It’s In My Blood

We inherit many things from our parents.  Some good; some not so good.

Like my high cholesterol.  Every member of my immediate family has it:  my mom, both brothers, and my dad, who died of heart related illness in his early 50s.  So… my doctor pays pretty close attention to my numbers.  And I have been taking a statin for years.

When I was first diagnosed, I tried lowering my cholesterol with diet and exercise.  (The good thing about this otherwise negative familial trait:  the girl previously chosen last in gym class finally started moving her butt).  But I eventually figured out that while I could lower my total cholesterol eating well and working out, I still could not get it within normal limits.  However, conversely, eating very poorly did indeed shoot those bad numbers up!  Sigh.

So I’ve had my numbers checked twice a year for probably two decades or more.  Thanks to the statins, my cholesterol is now almost always acceptable.  Every so often there has been a little blip, and I suspect it was a time in my life when I was either eating particularly poorly (because there sure were a lot of those) or not exercising as much as usual

Which brings me to last December.  What a horrible time of year to have my cholesterol tested!  Yes, I had fallen prey once again to the holiday eating season and fallen off the wagon repeatedly for months and all that falling led to my weight doing anything but fall!  As I’m sure you can imagine.  Weight up, crap ingested, but fortunately my numbers were still acceptable.  Except for my LDL, the bad cholesterol.  It was normal by most standards, but above what my doctor wants to see for someone with my family history.  For those of you up on your cholesterol stats, it was 113.  (This is the highest it’s been in a decade!)  And my HDL (aka the good cholesterol), while still a very acceptable number, was down from sixths months previous, when I had been cruising along on my healthy living journey with nary a wagon-falling incident in site.

Fast forward to my latest blood-work results.  I had high expectations.  In the last sixth months my eating has, overall, been pretty darn good, if I say so myself.  Not perfect, but overall healthy.  And unquestionably much, much, much better than last fall.  My weight is back down.  My exercise is back up.  Bring it on, phlebotomist!

And then I come to a screeching halt.  In the face of my unusual optimism, I see reality staring back at me.  That darn LDL (the bad cholesterol, remember) was exactly what it had been in December.  December!  The height of holiday eating season.  What?!  On a positive note, my good cholesterol had gone up.  But that just raised my total number too.  At least my ratio of total to HDL was better.  For whatever that’s worth.

So what message do I get from my doctor?  Again, lower the LDL to below 100.  The nurse who called with my results told me to eat less animal fat.  Hello, people!  My summer diet was already pretty darn low in animal fat.  So, gotta look for other changes to make.  Like how about all that cheese I eat.  Maybe the saturated fat content is too high.  Wait!  Does dairy count as an animal product?!  The math is complicated but my husband helped me figure it out.  Okay, less cheese might be in order.  Or fat-free, which is pretty tasteless in my experience.  Not much else I can think to cut from my diet because it really is pretty healthy right now.

But there are two ways to lower the bad cholesterol:  eat less of what raises it or eat more of what lowers it.  Based on the nurse’s comment, I consider the first option first.  As for the second approach, adding foods known or likely to lower cholesterol, I already eat several of them.   To add more means I have to cut out something else.  That old calorie equation, remember.  So I guess I need to take a closer look at my diet and see where I can make some adjustments.

Seems like it’s always something.  Oh for the days when food was just something I put in my mouth with no thinking involved.

Do you know your cholesterol numbers?  Have you had to make any adjustments to your eating based on that or other medical conditions?



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66 responses to “It’s In My Blood

  1. Uh, yeah, the fat in cheese is animal fat. According to the label of the Cracker Barrel cheddar I just grated onto my Eggbeaters, 1 oz (28 g) has 10g of fat–6 of which are saturated. The low-fat cheese isn’t too bad, but the non-fat cheese is pretty much not worth it!

    I finally had a physical this spring and my numbers are stellar. Triglycerides = 49, LDL = 69 HDL = 89 The ratio is important because the HDL does have protective properties.

    • Karen

      Good for you! All my cheeses were already low-fat except one – the grated Monterrey jack I put on my beans each morning. Doesn’t come low-fat that I’ve found and sooo adds to the flavor. But I use less than a measured serving so that was like 3.5 sat fat grams. I think I need to target about 7 for the whole day!

  2. Scientists still fight about if cholesterol levels actually affect the cardiovascular system… and as for “family values”: I once had a talk with my trusted physician concerning thyroid levels, and he explained how a result that is rather “high” or “low” concerning average levels may be just fine for the person in question, as long as there are no negative health effects. (My thyroid hormones have always been low, but not “too low”.)

    And yes, dairy counts as animal fat.

  3. I checked my cholesterol levels earlier this summer. They didn’t give me the numbers, but they were within normal, luckily.

    That must be so frustrating that you have been eating healthy and it doesn’t show in your cholesterol test! 😦 Don’t let it discourage you!

    • Karen

      Well, that’s the part that is in my genes. I remember when I was first diagnosed and told people. That was in a consistently “thin” phase of my yo-yo-ing and the comment I got often was “But you’re so thin.”

  4. I’m one of the lucky ones. My cholesterol levels and blood pressure are absolutely perfect and no matter what I do, they never waver from perfect. I was always told not to brag because as I aged, they’d both start to change. So far, they’ve stayed constant through my mid-50’s and rest assured, I’ve NEVER bragged. I have too many friends (and now you too!) who have dealt with this forever and I know the frustration of not wanting to take meds, but seeing no change with vigilant diet & exercise. Yes, I am truly blessed – I never take those good numbers for granted!!

    • Karen

      I never heard that aging thing! One more thing about aging that sucks:( Years ago when I worked I had a wonderful sitter for the boys and we’d talk about this. She had stellar cholesterol and ate crap like donuts. She is still going strong at 89!

  5. For all my food struggles and my lapses into Type 2 Diabetes, I’m another ridiculously lucky person with the cholesterol and blood lipids – mine are textbook and better, which my doctor has reminded me indicates it takes very little to get my blood sugar and insulin levels stable. I’m really blessed in this regard – at least up to now.

    I know several people who are similarly afflicted, and essentially can only get it all under control with increased doing of statins, which requires liver function monitoring. If anyone can fine tune the numbers with diligence and consistency, it’s you, Karen. Keep us posted.

    • Karen

      I tend to forget the potential side-effects of this and all drugs. Yep, I get my liver function checked twice a year when my numbers are checked. So far, so good.

  6. I have good numbers for cholesterol, too. But, my hubby does not. He inherited, just like you, the family trait for high cholesterol. He has a mild heart condition and can run a high BP, already, too, so he monitors it all like a hawk. The funny thing is he always ate well and healthy, except for a little alcohol, however, once he received the news about his heart he did even more. That has been 8 years now. Despite his efforts, his numbers still can go up a little bit resulting in changes to meds. I don’t think there is much that he has not done for his diet.

    This whole number thing gets at the unfairness of it all. Some folks abuse their health (like me) while others do not. I will not know if I beat my years of abuse for a while, but I know that my hubby can not and will not take that risk. Kudos to you for keeping your cholesterol in mind for so long. Hope the numbers respond to your new efforts.

    • Karen

      It is crazy how someone will do everything right and still have poor health or numbers or whatever. Just goes to show that there is more to it than just lifestyle. When I see my internist, I always have elevated BP. But only when I see her, which I joke about. So I will monitor it at home for a couple weeks before I go in and bring her my great readings so she doesn’t go off on that lowering my BP tangent.

  7. Karen, my husband sympathizes with you. His cholesterol is genetically high and in his case, no matter what he does he cannot seem to lower it. He once went on a diet where he exercised, went vegan and lost an insanely amount of weight as a result, and his numbers were STILL almost 400. No lie. From then on, he’s been put on 2 meds and now the numbers are normal.

  8. Oh that must be frustrating! My LDL is excellent, but my HDL numbers are always too low. Even when I was obese, that was the case. When I started losing weight and upping the exercise, my LDL dropped even further, but so did my HDL! I thought exercise was the way to improve HDL, but it backfired! The doctor wasn’t worried, though, since it dropped in proportion to my reduced LDL. Still, I wasn’t happy to see no improvement.

  9. Thanks for writing about this. Cholesterol is a killer (literally) and really, really hard to kick with diet and exercise.

    Good for you for taking control!

  10. Karen,
    I am so sorry! I drew the lucky genetic card when it comes to cholesterol and blood pressure. Diabetes, that’s my concern. Just about everyone in my mother’s family has been diagnosed with it. So far, my mother has not, nor have my sisters and I. We all work very hard to keep our blood sugar in check. At least the math isn’t so hard for us.

  11. Jan

    OK, here is the doctor in me talking. LDL is calculated on a plain ‘ol cholesterol panel – not really measured. Also, it’s the small particle LDL that is the baddie and prone to causing plaque formation and a cascade of inflammation in the coronary arteries, which is the primary cause of heart attacks. Ask your doctor to do a NMR or other test that will measure small LDL, which is (probably, who knows? it’s medicine) means higher risk. Apoproteins are something else that can be measured – have a conversation about a true measurement of your cholesterol particles, NOT a generic panel.

    Personally, my cholesterol stayed the same (HDL did get a little better) with my diet change and weight loss. Statins didn’t help, and I had serious side effects. I have very strong opinions about statins and cholesterol and how much emphasis we place on them that go way beyond a comment section. 🙂

    • Thank you for pointing out the difference between small/dense and large/buoyant particles. My overall number is a little high (although right now I am not on any statin drugs, after having been on them for 10+ years). My LDL is a teeny bit high right now, but my HDL is great as are my triglycerides. That said, my doc also tests for particle size and mine is large/buoyant. Since going off statins about 18 months ago my numbers keep getting better and better…and the reason has more to do with addressing other issues (thyroid/hormones) than with the food I am eating. Exercise plays an important role too.

      • Karen

        Jan and I have been back and forth with emails about this post. I told her that I plan to ask my doctor to test for the different LDL next time. I think I had it done years ago and my bad stuff was the not so bad stuff:) I was actually thinking about the neuropathy stuff and wondering what that field suggests about all this.

  12. I have known people with your issues Karen – it sucks! I do tend to have higher LDL numbers even with all my good eating but my HDL is always way high & the docs say that high enough to offset the other… been like this my whole life. Now saying that, with no health insurance now, not sure what the numbers are.. at least I exercise & eat well…

    • Karen

      I suspect my doctor is being conservative because of my dad dying so young. Actually, what I’ve read on my own agrees with what she is looking for… lower numbers for me than the general population because of the history. What I find most odd is that the LDL is still up despite my being on track.

  13. i have high cholesterol but it’s a by product of my failing kidneys but i have it tested twice a year and take medicine for it.

  14. Wow, that seems so complicated! Aren’t many of the lowering foods veggies? Maybe you can get lots more in for less calories…
    Good luck with this.
    Genes can be a bitch, but thank goodness for proper medicines. This is why I’m grateful for Western medicine.
    If you have an acupuncturist you trust or a good herbalist.. that might help too.

  15. Dairy products are definitely animal products. This is exactly why I switched to an almost vegan diet except for occasional cheese and the daily non-fat Greek yogurt. And then there’s the occasional eggs or milk or whatever in baked goods, but that’s not my routine.

    • Karen

      So the conundrum then becomes what I eat for heart health vs. what I eat for my emotional “dieting” well-being. I do best with eating overall with less grains. But so many of the grains are thought to be cholesterol lowering. Sigh.

  16. Sable@SquatLikeALady

    Yup dairy is considered animal fat! I have switched over (for other reasons) to Daiya cheese — melts, tastes JUST like real cheese, and it comes in multiple flavors!

  17. Have you told them how much animal fat you eat on average? What happens if you get to near zero and it remains high?

    That bites.

    Me? I suspect that before I changed my diet my cholesterol was terrifying. In fact I am gonna go scrub my brain after typing this so I will not dwell on it. I can only control what I do this day forward. My mantra today and for… who knows how long.

    What are the good things you added in? Hubby fights his cholesterol. It would be good to slip them in on him. He balks if I tell him why he is eating something. Big baby.

    • Karen

      Not yet. I didn’t think of it, of course, while talking to the nurse. Then I did research and with my husband’s math think I should be cutting back to about 7 grams a day; I’ve been getting more than that, mostly from the cheese. It adds up very fast! This week I had steel cut oats with flax:) Certain nuts are good too… next on my list. My husband got me a book a while back and it lists tons of things and why they work. Maybe your husband could get into a read like that.

      • 7 grams. Well. That is not much indeed. What happens if you do not cut back? I mean will they up your meds or something because jeesh. Get your hubby to calculate how much the good food counterbalances the animal fat so you know if you can have more cheese. Yep. I went there. Put that number crunchin to some good use!

        • Karen

          I don’t know. It will be extra tough right now with the road trip. I will buckle down when I get back. When she tests me again, in theory in 3 months from the last test, I’ll ask her to test for the two kinds of LDL to see if maybe mine is not so bad. I wish there was some way to figure out how much the good food counteracts the other… and which good foods work the best. Like… should I cut out my morning beans (a heart healthy food) for oats (which are another known to lower cholesterol). Sigh.

  18. At my heaviest my cholesterol was 230. DEFINITELY NOT GOOD! With changing up my diet and losing the 35+ pounds and adding exercise my cholesterol has gone down significantly. Last time I had it checked my cholesterol overall was 182- which the doctor said was great. 🙂 I don’t remember my individual numbers though.

  19. Oh crap. Not the cheese! That’s so not fair cuz you’ve been active and eating fruits and veggies and and and.
    You probably eat better than I do – yes – it’s in the blood and genes.
    So sorry!
    Dang phlebotomist!

    • Karen

      And if we are cursing that vampire I can now curse that after losing track of my appointment that morning and making me wait longer than I should have (and me, starving, having skipped breakfast), the billed my old insurance company! I suspect it will be complicated now to get them to fix it. Sigh.

  20. I’ve been taking a statin for about a year now. Once I started exercising last fall, the numbers were better. Then I fell off the wagon. Hopefully, I can get things in check again here soon. I love cheese, but with the new food plan, I see very little of it. Good luck with trying to reduce cheese.

    • Karen

      I’ve always wondered if once the doctor puts you on a statin they are ever willing to let you try to get off:( For me, pretty sure the answer is no.

  21. Karen — SO unfair that you’re doing everything right and the numbers don’t follow. 😦 Hope reducing the cheese helps …

  22. Cheese also has a high sodium content, also factoring into why it’s bad for your cholesterol.

    • Karen

      Interesting… I need to research that more. I know I get wayyyy to much sodium. And mostly from the cheese. I was watching that closely for a while after a highish blood pressure reading from my doctor. But then I figured out it is only in her office that it’s high so stopped worrying so much about the sodium.

  23. Oh, I can relate to this so much! No matter how healthily I eat, I always get told by the doc that my LDL is through the roof, and like you, I always get told to lower my consumption of animal fat (I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 16 years). I’ve not come up with a solution yet, but if you keep on doing the right things, and keep it as low as possible, hopefully the doctor will eventually find out what’s pushing it so high.

    • Karen

      I am sighing as I think about the fact that I could just totally cut out the cheese for the next three months, until she checks again, and see what that does. Sigh.

  24. I inherited that same kinda blood…keep waiting and watching mine like a hawk as well.

    • Karen

      And I have subjected my poor sons to cholesterol testing a time or two in their lives. Pretty sure no one normally gets checked as a kid (although they both count as adults now). So far, so good. Maybe they got their dad’s genes on this one.

  25. Ann

    I was so frustrated with my last numbers after a year of eating well, I’m still high. Sigh. I’ve got six months and I added Omega 3 but if that doesn’t help, I’ll be on meds as well. Thanks a lot genes.

  26. Genetics do play a big part in this! Have you researched the benefits of eating oat bran? I read some really good stuff about it and have started incorporating a tablespoon or two of it into my diet every day. Kale, cauliflower, broccoli – you already probably eat them as well.

    I will be getting my blood work results on Tuesday! Hope they are good,but one never knows!

    • Karen

      Kale – ugh. The other veggies I eat. I knew oats (other than the fast cooking kind) were good. I have been eating steel cut oats this week with some flax seed meal.

  27. Hmmm…this post makes me want to make an appt with my doctor – stat! I really don’t know what my cholesterol level is, actually. I know I had blood work done last year but was never alerted that anything was out of the ordinary. I can sympathize with longing for the days of just eating what you want and not agonizing over every single morsel. (BIG SIGH)…..anyway – hope you get to get the root of the evil cholesterol figured out. I’s say reducing cheese is a good place to start (although cheese is next to godliness in my book)…..GOOD LUCK!!!

    • Karen

      Tonight we went out to dinner and it was a very non-cholesterol friendly meal:( Another couple invited us and treated and we had no say in the restaurant. They even ordered dishes or us to share. It was a Chinese restaurant where the wife works. I had a little inner cringe while I was eating, just thinking about how unhealthy it all was. Oh well… one meal.

      My doctor’s office will often just report that things are “normal” or which things are not. I have gotten into the habit of requesting they send me the full lab report so I can keep it for my records. Wish I’d thought to do that years sooner.

  28. Roz@weightingfor50

    Hi Karen. GRRR….that must have been SOOOO frustrating!!!! My Dad has genetic cholesterol issues and had a heart bypass a few years ago, and my brother has cholesterol issues, so not sure why….my numbers are fine at the moment. I make sure I get tested at least annually though, because with my family background, you just never know. All the best!!! Hope your weekend is a good one.

  29. Just a random thought but I remember one thing I did was look up foods that lower cholesterol and starting eating them a LOT. I believe dark chocolate was one of them.

  30. My mom has low, good cholesterol and so far, I’m lucky! It was getting high before I lost weight though!

    • Karen

      I remember when I was first diagnosed and people would find out and say “but you’re so thin.” Clearly there was a connection in their mind that it was weight related.

  31. Those darn genetics get us every time. I do have good cholesterol (for now), but I suspect that in about 20 years when I hit the big 5-0 that genetics will catch up wit me, as it certainly runs in my family. As an aside, my brother, who has always been a string bean, has high cholesterol at age 30.

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