Brad needed to lose weight.
At 6 ft tall, he began the program at 291 lbs, easily 80 lbs overweight. He wore virtually all of it in his belly.
He had laboratory numbers to match: HDL 33 mg/dl, triglycerides 225 mg/dl, LDL (calculated) 144 mg/dl, blood sugar 122 mg/dl (fasting–clearly “pre-diabetic”), c-reactive protein 3.0 mg/dl. Among his lipoprotein abnormalities: small LDL representing 80% of all LDL (no surprise).
Readers of The Heart Scan Blog know that these are the patterns of the carbohydrate-indulgent. I asked Brad to eliminate all wheat flour products, all foods made with cornstarch, and follow a diet rich in healthy oils, raw nuts, vegetables, and lean meats.
Brad returned for a discussion about follow-up basic lipids (cholesterol) values four months later–31 lbs lighter, most of it clearly lost from his abdomen. He claimed he felt more energetic and clear-headed than he had in years.
His lipid panel: HDL 34 mg/dl, LDL 122 mg/dl, triglycerides 295 mg/dl. Brad’s smile dissolved. “How could that happen? You said losing weight would make my HDL go up and my triglycerides go down!”
Yes, I had said that. But I was oversimplifying.
The truth is that, when there is weight loss, especially profound weight loss like Brad experienced eliminating wheat and cornstarch products, there is mobilization of fat stores. Fat is stored energy. Energy is stored as . . . triglycerides.
So when there is substantial weight loss, there is a flood of triglycerides in the blood, and triglyceride levels in the midst of weight loss can commonly jump up, not uncommonly to the 200-300+ mg/dl range. When triglycerides go up, there is also a drop in HDL (triglycerides interact with HDL particles, modify their structure and make them more readily destroyed, thereby dropping blood levels). Occasionally, substantial weight loss like Brad experienced will drop HDL really low, as low as the 20′s.
Once weight stabilizes, this effect can last up to 2 months before correcting. Only then will triglycerides drop and HDL rise. The rise in HDL occurs even more slowly, requiring several more months to plateau.
In other words, weight loss like Brad’s causes triglycerides to increase and HDL to decrease, to be followed later by a drop in triglycerides and a rise in HDL.
I know of no way to block this phenomenon. And perhaps we shouldn’t, since this is how fat stores are mobilized and “burned off.” Fish oil does blunt the triglyceride rise (perhaps through activation of lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme responsible for clearance of triglycerides), but doesn’t eliminate it.
I call these changes “transitional” changes in lipids.
Patience pays. A few more months from now, Brad’s numbers will be much happier, as will Brad.
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