Too Much Good Cholesterol?

There are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) and low-density lipoproteins (LDLs). LDLs are considered bad cholesterol because they can clog your arteries while HDLs are considered good because they help clear out LDLs. Since that is the case you would think that keeping LDL levels low and HDL levels high would be a good thing for your health. However this article from Men’s Health explains why you might not want your HDL levels too high.

Related: The Better Man Project From Men’s Health—2,000+ Awesome Tips On How to Live Your Healthiest Life

Researchers tracked more than 1.7 million men for nearly a decade. They found that those with HDL levels above 50 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) were significantly more likely to die during the study than those with levels between 25 to 50 mg/dL.

(Guys with levels below 25 mg/dL were also more likely to die than those in the middle range.)

The National Institutes for Health (NIH) says that anything above 59 mg/dL protects you from heart disease. So these findings seem to be challenging some long-held beliefs.

HDL is considered “good” because it prevents LDL (“bad”) cholesterol from building up in your arteries and narrowing them, which can lead to clots and subsequent heart attacks and strokes.

Related: What You Need to Know If You’re Taking Statins to Lower Your Cholesterol

So why did the high-HDL men die sooner in the study? The researchers aren’t sure, but that group of men also had higher levels of inflammation, says lead researcher Ziyad Al-Aly, M.D., of the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System.

Chronic inflammation can be killer, contributing to deadly conditions like heart disease and cancer.

Still, the scientists don’t know if high HDL somehow causes inflammation. More research is needed to figure out what—if anything—is going on.

Because this data is so new and uncertain, it doesn’t change the HDL guidelines laid out by the NIH, says Prediman Krishan Shah, M.D., Men’s Health cardiology advisor.

But it’s a good reminder that you can’t rely too much on any one number to determine your health.

In fact, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recently changed their recommendations for statin therapy for high cholesterol away from a certain number in favor of a multi-faceted approach that takes into account your 10-year risk of developing heart disease.

Related: What Your Cholesterol Test Really Means—and When You Should Get It 

So while the scientists sort everything out, stick to the current targets and try these 30 Proven Ways to Save Your Heart Today.


Trying to Lose a Few Pounds? Don’t Make These Mistakes

If you are trying to shed some pounds through diet and exercise it is easy to believe certain myths that will help the weight come off fast. But the fact is that they are myths because they simply do not work. This article from Women’s Health explains why the four common mistakes brought to attention will not help you lose weight.

With that in mind, we spoke with experts to find out what mealtime hangups could be keeping you from your #absgoals. Once you find out where you’re going wrong, it’s time to start tackling each habit, one at a time, says Jennifer McDaniel, R.D., of St. Louis University.

“Target just one or two of these behaviors at first—ones that you can make the most difference by changing,” says Jennifer McDaniel, R.D., of St. Louis University.

That’s because recent studies show that we have only so much willpower, which can make trying to break several bad habits at once overwhelming, says McDaniel. By following the slow and steady approach, you’ll increase your odds of sculpting a thinner, fitter physique—and keeping it for life, she says.

Let’s get started!

1. You Skip Meals or Snacks

Not eating can mess with your body’s ability to control your appetite. But it also destroys willpower, which is just as damaging. “Regulating yourself is a brain activity, and your brain runs on glucose,” says Kathleen Martin Ginis, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University. If you skip breakfast or a healthy snack, your brain doesn’t have the energy to say no to the inevitable chow fest.

So skipping a feed turns us into gluttons at night. Your starving brain “just doesn’t have the fuel it needs to keep you on track, monitoring your diet,” says Martin Ginis.

Break it:  Change your mindset, says Liz Applegate, Ph.D., director of sports nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Think, “I’m going to start a new routine,” not “I’m going to restrict myself,” she says. Restriction leads to overeating.

2. You’re Always Speed-Eating

You’re not denying yourself food, you’re just eating it slower, allowing your body time to digest so you don’t keep eating when you’re full. In an experiment published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 17 healthy men ate one-and-a-quarter cups of ice cream. They either scarfed it in five minutes or took half an hour to savor it. According to study’s author Alexander Kokkinos, M.D., Ph.D., levels of fullness hormones (called PYY and GLP-1), which signal the brain to stop eating, were higher among the 30-minute men. That means the guys who ate quickly didn’t feel as full as the dudes who took their time.

Break it: Your body is trying to tell you something, so give it a chance, says Kokkinos. Put away the newspaper, turn off the TV, and try this breathing trick from The Yoga Body Diet: Inhale while slowly counting to five, then exhale for the same amount of time. Repeat this three to five times before eating to start your meal in a mindful place.

3. You Pig Out on Weekends

For a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers used rats to examine the effects of palmitic acid, found in saturated fat, on leptin, a hormone that helps regulate appetite. “We found that within three days, the saturated fat blunts or blocks the ability of leptin to regulate food intake and body weight,” says study author Deborah Clegg, Ph.D., of the University of Texas Southwestern medical center. That can prime your brain to overeat on Monday, says Clegg.

Break it: You don’t have to go cold turkey (though turkey on whole-wheat is always smart). McDaniel says that your reward for a healthy week should be one cheat meal, not an entire weekend of them. After all, having an all-you-can-eat weekend is like eating poorly for nearly 30 percent of your week.

4. You Drink Often

Here’s an exercise to start tonight: Write down how much beer, wine, and other drinks you consume in a week. (Use that cocktail napkin.) You may surprise yourself. Calculate the calories and expect another surprise. A reasonable-sounding two beers a night can mean more than 2,000 calories a week—roughly an extra day’s worth. Besides the empty calories, booze undermines your willpower, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. That leads to impulse orders of, say, Buffalo wings.

Break it: Try quitting—for just a week. Check your weight, how your pants fit, and see if you can live on less. When you do drink, switch to lower-carb dry red wine (about four grams of carbohydrates compared with almost 13 in a regular beer) or low-carb beer.


The Anxious Women

Sandra’s mind was not right, she felt something had gone wrong but could not quite explain it. The actual feeling she was experiencing made no sense. It felt like something dangerous was about to happen, but there was nothing she could point to. Just a feeling of unease and low grade panic.

At first Sandra only felt this sense of impending disaster occasionally, quietly managing her unease with will power. It was not until she found herself unable to drive her car that she sought medical help.

It isn’t easy to share your feelings with a doctor. Appointments are scheduled in 15 minute increments. No matter how hard the clinician tries, it is difficult to create a trusting relationship in a rushed environment. Only when a woman feels safe will she allow herself to be vulnerable enough to open up.

Sandra explained to her physician how her symptoms had been building for a few years, she also thought it was important that symptoms were worse with her period. All this was met with a few nods. In the end she was diagnosed with anxiety. He tried to reassure her that it was normal for a woman to experience this. He did not mention the association between her anxiety and her periods, he only offered her a prescription for Xanax.

Sandra’s medical experience was typical for a woman diagnosed with anxiety, in a word: it was disappointing. The visit was brief, the prescription is highly addictive, and at no point did the clinician try to get to the bottom of Sandra’s symptoms.

When Sandra came to my office she was frustrated. I remember her telling me “Im only here because my sister-in-law said you could help”. Sandra was using Xanax daily now. She hated how she felt taking it, “I don’t feel like myself when I take it, I’m zoned out. And when I need a refill, I feel like an addict asking my dealer for more”

Sandra believed she had a personal defect, and the only way to manage it was with drugs. In fact many women feel this way. Society, and the medical industry has conditioned women to believe that it is normal for them to be more anxious then men.

Women are twice as often diagnosed with anxiety than their male counterparts. This statistic begs the question why, why do women experience anxiety in such higher levels then men. Fortunately the answer is very straightforward, and is found in the hormonal balance of a woman.

There is a rhythm in a woman’s cycle, the first two weeks of the cycle are under the influence of estrogen the second two are likewise under the influence of progesterone. The balance between these hormones provides the foundation for a woman’s health. A disruption in this balance can lead to symptoms both physical and  emotional.

In the case of Sandra, I ran labs timed for when progesterone should be at its highest. It is an often overlooked medical fact that progesterone deficiency leads to anxiety. Progesterone is converted to 5-allopregnenolone (5-Allo-P) in the brain. 5-Allo-P in turn binds to the GABA receptor. The GABA receptor is the part of the brain that regulates anxiety. Xanax, Valium, Alcohol all bind to the GABA receptor, but I would argue that the receptor is better stimulated by 5-Allo-P. While the former three have addictive qualities the latter most does not.

Sandra’s lab work showed a severe deficit in her progesterone levels. I prescribed progesterone and asked her to take it the last 10 days of her cycle. After a month I re-ran Sandra’s labs and found her levels were corrected. We sat down to review the results and her feelings. She told me her sense of panic was gone, she was no longer taking Xanax. It was like a weight had been lifted from her. She also shared with me her frustration. “Why didn’t my previous doctor run this test? Why did he just prescribe me Xanax?”

Sometimes I try to answer the question, I try to explain different levels of training, different points of view. Most times I don’t try to explain, I just listen to them and allow them a space to vent their frustration. Either way, I feel accomplished for having sought out the cause of the condition.