*The following post is meant for educational purposes only and is not meant to advise, diagnose, or treat any medical condition. This information is not meant to replace any medical advice or relationship with a licensed medical professional.*
Do you know your values? I’m not talking about your deeply-rooted moral values, although you should probably have a good grasp on what those are as well. But what I’m talking about is your lipid panel values. You know, your cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose… Never heard of them? Certainly don’t know what they are? If that is the case, well, frankly I’m not surprised.
As a 27 year old female who exercises and appears to be healthy from the outside, I have been told by more than one doctor that we do not need to test these values because I am young. We can wait until I am in my 30’s. My question to them, and better yet to you, is why wouldn’t we test these numbers before I’m 30? Do the past 27 years of my nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress habits not matter for the next 50+ years of my life? Isn’t one of the most important reasons to test these values is so that I can be preventative with my health instead of reactive? Well if that isn’t a reason for them, it certainly is a good enough reason for me.
A routine lipid pane, routine meaning that you should have one done at least once per year, should include the values for: total cholesterol (TC), LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, TC/HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose levels.
Once per year you say, easy, I can get that done – great, I’m glad to hear that won’t be too much trouble for you. But I’m going to push you one step further and encourage you to know what you’re looking at when you get your results mailed to you, because 99% of the time all you will get is a list of numbers and a “your values look good” statement from the clinic. Helpful right? Or not.
Now it’s not to say that having a firm statement from the clinic letting you know you are in good health isn’t reassuring, and really, why would you need to know anything further? Isn’t it their job to know if something is off with your values, not yours? I would beg to differ. And I mean strongly beg to differ.
When you choose not to know what is going on inside of your body you are choosing to give 100% of the control of the most precious asset in your life, your health, over to someone else. But my health isn’t my most precious asset you are thinking. Your kid’s, your significant other, your “insert whatever you want here” is your most precious asset in life. Ok, I understand that. But let me ask you this, how are you going to care for your most precious asset in life if you are too ill to provide them with 100% percent of yourself?
Now I could spend a whole blog series on the topic of lipid panels and the numerous changes they have undergone. Instead I am going to provide a brief description of the values you will see on the most basic lipid panel. What they are, what they mean to your health, and where western medicine states they should lie as of today. Whether or not I agree with where the values “should” lie is a topic for another day and many other blog posts. But in the meantime, I would highly encourage you to go pick up the book Cholesterol Clarity: What the HDL is Wrong with My Numbers by Jimmy Moore.
Total Cholesterol (TC)
What it is: TC is made up of your LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and particles of your triglycerides. This number is not made up of simply adding those three values together. There is an equation that is used to determine the number and therefore, cannot be a straight forward value.
What it means: Honestly, not much of anything. Without knowing what the other values are that make up that number, a person’s TC cannot tell them much about the status of their health. However, if your TC value is significantly low, this could be a sign of something deeper going on in your body. Contrary to what you hear, lower is not always better for your TC value.
Where it “should” lie: Western medicine will state TC should be <200 mg/dL. Again, read the book.
What it is: Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. LDL is responsible for carrying cholesterol and fat-soluble vitamins from the liver to the cells. Because of this job, LDL cholesterol has previously gotten the wrap of being the “bad” cholesterol. We now know this is no longer the case and since, LDL cholesterol is referred to as just that, LDL cholesterol.
What it means: Again, nothing. LDL cholesterol is a calculated value and without looking at the particles that make up the LDL (again, another post for another time and read the book), there is little that this value can tell you about your health. However, if your LDL value is significantly low, this could be a sign of something deeper going on in your body.
Where it “should” lie: <100 mg/dL
What it is: High-density lipoprotein cholesterol. HDL is responsible for carrying cholesterol from the blood to the liver to be excreted. It is our body’s clean-up mechanism.
What it means: A whole lot. If a person’s HDL level is low it could mean a number of things from their body not absorbing nutrients, their body has a good amount of inflammation going on, to they are a smoker and their body’s ability to produce HDL is shunted. The list could go on and on. But, the same could be said if their HDL is elevated. Another thing that is usually not ever said – that an HDL level is abnormally high. HDL is a very important factor for knowing where your health lies and for determining if your heart health is at risk.
Where it “should” lie: For men >40 mg/dL, for women >50 mg/dL, and for everyone >60mg/dL is optimal.
What it is: A division of your total cholesterol by your HDL cholesterol.
What it means: This value indicates how much of your TC is coming from HDL cholesterol. It is a great indication of where your heart health lies.
Where it “should” lie: Low risk <4.4:1; optimal <3.1:1
What it is: Triglycerides are a form of energy, known as free fatty acids, used by the body. When you eat your body either has to use the energy right away for the activity you are doing, store the energy in your muscles as glycogen (another energy source), or store it in the body as fat to be used later.
What it means: Our body only has the ability to store so much energy in our muscles (another post for another time) before it has to be converted and stored in the body as fat (the free fatty acids). When we are consuming more energy than we need, or not the type of energy that we need (i.e. eating more sugary carbohydrates than protein and fat), our body will turn that energy into triglycerides to be stored in our blood for later use. When you start to see an increase in triglycerides, it is a strong indication that your body isn’t using the energy you are consuming as efficiently as before, or, the type of energy you have been consuming is more carbohydrate-based.
Where it “should” lie: Low risk <150 mg/dL; optimal <100 mg/dL *this is a very important value that is covered in great extent in Cholesterol Clarity*
What it is: Blood glucose is the amount of sugar in your blood at that specific time.
What it means: Blood glucose levels give insight to how your body is processing sugar and managing its insulin levels. Abnormal levels, whether high or low, are an indication of how your body is using insulin and our first line of defense in determining if someone is diabetic or not.
Where it “should” lie: <100 mg/dL
This is just skimming the surface of what these values are and what they mean to your health. If you haven’t gotten the hint, I would highly encourage you to take the time to have your values checked on a yearly basis (at minimum) and read Cholesterol Clarity so that you are informed and ready to make a decision about your health if the time comes.
For full disclosure, here is copy of my most recent labs taken this month.
a.wise approach: Educate yourself now, so you’re prepared to make a decision then.