Ask your doctor: What is the #1 cause of heart disease in the US?
Let’s put aside smoking, since it is an eminently modifiable risk and none of those crazies read this blog anyway. What will your doctor say? Most like he or she will respond:
High cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol
Too much saturated fat
Pfizer, Merck, AstraZeneca and their kind would be overjoyed to know that they can add your doctor to their eager following.
I’d tell you something different. I would tell you that small LDL particles are, by far and away, the #1 cause for heart disease. I base this claim on several observations:
–Having run over 10,000 lipoprotein panels (mostly NMR) over the past 15 years, it is a rare person who does not have a moderate, if not severe, excess of small LDL particles. 50%, 70%, even 90% or more small LDL particles are not rare. Over the course of a year, the only people who show no small LDL particles are slender, athletic, pre-menopausal females.
–In studies in which lipoproteins have been quantified in people with coronary disease, small LDL particles dominate, just as they do in my office. Here’s a 2006 review.
–Small LDL is largely the province of people who consume carbohydrates, such as the American population instructed to “cut fat and eat more healthy whole grains.” Conventional diet advice has therefore triggered an expllosion in small LDL particles.
–When fasting triglycerides exceed 60 mg/dl, small LDL particles increase as a proportion of total LDL particles. This includes the majority of the US population. (This ignores postprandial, or after-eating, triglycerides, which also contribute to small LDL formation.)
If you were to read the data, however, you might conclude that small LDL affects a minority of people. This is because in most studies small LDL categorize it as either “pattern B,” meaning exceeding some arbitrary threshold of percentage of small LDL particles, versus “pattern A,” meaning falling below that same arbitrary threshold.
Problem: There is no consensus on what percentage of small LDL particles should mark the cutoff between pattern A vs. pattern B. In many studies, for instance, people with 50% small LDL particles are called “pattern A.”
If, instead, we were to set the bar lower to identify this highly atherogenic (atherosclerotic plaque-causing) particle at, say, 20-30% of total, then the number or percentage of people with “pattern B” small LDL particles would go much higher.
I see this play out in my office and in the online program, Track Your Plaque, every day: At the start eating a low-fat, grain-filled diet with lots of visceral fat (“wheat belly”) to start, they add back fat and cut out all wheat and limit carbohydrates. Small LDL particles plummet
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