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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Tell Me Honestly.... Do these Genes make my Cholesterol Look Fat?

Tell me honestly, do these Genes make my cholesterol look fat?

Truth be told, my girlfriends and I talk a lot about getting old these days. I don’t think it is that we hate the concept so much as we can’t believe it is happening. Some of us see forty approaching and are less than thrilled. Others have embraced the idea that forty is the new thirty (I’ll take a case of whatever pills they are on) and embrace the idea full force. To all my thirty somethings out there reading this entry- you may know what I mean. As for my younger readers, although I have nothing but gratitude for your interest in my column, I secretly envy your youth and defiance of all things gravity and suggest you put this article away for a rainier thirty something day.

One of my girlfriends, we’ll call her “Jackie” shares the same birthday with me. Every year we celebrate our “big day” together. As the twenties turned into the thirties and sped towards the forties she and I have blown out the ever growing forest fire on our respective birthday cakes. It was on our thirty fifth birthday that she turned to me and said,

“I don’t care about getting old. You just have to tell me what tests I have to get and at what age.” Her words slurred and she continued to drink the Veuve Cliquot without missing a beat.

“When do we have to get the test done?” she slurred.

“What test are you referring to?” I asked, Feeling the warmth of the overpriced champagne fill my veins.

“You, know the blood fat one, cholesterol thingy.”

At that very moment she blew my buzz. It was then and there that it struck me: We are now reaching the point where a yearly pap smear is the worst of our worries. Furthermore, if Jackie, a smart successful woman of the world did not know when to have her “cholesterol thingy” checked, how many other women out there were passing birthday after birthday with bottle of Veuve, blinded by the bubbles as to when to get their “cardiovascular health” as in order as their shoe closets?

Lets be honest my cyber sisters… we’ll spend a weekend cleaning out a closet between seasons and even plan a week’s worth of “age appropriate” outfits in our head. We are women we plan ahead. It is likely what that extra X Chromosome offers us, the ability for forward thinking. So let’s put all those great girly genes to work and the at least plan for a cholesterol check.

SO, pull out your iPhone/Black berry/Hermes leather hand bound daybook (you go retro girl!) and mark it. Fortieth birthday coming? Get your cholesterol checked.

Here’s the 411 on our “bloody fats”.

A standard cholesterol test is a measurement of three different types of cholesterol.

1. Low Density Lipoproteins or LDL cholesterol is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol. This is likely because LDL cholesterol is most strongly correlated with cardiac risk. The higher the LDL, the higher the risk. Interestingly LDL is also the most genetically determined of all of our cholesterols. In other words, you can pretty much blame your LDL (along with your low self esteem and bad eyebrows) on your parents. The liver makes Eighty percent of our LDL cholesterol. Cholesterol medication, called statins work by interfering in the production of LDL at the level of the liver. LDL undergoes a process called oxidization that allows it to lay down plaques in the lining of our arteries. These plaques are what contribute to heart disease and strokes.

2. High Density Lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol; every relationship has to have two opposing fronts and so bad cholesterol has to have a good cholesterol. This I where HDL comes in. Typically higher in women than in men, HDL acts to protect against the laying down of LDL plaques in the blood vessels.

So if you think about it, LDL is the frat boy who spends the weekend at your house leaving his shit strewn all over your perfect Feng Shui apartment. HDL is the fabulous Romanian cleaning lady who comes over on Monday morning and picks up after the bum, restoring your den of solace to its former perfection.

3. Triglycerides are the third and final component of the cholesterol we measure using a standard cholesterol test. Triglycerides are most strongly affected by the food that we eat and by excess weight and lack of exercise. In addition to certain genetic disorders that increase cholesterol, triglycerides can be raised in the setting of diabetes and excess alcohol use. Want to lower your triglycerides? Omega 3 fatty acids, exercise and a high fibre diet will definitely make an impact. So the next time you want to wash away a bad date with a pint of Haagen daas and three double martinis? Stop, pay homage to you triglycerides and go for a walk instead.

4. Total Cholesterol to HDL ratio. This is the fourth measurement in a standard cholesterol test and it is a ratio of the total cholesterol to good cholesterol ratio. It becomes and important market when looking at risk factor in patients. For example a woman may have high total cholesterol but this could be because her good cholesterol is so high. This would make her ratio of total cholesterol over good cholesterol rather low. It the ratio that is far more significant than the overall number. Think of it like spending your entire clothing budget on a few key pieces. Your credit card bill says you shop like a sailor, but it is only because you have a few fabulous pairs of Louboutins that will universally last a lifetime, and lest we forget the Prada carryall.

So now you are “in the know” when it comes to your cholesterol numbers! Canadian guidelines recommend that all women over forty have their numbers checked and if they are normal, they should be checked every five years. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, diabetes or obesity or have other risk factors for heart attacks and strokes, don’t wait until forty. Get you cholesterol checked at your next annual medical appointment. Talk to your doctor about what your numbers are and where they should be for someone in your risk category. Remember ladies, knowledge and the prefect black cocktail dress are more powerful than you can imagine.

Want more info?

Here are some of my favorite websites on cholesterol and cardiac risk:

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