Updated: Dec 11, 2019
Warning, this blog post is long. So, grab a big glass of water, some bone broth, a Kombucha, or shot of beet kvass...sit back and read. I think it's worth your while. This post shows what a proper diet can do for health.
I'm not an expert at interpreting blood test results and blood tests are outside the scope of what an NTP typically does. But, I have done a lot of reading about these particular tests.
Everyone is different so the way a person's blood work responds to diet changes may not be the same as mine.
I am not a doctor and I don't even play one on TV. If you are taking a statin to manage cholesterol, do not stop your medication without discussing it with your doctor.
My journey to health began in June of 2016. At that time, my blood work looked like this:
Total cholesterol: 206 LDL: 128 HDL: 58 LDL/HDL: 2.2 Fasting glucose: 89 A1C: 5.6 Triglycerides: 102
For an MD, these numbers would probably not cause any concern. My A1C was still under the pre-diabetic cutoff of 5.7 (maybe she would have warned me about this). HDL was pretty good (over 50). LDL was under 130. Total cholesterol was just slightly over 200. I did have past blood tests that showed fasting glucose to be in the high 90s but for some reason, it wasn't so high that day.
In June 2016, I cut out grains but I wasn't eating low carb. I was eating a lot of fruit (smoothies for breakfast mostly). I added some fat to my diet as well. I was eating a decent amount of starchy vegetables. I ate this way till Feb 2017. At that time, these were my numbers:
Total cholesterol: 247 LDL: 162 HDL: 57 LDL/HDL: 2.8 Fasting glucose: 94 A1C: 5.6 Triglycerides: 141
So, my LDL went up but my HDL did not. Triglycerides and fasting glucose were both up. I got worried about my cholesterol and ended up reading a really good book and I wasn't so worried after that. Clearly, though, things weren't really heading in the right direction when it came to blood sugar.
So, in February 2017, I started eating a low-carb, high-fat diet and have been eating this way ever since.. My results in December 2017 were:
Total cholesterol: 256 LDL: 157 HDL: 75 LDL/HDL: 2.1 Fasting glucose: 84 A1C: 4.8 Triglycerides: 119
As an aside, my A1C was down to 4.9 after only 5 months.
An MD would likely have griped about how high my LDL and total cholesterol were. But, my HDL was a whopping 75 and the LDL/HDL ratio was lower than it was when I started all this. Low LDL/HDL ratio is good. It means that your HDL is high relative to your LDL. So, maybe I'd get a pass :).. It's hard to argue about the goodness of the blood sugar numbers.
What I find comforting about this is that these results lined up really well with what I read was supposed to happen:
When you add healthy fats to your diet, total cholesterol will increase. LDL may go up but so will HDL. Check.
When you reduce carbs, your fasting glucose and A1C will go down. Yup.
When you reduce carbs, your triglycerides will go down. They did.
With respect to weight, I lost 45lbs since June 2016 while eating an insane (by most people's standards) amount of fat. When people ask me: "Doesn't fat make you fat", I just smile and point at myself.
My point here is that not only does a low-carb, high-fat diet make you healthier, it also actually promotes weight loss. How it does this will likely be a topic for another blog post. Note that I'm not saying that weighing less is necessarily healthy. There are lots of ways to weigh less that don't result in better health. However, in my experience, the body will settle to its proper weight when it becomes healthy and you eat a diet that in composed of nutrient-dense whole foods with an appropriate macronutrient composition
In terms of cholesterol, I've done a lot of reading on this. One of the more recent theories is that the "bad" type of cholesterol that puts one at risk of heart disease is a type of LDL created when a person's HDL is low and triglycerides are high. It has to do with the size of the LDL particles the liver creates. Diets high in carbs and low in fat tend to create lower HDL and higher triglycerides. Diets high in fat and low in carbs do not.
There's a blood test that measures LDL particle size. From the lab I use, it's called an "LDL Fractionation Test". I got a baseline measurement in July 2017. My LDL size was considered to be pattern B: too many LDL particles that are on the small side. I checked my LDL particle size again in March 2018. The particle size had moved in the direction the references says it should. My low carb, higher fat diet had created "pattern A" LDL: fewer LDL particles that were larger in size, on average.
Inflammation and Cholesterol
Many, including myself, believe that total cholesterol and total LDL aren't issues in and of themselves, but can be indications of underlying problems. LDL is the type of cholesterol your body uses to help repair injuries. Cell walls are built out of cholesterol and saturated fat. So, when your body is injured, it cranks up production of LDL in anticipation of the need to create new cells.
In Feb 2016, my LDL peaked at 162. Total cholesterol was 247. Many MDs would have insisted I start taking a statin to lower this. I didn't ask any MDs for their opinion ;). At that time, my hs-CRP inflammation marker was 2.3. The hs-CRP is an indicator of chronic inflammation. High levels of inflammation are considered by many to be a major risk factor in heart disease. Note that inflammation is a response to an "injury" that the body will try to repair. An hs-CRP of 2.3 is kind of high. The target is well below 1.0.
I checked my inflammation in March of 2018 and it was down to 0.8. Obviously, I was thrilled by this. Then, I thought to myself: if my inflammation was down, I wonder if my LDL would be as well. The theory was that, because my body wasn't working so hard to try to repair damage, it might not need to be making so much LDL.
So, in April 2018, I checked my cholesterol again. My LDL was 136, down 26 points from the high of 162. An MD might still push me towards a statin, but again, I didn't ask for advice. Total cholesterol was 228. My HDL (the so-called good cholesterol) was up from 57 to 72 since Feb 2016. High HDL is a very good thing; even MDs agree with this. My high HDL is a result of eating lots of healthy, high-quality fats. Also, my triglycerides were down to 98 from a high of 141. Credit goes to beef, bacon, and lots and lot of eggs :).
Yet again, the theory is sound. I changed my diet to eliminate the things that were causing inflammation and my body responded by making less LDL. And, as I said earlier, my low carb approach shifted the LDL my body was making to the benign large particle size..
What makes my blood boil is that there are countess people just like me who are being told by their doctors that they need to be taking a statin (designed to artificially suppress the creation of LDL). A high level of LDL is a result of your body's natural effort to repair itself. Take away the things causing injury and the repair processes subside. As I always say, the body is designed to work. We just need to cease with the constant sabotage.
So, if you've made it this far, I commend you. I know there's a lot to digest here. Reread it several times if you have to. It's important stuff. Here are the take-aways:
Fat is your friend; excessive carbs are your enemy (in particular, excessive highly-processed carbs)
High LDL is a symtom of an underlying problem, not a problem by itself
You own your health. Educate yourself so you can make informed decisions. Doctors don't know everything. And, in the case of cholesterol and statins, I'm afraid there's a good chance the medical establishment has it wrong.