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Throw away total cholesterol!

Posted Oct 01 2008 8:26pm

Richard's total cholesterol without treatment was 186 mg/dl. "That's great!" his doctor declared, referring to the conventional dictum that total cholesterols less than 200 carry low risk. Several fingersticks in a mall kiosk set up by a local hospital to check total cholesterols confirmed Richard's low number.

But after Richard's unexpected hospitalization and two stents for severe coronary blockages, he demanded better answers.

Tragically, the answer was there all along: Despite a "favorable" total cholesterol, his HDL ("good") cholesterol was a miserable 32 mg (ideal >60 mg).

Total cholesterol is actually the sum total of HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, with a contribution from triglycerides. That's why a low total cholesterol can conceal a low HDL.

This situation is quite common. And low HDL is accompanied by a constellation of other undesirable causes of heart disease, most notably small LDL.

Don't accept total cholesterol as your sole measure of risk. It's nearly worthless. If you live in Bangladesh or a third world country, well perhaps that's the best you can get. But if you live in the U.S. or developed world, it's absurd to rely on total cholesterol.

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