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Have Faith in Yourself

July 20, 2011 No Comments by Scott Isaacs, M.D.

Recently a patient became very upset about her cholesterol test.  She had her cholesterol tested six months ago and now six months later it was exactly the same. In the last six months, she had been very successful losing weight and had started an exercise program, exercising three or four days every week.  To her dismay after all this hard work, her cholesterol was exactly the same six months later. She wondered how could this be? How could she have been so successful changing her lifestyle and losing weight and not see the results in her cholesterol number? The whole thing was extremely distressing to her.

I reviewed her cholesterol profile. It turned out that although her total cholesterol was the same, she had a 10% drop in her LDL (bad) and a 20% increase in her HDL (good) cholesterol. So even though her total cholesterol had not changed, the ratio of good and bad cholesterol had improved dramatically. The total cholesterol number can be misleading because it is made up of good and bad cholesterol. To really understand your cholesterol profile, you have to look at the individual LDL and HDL numbers which make up the total cholesterol value.

Most people try to eat healthier when they want to lower their cholesterol. It turns out that when it comes to LDL cholesterol, there is only so much you can do with your diet. Genetics are the primary factor that affects LDL cholesterol, so if your cholesterol is high, you can blame your parents. A healthy diet can drop LDL cholesterol about 10% but most people who have significantly elevated cholesterol can’t get it down low enough with diet alone. Medications are usually needed to lower a high LDL cholesterol.

HDL (good) cholesterol is another story altogether. Having a low HDL cholesterol is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Medications are only mildly effective for raising HDL cholesterol. Doctors consider a 2-3% increase in HDL cholesterol to be beneficial. A 20% rise, like my patient had, is outstanding. The best way to raise HDL cholesterol is through a vigorous exercise program. This is exactly what my patient did. When she started this journey, she was not doing any exercise. Now she is working out with a trainer several times per week. When her trainer found out about the big jump in her HDL cholesterol, she said “Wow, that really puts a smile on MY face!”

My message to you is to have faith in yourself. If you are working hard at having a healthy lifestyle, you will see results. Eating a balanced diet, getting good sleep, avoiding stress and getting regular exercise will have you on your way to losing weight and being healthier for the long term. Don’t let a test result or any number get you down, especially if you have a lot of good things happening. There may be a simple explanation that can put everything into perspective. When my patient found out that her cholesterol profile had actually improved, despite the total cholesterol being unchanged, she asked to write this article so that other people can get as excited as she was when she realized what an impact her lifestyle had on her cholesterol numbers.

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