BY LOIS DESOCIO
At my latest annual physical a few weeks ago, my doctor asked me who my cardiologist was. Cardiologist? I’m way too young for a cardiologist. Cardiologists are for old people with heart disease. She sighed. She shook her head in disgust. She was surprised I wasn’t dead yet.
“Your cholesterol is sky-high,” she said. (She said the same thing two years ago, and I’m still here.) “What do I have to do to get you to swallow that pill!”
That pill is Lipitor (apparently everyone is doing it), which she had prescribed for me two years ago, which I filled, and left sitting, unopened and expired on my dresser. As much as Julie will grasp every word her doctors and friends dole out, and will act accordingly, I rebuff. My quest becomes: “Phooey! I will prove you wrong.” I say no to drugs. And I eat a lot of spinach.
So I went to a cardiologist at my doctor’s suggestion for baseline testing – not because I was concerned about that sure-fire stroke or heart attack that is about to cut me down (I have a doctor’s warning), not to be told, “yes, you need statins,” not to meet the expert, but to prove my doctor wrong about adding Lipitor to my daily dose of spinach. Even though my cholesterol is a “sky-high” 289. (It’s been recommended by the experts to keep total cholesterol under 200. My doctor insists on under 130.)
And while it is about the numbers, each number (and there are about 50 of them in a routine lipid panel, comp. metabolic panel, CBC with differential/platelet panel), it’s crucial to understand what all of those numbers mean – individually, and as a whole.
What I’ve learned over the past two years is, yes, my 289 total cholesterol is on the dangerous scale. But that number is so high because my HDL, the movers and shakers, is 103 (sky high!) – pretty much as high as it can go. And this is a good thing. I’ve also learned that your HDL should be about 30% of your total number for heart health. I’m there.
A high HDL (anything over 39) is considered a “negative risk factor for coronary heart disease.” And while my LDL is killer at 175 (expert recommendation: don’t go above 99), my HDL scoffs at that. I even met my VLDL, which is a heart-healthy 11.
So, while many people are like Julie, and will change their diets to maneuver their numbers to where their doctors say they should be, I’ll eat just about anything. (Just put spinach on it.)
But we all need some validation, no matter how steadfast our convictions. Julie can feel a little vindicated (and is certainly not alone in her number worries), from a recent New York Times article by Jeff Gordinier, “Hold the Butter“, about a new restaurant certification system that has tapped into, and attempts to ease, the national anxiety about what to eat when eating out – especially if you have a diagnoses, like pre-diabetes, or if you are obese.
I have been validated, too. By my cardiologist – who, when I asked him if he thinks I should be on Lipitor, as my primary care physician prescribed (and is shoving down my throat), said: “You’re too young. If you have three or more flags on your numbers, (I only have one), or you were over 60, I’d say yes. But not yet.”