Weight and lipoproteins

Tom, an accountant, came into the office eager to know what his 2nd heart scan score showed.

A year ago, Tom's view of himself as a healthy, middle-aged man was shattered when he found out his heart scan score: 1236. Tom had severe coronary plaque with a heart attack risk of 25% per year (without intensive preventive action).

In the way of lipoprotein abnormalities, he had several: low HDL, deficient large HDL, small LDL, high triglycerides, IDL (the after-eating inability to clear dietary fats), and a high blood sugar in the pre-diabetic range. In addition, Tom was hypertensive, with blood pressure so high it even landed him in the emergency room last winter.

In addition to our approach to correct all these patterns, Tom was urged to lose a significant quantity of weight. Starting at 225 lb., at 5 ft 7 inches, Tom was clearly at least 40 lbs over his ideal weight.

I stressed to Tom that the entire spectrum of causes of coronary plaque were weight-related. I likened his patterns to throwing gasoline on a fire: As weight increased, his lipoprotein and other abnormalties flared dramatically.

But each time Tom came back to the office over the ensuing year, he'd gained another 3 to 6 lbs. And each time he had an explanation. "My daughter just got married. I couldn't turn down wedding cake, now could I?" Or, I just survived another tax season. I was working day and night--no time for exercise!" "It's getting too hot to walk anymore."

Well, despite multiple treatments, Tom's repeat heart scan showed a score of 1677, a 35% increase. That's a dangerous rate of growth that virtually guarantees that plaque is building up momentum to "rupture", which results in heart attack.

I therefore stressed to Tom that weight loss was crucial. Control of coronary plaque was simply not going to occur without weight loss to our target. Alternatively, we could add several new prescription medicines and hope that they could achieve the same effect, though at a price (side-effects, expense).

I tell Tom's story to highlight again just how important weight loss can be for a number of lipoprotein abnormalities.

What measures specifically are sensitive to weight? They are:

--HDL cholesterol
--Small LDL
--Blood pressure
--Blood sugar and insulin
--C-reactive protein

Weight exerts profound influence on these patterns. In Tom and people like him, weight can be a "make it or break it" issue.

If you, like Tom, have any of the above patterns, consider weight loss as a potent tool you can use to gain control of coronary plaque.