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Making sense out of lipid changes

Posted Jan 26 2009 3:48pm
Maggie had been doing well on her program, enjoying favorable lipids near our 60-60-60 targets (HDL 60 mg/dl or greater, LDL 60 mg/dl or less, triglycerides 60 mg/dl or less). Last fall, her last set of values were:

Total cholesterol: 149 mg/dl
LDL cholesterol: 67 mg/dl
HDL cholesterol: 73 mg/dl
Triglycerides: 43 mg/dl

The holidays, as with most people, involved a frenzy of indulgent eating: Christmas cookies, cakes, pies, stuffing, potatoes, candies, etc.

Maggie returned to the office 6 pounds heavier with these values:

Total cholesterol: 210 mg/dl
LDL cholesterol: 124 mg/dl
HDL cholesterol: 57 mg/dl
Triglycerides: 144 mg/dl

In other words, holiday indulgences caused an increase in LDL cholesterol, a reduction in HDL, an increase in triglycerides, an increase in total cholesterol.

What happened?

At first glance, many of my colleagues would interpret this as fat indulgence and/or a "need" for statin drug therapy.

Having done thousands of lipoprotein panels, I can tell you that, beneath the surface, the following has occurred:

--Overindulgence in carbohydrates from the goodies triggered triglyceride (actually VLDL) formation in the liver, released into the blood.
--Increased triglycerides and VLDL triggered a boom in conversion of large LDL to small LDL (since triglycerides are required to form small LDL particles) via cholesteryl-ester transfer protein (CETP) activity.
--Increased triglycerides and VLDL interacted with HDL particles, causing "remodeling" of HDL particles to the less desirable, less protective small particles, which do not persist as long in the blood, resulting in a reduction of HDL.

The critical factor is carbohydrate intake. This triggered a domino effect that is often misintepreted as excessive fat intake or a genetic predisposition. It is nothing of the kind.

I discussed this phenomenon with Maggie. She now knows to not overindulge in the holiday snacks in future and will revert promptly back to her 60-60-60 values.
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