September 16, 2008

Great cholesterol, false sense of security

[By Merry]

Every time I get a checkup, the doctor enthuses about my cholesterol. (Probably because it's good to say something positive before going on to the lecture about the Importance of Eating Vegetables.)

more animals

But it's interesting that none of them have warned me that my great cholesterol levels have nothing to do with my doing something right in life, and that in another decade I might find the situation changing dramatically.

If you're of the male persuasion, you might want to read this section. If you feel like it.

Any guys reading this might want to skip the next section and go straight to the bottom of this post, at least if you're worried about prostate cancer, since lowering cholesterol levels can lead to lower PSA. (American Urological Association (2008, May 18). Low Cholesterol Leads To Lower PSA, Lower Prostate Cancer Risk, Study Suggests. ) Or unless you feel like reading about women's health which is very nice of you and I personally think you're a really neat guy who should come by more often.

If you're of the female persuasion, you might want to read this section. Just a thought.
If you're of the female persuasion, you've got a lot of estrogen running around in your system. If you're a female who's eaten a lot of saturated fats and is well padded, you've got a whole lot of estrogen running around in your system.

Estrogen affects your cholesterol levels. Even if you're Doing All the Wrong Things re cholesterol, you can still have a fab chol reading on the blood test because of the level of estrogen. Which is all well and good and fine and dandy until you hit this time of life called menopause. Then you're screwed.
(Or you could be.)

more animals

If you've spent 50-some years eating badly, and it hasn't caught up to you yet, it's going to start now. Bad enough you have to deal with hot flashes and all that fun stuff, you'll find your chol level rising up and you'll have to start making some major changes to avoid all the nasty stuff that high cholesterol levels can cause.

Things you can do to improve your cholesterol levels:
- Eat Oatmeal
Dr. James Anderson analyzed 15 years' worth of studies and came to the conclusion that oatmeal was a good deal. "Whole-grain products like oatmeal are among some of the best foods one can eat to improve cholesterol levels, in addition to other lifestyle choices," Anderson said. "Lifestyle choices, such as diet, should be the first line of therapy for most patients with moderate cholesterol risk given the expense, safety concerns, and intolerance related to cholesterol lowering drugs."

- Eat Chocolate
Yes, that is what you read. This study was partially funded by Mars, Inc., which by an amazing coincidence makes the particular (100 calorie) chocolate bars that were used in the study. Yeah, I know. And the research is based on 49 people with "slightly elevated" cholesterol levels. But on the other hand, it seems like common sense that if you faithfully follow the diet they were on (American Heart Association's "Eating Plan for Healthy Americans") then you probably can reduce your cholesterol even if you also eat a couple of 100 calorie chocolate bars a day.

- See a Registered Dietitian
Everybody goes to their doctor if they want help with cholesterol levels. But one study, based on data from 377 patients, indicates that seeing an RD can help. "175 patients who started the study with triglycerides less than 400 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL), and who had their cholesterol measured before they changed or added medication, 44.6 percent either reduced their levels of "bad" cholesterol by at least 15 percent, or reached their cholesterol goal."

I like it that being Good Cholesterol Woman largely involves eating, which is something that I'm quite good at and have been for years. And I like the idea that I can get a running jump on all the nasty cholesterol possibilities out there, or at least tell them to take a running jump.


  1. "until you hit this time of life called menopause. Then you're screwed.
    (Or you could be.)"

    Well, I HOPE I'll still be getting some action.


    I think I don't take cholesterol very seriously because it's one of those things that I don't feel I have to start worrying about 'til I'm in my 40s or something. Which I realise is stupid. I should at least get a baseline reading now...

  2. Oh dear. I've been SO smug about my low cholesterol numbers, but it looks like my smugness was a bit premature.

    Fortunately, I think I eat most of the right kind of things, but it won't be long now 'til I find out.

    Great wake up call!

  3. Great info Merry. I never knew the two were related.

  4. I've never had my cholesterol checked - I'm not even sure when that would happen. At my general check ups at the doctors they just weigh me and take my blood pressure.

    I was just thinking this morning how oatmeal is the one thing I eat at least once a day, and yet I never ever get sick of it. I always suspected it was a magic food, and now you have given me proof!

    TA x

  5. When I was little, my mom would always give me a huge amount of oatmeal, so I associate it with being really really full and really warm.

    I'll try the oatmeal again when it gets colder.

  6. And don't forget the chocolate! :)

  7. Glad I ate my oatmeal this morning.

    Love those cat pictures. Love.

  8. Very interesting post Merry! The science these days is really changing on the issue of cholesterol. Specifically it isn't bad. People NEED cholesterol to live and thrive. Even "bad" cholesterol. And saturated fats don't necessarily raise cholesterol like we've been previously taught. Nina Planck wrote a really interesting book "Real Food" that covers the science in depth. I really recommend it.

  9. Cholesterol and menopause go together like....[censored.]
    Yes, I ate whatever I wasn't allergic to (which sometimes meant I cooked everything with butter) and had amazingly low cholesterol figures. Not now!

    Listen to your Registered Dietician! My BestFriendTheDoctor started life as a dietician and got her master's degree in nutrition, and had a sort of epiphany when she discovered that RNs and MDs, with maybe four hours of nutrition education, could order patient diets, and she, with years of study, could not. She went to medical school at thirty-three. (Unfortunately she's not MY doctor because her practice is more than a hundred miles from me, but I get Free Advice, which is nice.)

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  10. I ate oatmeal yesterday. I'm more likely to eat it in the winter so there's more in my future.
    I eat chocolate almost every day.

  11. PS: Charlotte, my posts so often show up right after yours that I feel as if we're sitting here drinking our coffee together. [waves]

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  12. Nice post!!

    Keep the triglycerides low!

  13. Ahh. That makes sense why men seem to have higher cholesterol readings than women in general. I just thought we were superior creatures.

    Now I want oatmeal.

  14. Cholesterol is a tricky thing and it seems like there's so much that we don't know about it. High cholesterol runs in my family so I'm always trying to eat salmon, oatmeal and nuts. It helps raise the HDL, but I can barely get the LDL to budge. And I workout probably 5+ hours a week. Cruel!

  15. Oooh, how about oatmeal with mini chocolate chips? That sounds awesome!

    My cholesterol is really good, but then...I'm not quite 30. Who knows what it'll be in another 30 years. I generally eat healthy, but I don't skimp on ice cream and cake on the occasions I get to eat it.

    Is there any way to test cholesterol without taking into consideration the estrogen?

  16. Charlotte, you're right -- the body needs some of both the HDL and LDL types of cholesterol. But too much of anything can hurt you, and it's good to be prepared for the changes that come with menopause. I was feeling smug about my great cholesterol levels until I delved a little into the research.
    Jenn -- sorry to hear about the stubborn LDL levels!

  17. Oatmeal and chocolate! Absolutely!

    I wonder how the Pill affects your cholesterol? And how amenorrhea affects cholesterol?

  18. I was always happy about my low cholesterol...but now I'm all worried. Gee thanks!
    A friend of mine had to have an early hysterectomy and ended up in menopause at 35 (oh what fun for her). She has had whackadoo cholesterol ever since. I'll mention this to her...she eats healthier than I do and is annoyed at the whole high cholesterol thing. And she hates oatmeal...altho chocolate is good news :)
    Luckily I love oatmeal so when I"m older I'm all set :)

  19. Always such great insight! Thank you for sharing...truly appreciate it! :)

  20. I eat oatmeal AND chocolate, so goodie for me. I was surprised to learn my cholesterol was 180-something a few months ago (I donated blood and they tld me). But my doctor retested me and said my LDL is very low and HDL is very high, prolly from so much exercise, so no worries!

  21. I'm all for chocolate in my oatmeal but I usually eat the oatmeal with a smashed up bran muffin in it instead.
    If you put some flour, 2 eggs, oatmeal, a pinch of salt, & baking soda, vanilla, some chocolate, and bake for 10 minutes at 350, you can eat cookies with oatmeal and chocolate in them too!

  22. Well, that would explain why my cholesterol has gone up then. They are killing my estrogen since my cancer was hormone positive. Oatmeal it is!

  23. I've always had good cholesterol levels, even after menopause struck! I'm sure some of it has to do with plain old-fashioned genetics.
    But I have been eating better lately, too, just because.

  24. Thanks for this post. Despite eating rather badly throughout most of my younger years, my cholesterol has always been excellent. But you're right. It probably won't always be that way which is one of the reasons I am trying hard to eat healthier now.

    I just don't think I can take the oatmeal though.

  25. I was eating oatmeal and fanning off a hot flash as I read this. How ironic. Now I just hope I got rid of all that "extra padding" in time.

    Great post.

  26. Oh, well, here I thought I was doing well, but it's just my fat working for me! Harumph! Now I'm cranky! ;-)

  27. We eat a lot of oatmeal here....except hubby. "They" say to having your cholesterol, blood sugars, and blood pressure checked is so important. You could look like a picture of health and be in BAD shape. I need to make an appt with my doc to get these tests done. Great reminder and I love the photo of the kittie with the paper towel on his head :)

  28. I went through menopause at 40. Was on hormones for a while, but I've not had any for years. My cholesterol, last time it was checked was great. Apparently my bad C is not bad, and my good C is through the roof. And I didn't eat oatmeal hardly at all, though I'm famous for my oatmeal rolls.

    So it's not hopeless!!

    BTW I finally found a brand of oatmeal I actually like, so I eat more now (Bob's Red Mill Scottish).

    And that fitness techie thing I was talking about is The Fitbit Tracker. I'm definitely looking into that. Tracks exercise, calories burned, steps taken and distance moved as well as sleep length and quality. And if you enter your food info you get a better picture. You can read about it in yesterdays NYTimes.

  29. I think your genes play a part as well as dietary habits. Jenn does all the right things and still has not-so-great cholesterol, while other people sail through life without any need to work at it.

    It's kinda like those 100-year-old people who spend 80 years smoking a pack a day and still have fairly good lungs. Me, I'm afraid I'd be the little old lady in the corner with the oxygen mask if I tried that.

  30. Dietary control of cholesterol for most people is not quite practical for many people. The max reduction through diet is 30% so if your cholesterol is rather high don't feel bad if you need to take medication.

  31. AHAHAHAhahahahaha! I LOVE that first cat!

    What? There was a post under the cat? About cholesterol and stuff?


    Did I mention the cat was funny? ;)

  32. Hey Crystal, could you do me a favor? Where did you read about reducing cholesterol levels 30% through diet?

    I've been trying to google for the research on that, but I'm not having any luck. (Only because I'm too lazy to sift through all 460,000 results that I got from googling.)

    I did run across an extremely depressing study about low-fat diets:

    The investigators discovered that men with blood cholesterol levels of less than 160 milligrams per deciliter had a homicide, suicide or fatal accident rate 50 to 80 percent higher than those with the highest cholesterol levels. Women with low cholesterol levels were nearly 30 percent more prone to violent death.

  33. So high fat diets must be calming? Destressing? Works for me.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  34. Nice post.

    It is very important that women don't underestimate cholesterol. Things you should do is eat more fibre because this is able to bind to cholesterol before it crosses the cell membrane in your gut as well as it interferes with cholesterol transport in your body. Exercise is also very important and something that lots of people forget about and is needed for a healthy lifestyle...


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