When LDL is more than meets the eye

Jerry wanted to know what to do with his LDL cholesterol of 112 mg/dl. "My doctor said that it's not high but it could be better."

So I asked him what the other numbers on his lipid panel showed. He pulled out the results:

LDL cholesterol 112 mg/dl

HDL 32 mg/dl

Triglycerides 159 mg/dl

I pointed out to Jerry that, given the low HDL and high triglycerides, his calculated LDL of 112 was likely inaccurate. In fact, if measured, LDL was probably more like 140-180 mg/dl. LDL particles were also virtually guaranteed to be small, since low HDL and small LDL usually go hand-in-hand (though small LDL can still occur with a good HDL).

So Jerry's LDL is really much higher than it appears. To prove it, Jerry will require an additional test, preferably one in which LDL is measured, such as LDL particle number (NMR), apoprotein B, or "direct" LDL.

It's really quite simple. Jerry likely has a high number of LDL particles that are too small. This pattern confers a three- to six-fold increased risk for heart disease.

Treatment requires more than just reducing LDL. Small LDL--an important component of this pattern, responds, for instance, to a reduction in processed carbohydrates like wheat products (breads, breakfast cereals, pretzels, etc.), NOT to a low-fat diet. Weight loss to ideal weight, especially loss of abdominal fat, will yield huge improvements in these numbers. Niacin may be a necessary component of Jerry's treatment program, since it increases LDL size and raises HDL.

For more discussion on measures superior to LDL cholesterol, see my upcoming editorial, Let Dr. Friedewald Lie in Peace (an expansion of a previous Heart Scan Blog). It will be posted on the Cardiologist on Call column on the Track Your Plaque website within the next week.)