Know which numbers to worry about

There are many ads on the TV right now encouraging people to know their cholesterol numbers to prevent heart disease.

What is confusing is that there are three different cholesterol numbers to understand.

Phil, 63, was in a similar situation. He had been told by his medical doctor that his total cholesterol was high and he should bring it down to prevent requiring a statin drug to bring it down.

He showed me his results where his total cholesterol was high but this is not the number that naturopathic physicians worry about. It is the LDL (low density) cholesterol and the ratio of the total cholesterol to HDL (high density) cholesterol numbers that we monitor.

The higher the HDL (good) cholesterol the less the risk so we like to see this number at 1.5 to 2.0 mmol/L with the Chol/HDL ratio at 3.5 or less. The LDL risk will be lowered when the HDL cholesterol is higher.

I explained this to Phil in great detail and then I reviewed those things that will raise the HDL. Certainly lifestyle management is important including exercise (10,000 steps per day); eating a Mediterranean diet which is high in coloured vegetables, legumes, fish, and olive oil; and avoiding sugars as well as the bad fats.  Bad fats are those that are saturated such as meat fat that is made especially foreign to the body when it is also barbecued rendering it into glycosylated end products.

Good fats include nuts and seeds, coconut and olive oil, and fish oils such as cod liver and herring oil. These fish oils increase the HDL cholesterol as well as act as a natural blood thinner to help prevent strokes. Some MD’s will recommend beer to raise HDL’s, however, I caution against it as beer may also increase abdominal weight, blood sugars and triglycerides, increasing the risk of insulin resistance (IR). IR in return increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Other numbers that I wanted Phil to know were CRP and homocysteine. CRP is C-reactive protein which is a simple inexpensive test to measure inflammation in the body. It is not a specific marker for the heart, however it may indicate total body inflammatory load and keeping this number below 1.0 reduces the risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases of aging. Homocysteine is a protein found in the blood that, when elevated, is a risk factor for many diseases of aging: Alzheimer’s, diabetes and heart disease. This number should be between 5-7. I also want triglycerides to be 1-1.5 mmol/L which is an indicator of sugar metabolism in the body. These are the numbers I want Phil to know regarding his cardiovascular risk.

Other numbers he should know are his PSA prostate specific antigen numbers so that he can monitor his numbers over the years – but prostate health is another topic.

Phil sure knows his numbers now and is feeling much better for it. He is not only preventing diabetes and heart disease but protecting his brain as well.


Dr. Ingrid Pincott, naturopathic physician, has been practicing since 1985 and can be reached at or 250-286-3655.

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