Understanding Your Cholesterol
We’ve all seen the numbers on our blood work. As part of the annual tests done, a lipid panel is typically included. But did you know there is more information available than what is being tested?
The basic lipid panel is not adequate to inform about the makeup of the cholesterol in your blood. In order to have proper knowledge of your cholesterol for purposes of maintaining heart and brain health, you need to know what you’ve got. Cholesterol is both good and bad, and knowing which you have more of can take you a long way towards better health.
Cholesterol: LDL, HDL and Triglycerides
It’s important to point out that cholesterol is needed by the body for cell membrane health and hormone production. The key is having the right balance. I always thought having very low cholesterol was the goal; but not really. Having low “bad” cholesterol is good, but having too low cholesterol is not necessarily a good thing. So let’s break this down. There are three main components to a basic cholesterol panel:
- HDL – high density lipoprotein, is what we refer to as good cholesterol.
- LDL – low density lipoprotein, is what we refer to as bad cholesterol.
- Triglycerides – a chain of three fatty acids.
First, let’s define lipoprotein. Lipoproteins are compounds in our blood composed of fats and proteins. Lipo is the fat. (Think liposuction.) HDL, a high density lipoprotein is higher in protein and lower in triglyceride and cholesterol. LDL is mostly cholesterol. Triglycerides are the main form of fat stored in the body. Tip: they hide out in belly fat.
When we say LDL is mostly cholesterol, and we know that we need our bodies to make cholesterol, what we don’t consider is the breakdown of LDL into relatively good and bad components. The majority of the cholesterol in the body is made by the liver. The rest comes from dietary sources. Bad cholesterol is the kind that is small and sticky and builds up in our arteries, creating what we know as plaque. This plaque buildup can lead to heart attacks when it builds up in arteries of the heart; stroke when it builds up in arteries that feed the brain; and peripheral artery disease which reduces blood flow (circulation) to the limbs.
Good cholesterol is large and fluffy and helps to clear out the small, sticky particles by carrying them to the liver to be broken down and excreted from the body. HDL is good cholesterol. What you may not know is that there are four types of LDL; some better than others. LDL types 1 and 2 are large and less dangerous. LDL 3 and 4 are small and accelerate arterial diseases that lead to heart attack, stroke and peripheral artery disease.
There is one more type of LDL cholesterol called Lp(a), which is the most dangerous form of cholesterol. Lp(a) (lipoprotein a) is hereditary and it is not tested for as part of a basic lipid panel. Most people don’t even know they have it. Fun fact: estrogen has a protective effect on Lp(a) and bad cholesterol in general. Lp(a) is genetically inherited and in women does not affect cholesterol until after menopause when estrogen levels drop off. This is scary because if a woman has this predisposition and is not aware, she will not be able to take adequate precautionary action to dampen its effects. She may spend her whole life eating or living a certain way. Then one day, it comes back to haunt her because she didn’t have the foreknowledge necessary to take steps early on to reduce the risk of rapidly rising “bad” cholesterol levels.
Lp(a) is the most dangerous component of cholesterol and it’s sneaky. Lp(a) may explain why otherwise healthy people have unexpected health events like heart attacks and strokes with no warning. It is estimated that 20% of the U.S. population (73 million people) have elevated Lp(a). Most of these people are completely unaware because it is not tested for until it’s effects are well advanced.
Uncovering and Addressing Your Risk
There are blood tests available that will tell you what your risks are, but they are not made available (covered by insurance) unless you already have a problem. Insurance typically only covers tests that are linked to what’s called an ICD code. An ICD code is what doctors use to identify a medical condition to insurance companies. Without an ICD diagnosis code, the test won’t be covered by insurance. It’s understandable but unfortunate.
For several years now I have been paying out of pocket to have blood work done that is not covered by insurance in order to determine my risks for common diseases, as well as to learn about my current state of health. If you have an FSA or HSA account, you can use those dollars to pay for the tests not covered by insurance. I’ve been maxing out on my FSA for the past three years to cover my chiropractic visits, therapeutic massage and non-covered blood tests. I use the results of these blood tests to tell me what I wouldn’t otherwise know about my health status, providing me the knowledge I need to take steps to increase my health. The tests I have done have given me the knowledge I needed to balance my hormones, heal my mitochondria and address anemia from an educated vantage point.
There are many natural (non-drug) ways to address cholesterol issues, including diet, exercise and targeted supplementation. But first, one must know what is driving the problem. An advanced lipid panel will tell you what types of LDL are swimming around and inform you on the methods available to address your levels.
Cholesterol is just one component of health. I am a strong believer that knowledge is power. I have spent over three years testing and researching to develop my own protocol. Let’s just say if I had to quantify the amount of time spent, it could equate to a part-time job. I know not everyone has that kind of time or tenacity. It’s not easy; I know. However, I felt I didn’t have a choice. If I wanted to get past cancer and the effects of cancer treatments to live a long, healthy life, I needed to know as much about what is going on inside of me and what I can do to turn it around.
That is also why I became a health coach and continue to add to my knowledge base on a daily basis. I felt I needed to share what I could with everyone I could. We all deserve the knowledge to drive our own wellness and be our own advocates. To that end, I have teamed up with two different organizations to bring that power to you (and me). One is a company that provides lab testing direct to consumers. The other provides DNA testing for customized nutrition (rather than blind supplementation). Combined, these two services give you the knowledge you need to be in charge of your own wellness plan. You can utilize your results to help you communicate better with your doctor. You can utilize your results to create your own wellness path overall by making more informed choices about diet and lifestyle. I find them to be very helpful tools when assisting clients who have knowledge but just need help developing an action plan and walking through it.
I will provide you the links to these affiliates, but I need to tell you that I receive remuneration for working with them. My website and the content I provide is done ad-free. I cover all my costs to make the experience more enjoyable and seamless for you. By using the links below (and not just the general websites) for making any purchases, you assist me in defraying the costs of bringing you this content and service, and I very much appreciate that. Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, here are the links:
Uforia Science: https://whg316.uforiascience.com/
Your Lab Work: https://yourlabwork.com/wholehealthgoal/
I’m very excited about both organizations and how they provide us with the knowledge to take charge of our health. Your Lab Work is partnered with Quest labs here in the United States, which is an incredible advantage in accessibility and quality. Just this morning I went to Quest to have blood tests done that were ordered by my doctor AND the Transformation Panel offered through Your Lab Work. I’ll admit, it was a lot of vials. But every vial represented power to me. I was energized by the experience. Next week I will know even more about my body than I already know. That, my friends, is priceless.
I’ll be adding a page to my website in the coming weeks (as soon as I can figure out why I am being blocked from my website on my Mac) that will provide more information on both services. In the meantime, there is a wealth of knowledge available at the links above.
Yours in Wellness,