Before we get into the big job of interpreting cholesterol numbers, let’s review what cholesterol actually is.
Cholesterol is cholesterol: a waxy steroid of fat that serves as an essential structural component of cellular membranes and in the production of steroid hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids. Contrary to what the terminology indicates, there’s actually only one “type” of cholesterol in the human body, and it’s called, quite simply, cholesterol. What we think of when we use the word “cholesterol” is actually a lipoprotein – a fatty conglomerate of protein and lipids that delivers cholesterol and fat and fat-soluble nutrients to different parts of the body. It’s not just free cholesterol floating around in your blood; it’s cholesterol bound up by lipoproteins.
Allow me to preface this post series with a wholehearted acknowledgment of the beneficial role antibiotics have played, and continue to play, in fighting infections that might otherwise take limbs or lives. Before formal antibiotics, ancient and traditional cultures employed antibacterial herbs, tinctures, and even moldy bread, but regardless of the various methods’ efficacies, they were largely operating in the dark. They knew what worked, but not why it worked. When we use antibiotics today, we (mostly) understand what they are doing on a micro level, and we aren’t (ideally) just relying on hearsay, anecdote, and experimentation. This is a good thing.
So, how do antibiotics work, exactly? There are four primary routes taken by various antibiotics:
I know what many of you are already thinking: where do I sign up? Let’s face it: we organize much of our lifestyles contrary to CW specifically to live healthier and feel better. When it’s check up time, however, we find ourselves back in foreign territory. If it’s just an annual ritual, we can grit our teeth through the usual advice and make the best of it. On the other hand, if we’re receiving care for on ongoing condition and using the Primal Blueprint to get on top of our health – or if we’re just looking for more from our health care – it’s harder to skirt the Primal issue. Some practitioners will listen and offer gentle, cautionary advice. Others will agree to give your approach “a chance” before going back to their prescribed route. A few will unfortunately fly off the handle and tell you they will need to sever the treatment relationship if you continue on this ill-advised course. It can be a tricky, awkward situation to handle: living out your Primal principles while trying to garner benefit and help from your conventional (a.k.a. insurance covered) health care providers. A less explored question is this: what is it like to be on the other side of the fence? What is it like to be a Primal-minded medical practitioner swimming against a wholly un-Primal mainstream?
I came across an interesting statin study the other day. It’s from last year, but I hadn’t seen it until recently. The study, entitled “Statins Do Not Decrease Small, Dense Low Density-Lipoprotein,” sought to understand the effect of statin therapy on small, dense LDL, the truly “bad” kind of “bad” cholesterol, the stuff that’s strongly associated with increased heart disease risk in many studies. We know that statins reduce LDL cholesterol – they are extremely effective at curtailing the cholesterol-synthesizing hydroxy-methyl-glutaryl-coenzyme A reductase, if you’re into that sort of thing – but their effectiveness at lowering sdLDL is unknown. They reduce the rate at which cholesterol is produced and that’s as specific as it gets.
An alarming new health trend has medical professionals scurrying around issuing dire warnings of impending doom and death. As a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal relays, consumers are taking their health into their own hands by foregoing expensive, redundant doctor’s visits in favor of mail order lab tests. Blood lipids, A1C, vitamin D, C-reactive protein – you can get just about any lab value tested online, no insurance required. Lipids run between $30 and $50, A1c between $25 and $40. Even people with (overpriced) insurance and high deductibles are skipping the doctor. This is part of an overall larger worldwide trend toward going it alone. The home blood glucose monitoring industry, for example, grew from $3.8 billion worldwide in 2000 to $8.8 billion in 2008.
What should we make of it?
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