Although the single measurement of total cholesterol has been overemphasized as a risk factor for heart disease, the fats that circulate in our blood vessels do have an impact on our heart health. But which blood fats are important?
The diet-heart hypothesis suggesting that high cholesterol of any kind pushes a person towards heart disease got its start in the first half of the 20th century. It held sway through the middle and into the end of the century, but during that time, technological advances made more subtle measurements of blood fats possible. Doctors and patients weren’t just worrying about total cholesterol any more.
What Are Healthy Blood Fats?
Q. I have a good HDL of 69 and my triglycerides are 126. My total cholesterol is 252 but an NMR lipid test found I have super-high dense lipoproteins in my blood, which is not good.
The doctor gave me a prescription for atorvastatin but I would rather do this naturally. Is there any way to use diet and exercise to make my lipoproteins big and fluffy?
Making LDL Particles More Buoyant:
A. As technology for measuring cholesterol, lipoproteins and triglycerides improved, people began to realize that the type of LDL particles in the blood stream makes a difference. When a person has many small, dense LDL particles the risk is higher than if the particles are large and buoyant, or, in your term, “fluffy.”
Oddly enough, the conventional medical advice to reduce saturated fat and use vegetable oil (corn, safflower, sunflower, etc) instead may lead to small, dense LDL particles (OpenHeart, online, March 5, 2014). Saturated fat in the diet promotes larger, fluffier lipoproteins, even though we’ve all been warned to shun sat fat. These buoyant particles seem less likely to damage coronary arteries (Atherosclerosis, Oct., 2015).
Could a Mediterranean Diet Improve Blood Fats?
Unlike corn or safflower oil, fresh olive oil full of polyphenols that give it a flavor “bite” improve lipoprotein particle quality and overall lipid ratios (Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, online March 15, 2016). The same study showed that polyphenols from thyme are beneficial as well. These are frequent components of a Mediterranean-style diet, which is also rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains and fish rather than meat. A diet high in fish and low in processed foods also results in favorable LDL particle size (Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases, Nov. 2013). Adding pistachios to the diet can also improve blood fats (Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases, April, 2015).
We are sending you our Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health for more information on natural approaches to help your heart. Exercise and weight loss are extremely helpful for increasing particle size and reducing cardiovascular risk (Atherosclerosis, Dec. 2015; March, 2016). Physical activity has many other benefits as well. Finding a way to move your body most days of the week while avoiding processed foods and refined carbohydrates will probably improve your triglycerides as well as your cholesterol, but it will certainly make you feel good. That in itself seems like a worthwhile goal.