” “Great!” I said, righteously sure that I was only reaping the just rewards of my healthy diet.
Yesterday, the nurse called again. “Well, we have the rest of your blood work results. I’m afraid it’s not good news.” My heart skipped a beat. She went on, “Your cholesterol is high. It’s 266. And your LDL (that’s the bad cholesterol) is 183.”
“What does that mean?” I asked, “I don’t know what the numbers are supposed to be.”
“Your total cholesterol should be less than 200, and an optimal LDL level is below 100, so your readings are pretty high. Were you fasting before the test?” I said no. Apparently, she explained, cholesterol readings can be skewed quite a bit by food that is eaten shortly before having blood drawn. I breathed a sigh of relief as the nurse scheduled me for a follow up test this morning, to be preceded by a 12 hour fast.
Hungry and anxious, I drove back to the doctor’s office after dropping Katie off at school to have my blood drawn again. Since it was just a cholesterol test this time, they were able to process the results on site in about ten minutes.
The verdict? Total cholesterol: 264. LDL: 178. Chubby blood.
I talked for a few minutes with Mark, our doctor, about my choices. Unlike some patients, I can’t make many improvements in my diet. I already eat a low-fat, whole foods diet full of lean meats and lots of fruits and vegetables, and have been since January. Most people on the South Beach Diet boast vastly improved cholesterol numbers; why not me? I agreed to add some oats to my largely grain-free menu, but Mark couldn’t suggest any other alterations. I also vowed to take up exercising with a dedication that has been–shall we say–a bit lacking in most of my previous efforts. All the same, Mark says that most people can only effect about a 10% change in their blood lipid levels through lifestyle change alone. Most high cholesterol problems are genetic, and many have to be treated with statin drugs. Instructed to come back in three months for another blood test, I was released to drive home, my mind whirling with new information.
Of course, I hopped on the internet as soon as I could and started researching both statins and natural remedies for high cholesterol. The news was mixed. Possible side effects like muscle fatigue, cognitive losses, and heart weakness make statins sound like more trouble than what they’re trying to fix. And I really hate the idea of relying on yet another prescription medicine to regulate something that my body should be regulating on its own. But some of the more natural alternatives look promising. I also found that there is some dissension among medical professionals as to the significance of various numbers. Many of them say that more important than the individual numbers themselves is the ratio of HDL (good cholesterol) to LDL. Mine is very good. And my triglycerides are low, another good sign.
So I don’t know what to think.
Foolishly, I always imagined only older people had high cholesterol. It never crossed my mind to be concerned about it for myself. I mean, here I am, thirty-four years old, within five pounds of my goal weight, and eating better than I have in years, only to find out that my circulation system never got the memo.
And I’m a little ticked off about it, to tell you the truth.