Heart Scan Blog reader, Frustrated, posted this comment:
I have spent the last 5 months eating a diet that completely eliminated all wheat products. It was very low carb, and consisted of relatively high protein (eggs, grass fed beef, grass fed raw cheese, oily fish, chicken), good level of olive oil, walnuts, fish oil (3 mg per day), raw vegetables, little bit of fruit. So I had good amount of monounsaturated fat as well as saturated fat from eggs and grass fed products.
My recent NMR showed:
Small LDL particle 1700
Small HDL particle 20
Total chol 208
So I was disappointed. Where have I gone wrong? No wheat and sky-high LDL-p and 1700 small LDL particles.
This is indeed unusual. I see this perhaps 5 or 6 times over a year’s time, while thousands of other people show the usual expected respone. I don’t have Frustrated’s lipoprotein panel prior to starting the diet, but I’ll bet the starting panel was similar to this “after” panel.
The overwhelming majority of people who follow a diet like the one described–no wheat, limited carbohydrate, grass fed beef, fish, chicken, vegetables, limited fruit–obtain extravagant reductions in small LDL, increased HDL, and reduced triglycerides. So why did Frustrated end up with such disappointing results, values that potentially provide for high risk for heart disease?
There are several possibilities:
1) He/she is in the midst of substantial weight loss. When labs are drawn in the midst of weight loss, stored energy is being mobilized into the blood stream. This energy is mobilized as fatty acids and triglycerides which, upon entering the blood stream, cause increased triglycerides, reduced HDL, chaotic or unpredictable small LDL patterns, and increased blood sugar sufficient to be in the diabetic or pre-diabetic range. This all subsides and settles down to better values around 2 months after weight loss has plateaued.
2) Apo E4–If Frustrated has one or two apo E4 genes, then increased dietary fat will serve to exaggerate measures like small LDL despite the reduction in carbohydrates, LDL particle number, and triglycerides. This is a tough situation, since small LDL particles and high triglycerides signal carbohydrate sensitivity, while apo E4 makes this person, in effect, unable to deal with fats and dietary cholesterol. It gives me the creeps to talk about reducing fat intake, but this becomes necessary along with carbohydrate restriction, else statin drugs will come to the “rescue.”
3) Apo E2 + Apo E4–It’s possible that an apo E2 is present along with apo E4. Apo E2 makes this person extremely carbohydrate-sensitive and diabetes-prone with awful postprandial (after-meal) persistence of dietary byproducts, alongside the hyperabsorption of fats and dietary cholesterol from apo E4. This is a genuine nutritional rock and a hard place.
4) Other variants–There are probably a dozen or more other genetic variants, thankfully rare, such as apo B and apo C2 variants, that are not generally available for us to measure that could influence Frustrated’s response.
5) The low-carb diet is not truly low-carb–Frustrated sounds like a pretty sharp cookie. But it’s not uncommon for someone to overlook a substantial source of carbohydrate exposure that triggers these patterns. Fruit is a very common tripping point, since people generally regard unlimited fruit as a healthy thing. This does not seem to be Frustrated’s problem. Others indulge in quinoa, sweet potatoes, millet or other carbohydrate sources that look and sound healthy but, in sufficient quantities, can still trigger this pattern.
6) Other–Hypothyroidism, kidney disease, nephrotic syndrome, hypercortisolism and some other relatively rare conditions are worth considering if none of the above apply.
Anyway, that’s the list I use when this peculiar situation arises. If obvious weight loss is not the culprit, the next step is apo E testing. However, the wrong response is to reject the low-carbohydrate notion altogether and just limit fat, since this typically leads to uncontrolled small LDL, high triglycerides, and diabetes. It can often mean limiting carbohydrates while also limiting fats. Just as with the combination of apo E4 with Lipoprotein(a), I lump many of these patterns into the emerging world of genetic incompatibilities, genetic traits that code for incompatible metabolic phenomena.
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