Why average cholesterol values can be so bad

Jack had been told again and again that there was absolutely nothing wrong with his cholesterol panel. His numbers:

Total cholesterol 198 mg/dl

LDL cholesterol 119 mg/dl--actually below the national average (131 mg/dl).

HDL 48 mg/dl--actually above the average HDL for a male (42 mg/dl).

Triglycerides 153 ng/dl--right at the average.

So his primary care physician was totally stumped when Jack's heart scan revealed a score of 410.

Lipoprotein analysis (NMR) told an entirely different story:

LDL particle number 1880 nmol/l (take off the last digit to generate an approximate real LDL, i.e., 188 mg/dl).

Small LDL 95% of all LDL particles, a very severe pattern.

A severe excess of intermediate-density lipoprotein (218 nmol/l), suggesting that dietary fats are not cleared for 24 hours or so after a meal.

And those were just the major points. In other words, where conventional cholesterol values, or lipids, failed miserably, lipoprotein analysis can shine. The causes for Jack's high heart scan score become immediately apparent, even obvious. Jack's abnormalities are relatively easy to correct--but you have to know if they're present before they can be corrected. A shotgun statin drug approach could only hope to correct a portion of this pattern, but would unquestionably fail to fully correct the pattern.

As I've said before, standard cholesterol testing is a fool's game. You can squeeze a little bit of information out of them, but there's so much more information that can be easily obtained through lipoprotein testing like Jack had.

Comments (23) -

  • DietKing2

    8/29/2007 9:56:00 PM |

    Have you ever heard of this?
    I hear you talking about Lp(a) quite alot and I'm not counting on my daily dose of Lipitor to straighten out whatever else might be going on backstage in my bloodstream, you know?
    Let me know what you think.

  • Dr. Davis

    8/30/2007 12:36:00 AM |

    Hi, Adam--

    Yes, we've tried the Rath/Pauling formula informally but have never seen any substantial effect.

    Lipoprotein(a) is a very real phenomenon that clusters in high-risk families with heart disease. The treatment is specific, e.g., niacin, testosterone, and others. However, it must be measured specifically. Be sure to see the extensive conversations on our website, www.trackyourplaque.com.

  • Anonymous

    8/30/2007 2:53:00 AM |

    hello- I am new to your blog and just wondering your opinion on "The South Beach Diet" or what diet/book you recommend.
    I am a 50 year old male on a statin with a calcium score of 2. My lipid numbers are OK now but I really want to get off the statin and am totally confused by all the contradicting diet info out forthe public.Help!

  • Anonymous

    8/30/2007 3:21:00 AM |

    Hi Dr. Davis,

    I joined TrackYourPlaque today and appreciate your insight there.

    The story you relate in this post is incredible really and one I can relate to...

    10 years ago I had a mild heart attack at 43 which led to 3 stents.  5 years ago, just symptoms which got me to the hospital which led to a triple bypass.

    I've met with a lot of doctors, including cardiologists who appear often to know less about what they're doing than I have come to know through research and reading on the internet.

    I guess it's understandable that every adult patient wouldn't get sophisticated lipoprotein subfraction analysis as a matter of course.

    But you'd think that someone in my situation would get sophisticated input.

    My HMO was and is great for emergency conditions and has highly qualified surgeons and facilities.

    But after reading this post, I was struck again by how little informed and significant knowledge about best practice treatment methods one can really get in some HMO contexts.

    I know that I've spent a lot of time doing my own research to learn everything I could ('cause I don't want to die young) and I have to wonder sometimes what happens to folks with issues similar to mine who don't have a research and read orientation or the time to learn enough to protect themselves with preventative measures.

    Mid Life Male in CA
    aka "wccaguy"

  • Dr. Davis

    8/30/2007 11:45:00 AM |

    South Beach Diet is a wonderful program, at least phases 1 and II. Phase III, in my opinion, is too lax by including too much wheat. However, it is an overall solid and healthy diet. Also beware of its over-reliance on processed foods. The best foods for all of us are in the produce aisle, the ones with no labels.

    Our principal website, www.trackyourplaque.com, will also soon be releasing the NEW Track Your Plaque Diet that incorporates many of the concepts discussed here to help achieve control over heart scan scores.

  • Dr. Davis

    8/30/2007 11:50:00 AM |

    Mid Life Male--

    Yes. Lipoprotein testing, in my view, can make or break success in gaining control over your disease.

    Unfortunately, the lack of knowledge in this area is not confined to the HMO's. HMO's are, in fact, poorly represented in Wisconsin, yet ignorance among my colleagues regarding lipoprotein testing and other advanced measures of risk persists outside of the HMO setting. In short, it's everywhere. It's up to us to talk about it and spread the word.

  • Anonymous

    8/30/2007 3:02:00 PM |

    Hello- Greg here- I posted the South beach Diet question- thanks so much for the response. A couple questions:
    - Is your new book coming out actually a book to purchase or part of your membership web-site?
    - Can you tell me when it will be available?
    - I know you don't recommend wheat flour products but can you comment on sprouted grain bread line Eziekiel or similar brands, are these any better in moderation? Or should I just forget about bread entirely?
    - My calcium score was 2. That was about 3 years ago, now at 50 when should I have it done again?

  • Anonymous

    8/30/2007 3:19:00 PM |

    Greg - again- sorry, I might be confused here. My calcium score was 2 is that the same as a heart scan score?
    I am not sure I know the difference.

  • Anonymous

    8/30/2007 4:11:00 PM |

    Hello- sorry for all  my comments but I just found your site and I am very impressed.
    I did a search for Splenda and didn't come up with much- can you comment on this product and the use of it in your program.I have dessert issues... I did enjoy the ricotta dessert on South Beach but what do you think of jello and the use of Splenda in desserts without wheat!There is so much on the web about the evils of Splenda- who to believe?
    I really should just become a member I suppose.

  • Anonymous

    8/30/2007 6:48:00 PM |

    Another question- do you have any thoughts on Dr. Gott's "No Sugar, No Flour Diet"? He is coming out with a cookbook this December to compliment this book.

  • Dr. Davis

    8/30/2007 8:20:00 PM |

    Sorry, no. I've heard of it but haven't yet read it. I like the title, however!

  • Dr. Davis

    8/30/2007 8:22:00 PM |

    In my experience, I've not witnessed any ill effects from Splenda or Stevia. I have seen plenty of mental cloudiness, however, with aspartame. I still think it's a good idea to keep your sweeteners, natural or synthetic, to a minimum.

  • Dr. Davis

    8/30/2007 8:23:00 PM |

    Yes, a heart scan score and a calcium score are the same thing.

  • Dr. Davis

    8/30/2007 8:26:00 PM |

    The New Track Your Plaque Diet will be a Special Report posted on the www.trackyourplaque.com website sometime in the next few months.

    With a starting score of 2, I would not recommend another scan for 3 to 5 years.

    I actually have a 18-month old loaf of Ezekiel bread in my freezer that I have not yet had a chance to play around with. So, no, sorry, no experience nor much knowledge of this specific product yet.

  • Anonymous

    8/30/2007 8:28:00 PM |

    Thanks for the responses.
    Can you tell me, in general, how often a person should have a heart scan done. As I said my last one was at 48 ( a score of 2)  I am now 50.
    Sorry if I already asked this.

  • Anonymous

    8/30/2007 8:56:00 PM |

    OK- I have been reading many of your posts today and thanks for your patience with my posting enthusiasm... I think I asked the same question twice!
    I have beed struggling for sometime with diet and my physician is no help.
    I did lose on South Beach but gained much of it back.
    I see that you recommend South Beach but as I read your postings it seems you lean toward a vegetarian diet too or am I reading into this.
    By joining the web-site would I get access to recipes and meal plans?
    Thanks for help and patience with the new guy.

  • Dr. Davis

    8/30/2007 9:17:00 PM |


    South Beach is a wonderful program. Following a vegetarian diet is a choice, but not a necessary part of doing well on our program.

    Unfortunately, meal programs will not be found on the Track Your Plaque website, just discussion of principles and occasional recipes. We are working towards that, however.

  • Anonymous

    8/30/2007 9:45:00 PM |

    I think I have been reading too much over the years as I have dealing with higher blood lipids and weight gain.
    The whole vegan/vegetarian crowd can make me nervous - The China Study, Ornish, McDougall, Fuhrman, Esselstyn, Pritikin, etc.... they all say theirs is THE way. I had the nutritionist write me back from the Pritkin Center and say South Beach (in the one study done) showed no decrease in LDL and that it is a horrible diet.
    Also there was an article between Ornish and Agatston in Ornish's column he writes for Newsweek where Dr. Agatston said Ornishes approach was aggressive but perhaps he should offer it to those that want to try it in the future ( I am not quoting correctly but you can google Ornish and Agatston and find the article) It kind of made me feel like he wasn't too proud of his program or maybe he was just trying to appease Ornish.... urrhhh... not sure.
    I know as the public we are really lead down different paths and the more I read the more confused I get.
    Best- Greg

  • Dr. Davis

    8/31/2007 11:33:00 AM |

    I always remind people not to  confuse diets meant to achieve WEIGHT LOSS and diets that correct causes of HEART DISEASE. There is a good deal of overlap but there can be crucial differences.

    The inclusion of abundant grains, for instance, from whole wheat or whole grain bread and breakfast cereals, magnifies undesirable small LDL particles and raises triglycerides, both powerfully related to increased coronary plaque growth.

    We use the heart scan score as our endpoint and guided along the way by lipoprotein patterns. I think this makes us worlds smarter about diet, what works and what doesn't.

  • Anonymous

    8/31/2007 1:32:00 PM |

    Thanks so much for all your help.
    I am wondering if your counsel patients at your clinic- either you or your staff.
    I am near LaCrosse, WI so not that far away. Or is it better just to join your site?
    I did have the LDL test and my particle size were a bit on the small side and as you know I have a calcium score of 2.
    Just wondering about next steps for myself- I know you cannot counsel via this blog, just looking for a general recommendation.

  • Dr. Davis

    8/31/2007 2:14:00 PM |

    Hi, Greg--
    I would suggest using our website.

    In all honesty, I do not do the website work to increase my practice. My practice is already bursting to overflowing. I am confident that the Track Your Plaque website can serve your purposes quite well.

  • Ask A Doctor

    8/13/2009 3:10:50 PM |

    I think that the lipoprotien tests should be included in the standard list for testing Cholesterol.

  • buy jeans

    11/3/2010 8:43:25 PM |

    As I've said before, standard cholesterol testing is a fool's game. You can squeeze a little bit of information out of them, but there's so much more information that can be easily obtained through lipoprotein testing like Jack had.