exercise mindset nutrition

Cholesterol, Curiosity and Epigenetics

It might seem surprising to many who know me that I have high cholesterol levels. Two times in my life test results have come back with alarming numbers. The first time, the doctor’s emailed response with the report said to lose weight, exercise more and watch my fat intake. My partner and I had a good chuckle. I was already running competitively and training for more than an hour a day, ate very well with lots of the “right” foods including fiber. I wrote it off and the levels went down to “normal” ranges the next time I was tested.

About a year ago, I was tested and again my numbers were elevated. This doctor said we would re-test in 6 months and if the numbers had not improved, she’d consider medication. Now, I am not anti-medication, but if there is something I can do to avoid all medical intervention, essentially turning genetic expression off, I will do it. 

This time I had more data and a lot more knowledge as I was in the midst of my coaching training and working on a nutrition certification as well. 

Some of the known causes for poor levels of cholesterol include: Genetics, Stress Levels, Nutrition, Lack of Exercise, Thyroid Conditions, Certain Medications. 

Luckily, I have my genetic data, so I started there. I have a gene which predisposes me to high LDL (“Bad”) cholesterol when I consume excess saturated fat. I also have what is called an MTHFR defect, meaning that my body has high homocysteine levels which can trigger a host of issues, including system inflammation which can contribute to cardiovascular issues. I also know that I have low Thyroid function. Three things. I got curious and got to work. 

What I did was notice what had changed over the course of a year. I was ingesting a LOT more saturated fats. I had NOT been taking a supplement that I knew was beneficial to reduce homocysteine and I had been neglecting supporting my thyroid. Slowly I began working on these things and at the next re-test, I had significantly reduced the “bad”, increased the “good.” My doctor was impressed. 

Cholesterol is not a bad thing. It is necessary for life. But looking at mere numbers is not enough. First if you don’t look at the ratios, you are missing a big part of this picture, as HDL cholesterol helps to remove excess cholesterol from the body, which is why a high HDL is desired. Here is a handy online calculator that does the math for you: https://www.thecalculator.co/health/Cholesterol-Calculator-106.html

It gets even more complicated, as many now understand that the biggest risk factor is not the numbers, but LDL particle size. There are large and small particles of LDL cholesterol. Research is now showing that cardiovascular events are more likely to occur with high number of the small “sticky” particles. 

My point: have data, develop knowledge. I knew I had the genes predisposing me to higher than “normal” cholesterol, but they hadn’t expressed until recently – epigenetics. Just because you have the genetic predisposition towards something, does not mean that you will express it. There are many lifestyle factors that you can modify to change the expression of your genes. 

If you are interested in learning more about yourself, I highly recommend getting genetic testing to understand your genes. The cost is reasonable and all it takes is a saliva test. I also recommend patience and kindness to yourself if you do try to manage your epigenetic. It is not a slow process and best done with the help of a coach or other trusted resource. 

Have something you’d like to discuss? Reply to this email.

metrorun

I am a master's runner who has been running for more than 25 years. I created this site to share my experiences.

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