Lipid Levels and Individual Variation

Gretchen Becker Health Guide
  • Some diet guru tells you that if you follow his or her diet, not only will you lose a ton of weight, but your cholesterol levels will plummet.


    You try the diet, and you do lose a little weight, at least at first. But instead of going down, you find your cholesterol levels go up. And it’s not the “good” HDL that has increased. It’s the “bad” LDL.


    Naturally, you feel guilty. You worry it’s you. Maybe you weren’t following the diet correctly. Otherwise, why did all these other people who posted testimonials about their marvelous progress do so well and you didn’t?


    Well, one thing to keep in mind is that people who do well on any particular diet are more apt to write to the diet author to say how much it’s helped them. People who don’t do well don’t write.

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    But another factor is that metabolism is complicated, and we all have different combinations of genes that can affect how we react to any diet. For example, many people, probably most, find that when they eat a lot of carbohydrate, especially highly processed carbohydrate like white flour, their triglyceride levels increase. But other people can live on white bread and their triglyceride levels don’t budge.


    A recent genetic study is an illustration of the variations we may have. Scientists (more than 180 researchers throughout the world worked on the study) analyzed genetic data from almost 200,000 people, including previously reported studies. In the current study, they identified 21 new genes associated with levels of total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides. This was in addition to 49 previously identified genes that affect lipid levels.


    So there are at least 70 different genes affecting lipid levels. Each one has a small effect on lipid levels, but the cumulative effect “can significantly add up to put people at risk for disease,” said Fotios Drenos, one of the senior authors of the study.


    This study, by itself isn’t earthshaking. It’s what a lot of people might have expected.


    But for us, it’s a good reminder that many genes -- and other molecules that control the expression of those genes -- are involved in our metabolism, our reaction to dietary changes, our reaction to drugs, and our response to exercise.


    We have to work with our health care team to discover which regimens work best for us. And if something doesn’t work, it’s not necessarily our fault, or our health care team’s fault. It’s just that we’re different from average in some way. So the best treatment for us might be different from average as well.


    If your health care team can’t grasp this concept and wants to apply cookie cutter formulas to all their patients, it’s time to look around for another team.



Published On: October 23, 2012