The lipid distorting effects of weight loss

Roger experienced a near-fatal heart attack 6 years ago. He survived thanks to the quick action of bystanders who initiated CPR and called 911. An emergency catheterization was performed and a stent implanted into the closed right coronary artery. But that's not why I tell Roger's story.

Since then, Roger has become comfortable with the idea that he has heart disease. His initial commitment to good nutrition and exercise has waned, as it often does in us distractable humans. So Roger gained about 30 lbs through a long winter, inactivity, eating frozen dinners, and the cookies and baked goodies his daughters made him.

As a result of the weight gain and inactivity, Roger's HDL dropped to 32 mg/dl, triglycerides rose to 211 mg/dl, blood sugar crept up into the pre-diabetic range of 116 mg/dl. Undoubtedly, small LDL was out of control beneath the surface. His tummy reflected the weight gain, flaccid and overhanging his belt.

I read Roger the riot act. I reminded him of what he had experienced and nearly didn't survive. Weight loss and a re-invigoration of his nutrition and exercise efforts was going to be crucial.

Roger listened and took it to heart. Over three months, he lost 24 lbs, a phenomenal result. However, his repeat lipid panel showed an HDL of 28 mg/dl, triglycerides 234 mg/dl, blood sugar unchanged.

"I don't get it! I lose all this weight and the number get worse?!" Roger was understandably upset after his enormous effort.

I told Roger that after a profound weight loss, lipids can go berserk for up to two months after weight has stabilized. Typically, HDL drops and triglycerides rise--the opposite of what we want. But wait another two or so months after weight has stabilized and the numbers begin to look beautiful.

Why does this crazy effect happen? I really don't know and I've never heard a satisfactory explanation for it. But it is very real and quite predictable.

The lesson: after a substantial weight loss, be patient. Check your lipid numbers too soon and you might be confused or disappointed. If you do check them, bear in mind that additional time may need to pass before you see the weight loss fully reflected.