Non-HDL Cholesterol and The New Cholesterol Guidelines

If non-HDL cholesterol was viewed as a key predictor of cardiac disease risk (on par with apoB or LDL particle testing), why was it abandoned in the new November 2013 cholesterol guidelines?

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while.  Because for those with diabetes or high triglycerides, it was considered vital to know non-HDL cholesterol. (Do You Know Your Non-HDL Cholesterol? explains why, and how easy it is to calculate from just a standard cholesterol lipid blood test.)

Let me start with a brief, very non-technical definition (for more technical info click blog post link above).  Non-HDL cholesterol is a measure that estimates the level of ALL the bad types of cholesterol in the blood.  Think of it this way: subtracting HDL (good) from total cholesterol yield the non-HDL cholesterol number, which is a measure of all the ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood. That means it’s a measure of all LDL: the ‘regular-old’ LDL (bad) cholesterol number, which is the number that appears on a report, plus all the other carriers of ‘bad’ cholesterol, such as VLDL (very low density lipoprotein) and IDL (intermediate density lipoprotein) – which are not included in the regular-old LDL cholesterol measurement listed on a cholesterol lipid panel report.

Though it was not as widely known/used by doctors as regular-old LDL cholesterol, it’s true that non-HDL-C was  proven to be a better indicator of cardiac disease risk than just LDL cholesterol.

Indeed, as explained in the Mayo Clinic’s Cardiovascular Risk Assessment Beyond LDL Cholesterol: Non-HDL Cholesterol, LDL Particle Number, and Apolipoprotein B, non-HDL-C  is a better measure of cardiac risk than LDL cholesterol:

“Several known limitations make LDL-C a less accurate marker of cardiovascular risk than either non-high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (non-HDL-C), LDL particle number, or apolipoprotein B (apoB).”

“Advocacy for non-HDL-C began following widespread recognition of its superiority over LDL-C as a measurement of vascular event risk and demonstrated equivalency to apoB or LDL particle number in some clinical trials.”

If it was widely accepted in the medical community that non-HDL-C was a better predictor than LDL alone – and indeed, a good proxy for apoB or LDL particle testing, why were BOTH the LDL and the non-HDL-C measures abandoned in the new guidelines?

The answer seems to be that there is no rationale for setting a specific number target for either LDL or non-HDL-C.

I get it for LDL cholesterol. LDL was used as a key measure to determine whether someone should take a statin, even though there was no real rationale for a specific LDL number as a goal (which is crazy but is basically what’s been the case for many years now). Thus, the committee recommended a new risk assessment measure that was based on research – and eliminated the ‘random’ LDL goal.

Makes sense.

And yet.

If it is/was widely accepted and studies have shown that apoB and LDL particle size are predictive of cardiac risk, and non-HDL-C is an easy, cost-effective way to approximately measure apoB and LDL particle size (because non-HDL is calculated from a typical cholesterol test – not a whole new test like apoB) then it seems to me that knowing your Non-HDL-C is a good idea.

But hey, I’m no doctor. (And I don’t even pretend to play one on TV). So I could be wrong.

That said, I’m concerned. The new guidelines say I’m (suddenly, now) very low risk for cardiac disease. But my non-HDL cholesterol is significantly higher than the old “goal” of 130 for those with high triglycerides.

And I get that the 130 figure is not, in and of itself, a meaningful target.

I do.  Truly.

But it seems clear since my non-HDL-C is “high” compared with ‘normal’ or a lot of other people, that this might indicate a potential problem. And thus warrant action.  Not treatment – I get that it doesn’t make sense to recommend a statin based on a goal number that’s not grounded in research.

But to me, it seems that if non-HDL-C is greater than 130 then further testing could be indicated.

Again, I’m no doctor.

But I think it’s important to ASK about this.  Perhaps the fact that my non-HDL is high indicates the need apoB and/or particle size testing – or one or several of the tests the AHA now indicates for those who might be at risk: see New Cholesterol Guidelines – An App For That.

Good thing I’m due for my annual checkup soon.  I will ask my doctor about these tests. AGAIN.

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The NEW guidelines for cholesterol-lowering statin meds

It was another big week for cholesterol news.

Last week the FDA declared that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), a very common processed food ingredient, are now not safe. As explained in FDA: Trans Fats are not GRAS, if PHOs are indeed declared not GRAS (generally regarded as safe), FDA will have found a way to significantly reduce unhealthy trans fats from the American food supply. Which is huge.

Then this week, more enormous cholesterol news.  On November 12, 2013, the American Heart Association and the America College of Cardiology released new guidelines for the treatment of high blood cholesterol. The new guidelines will very likely result in a dramatic increase in the number of Americans taking statin medications to lower cholesterol and heart disease risk.

Both in the span of just one week

And it wasn’t even National Cholesterol Education Month.  (That was September.)

What gives? Why these two huge announcements now, within days of each other?

While I have no idea if the timing was coordinated (or not), I do know that both moves have the potential to significantly reduce cholesterol and heart disease risk. And that one move (banning PHOs) is a no-brainer while the other (the new statin guidelines) has many up in arms.

As you know, I am not statin-girl (unless clearly warranted) so it’s potentially troubling that the new guidelines will prompt millions of new statin prescriptions. So I empathize with those who are unhappy with the new guidelines. That said, I am all for the RATIONALE behind these new guidelines — which focus on heart disease risk, not on reducing a particular cholesterol number in an otherwise healthy, low-risk individual.

This makes sense to me.

And OK, so I’m not a doctor, so who cares that it makes sense to me? On the other hand, I do think a great deal about medical issues… and to me, these new guidelines are logical. And logical=good, right? In effect, the new guidelines recommend statins only for those AT RISK of heart disease. For those who have high cholesterol but low heart disease risk, statins are NOT recommended.

So, what exactly are the new guidelines? Broadly… if you are in one of the following four groups, you have elevated heart disease risk and should take statins:

  1. those who already have cardiovascular disease
  2. anyone with LDL (bad) cholesterol of 190 mg/dL or higher
  3. anyone between 40 and 75 years of age who has Type 2 diabetes
  4. people between 40 and 75 who have an estimated 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease of 7.5 percent or higher. (And there’s a calculator available online ** so you can figure out if this applies to you. It’s an Excel spreadsheet download – click the red ‘Download CV Risk Calculator’ box and save it to your computer. Do it soon because they may take it down…)** NOTE – the ‘risk calculator’ is occasionally taken down, edited, etc.  If the above link doesn’t work, check my RESOURCES page as I’ll try to keep that one current.

That’s it in a nutshell (well, that and the elimination of the old guideline to get LDL to an ‘as-low-as-possible’ level — in the new guidelines, there is no set LDL goal level).

Is that all? Of course not – there was a ton of media coverage last week, and there’s a lot more in-depth understanding of the guidelines that can be had. As it’s an important (and can be confusing topic), I wanted to provide what I found to be the best primary sources in case you want to dive in and read more.

(If, on the other hand, you prefer to read one piece providing an overview of the new guidelines, how they are different from the old guidelines, and how to calculate your personal heart disease risk, you might find this article I just published on Answers.com more useful: “New Cholesterol Statin Drug Guidelines.”)

But if you want more in-depth information, here are some sources:

Perhaps the new guidelines will result in millions more Americans taking statin drugs – but perhaps, if they are the RIGHT people to take statins, that will be a good thing.  If you are wondering if you should take a statin, read up on the new guidelines, calculate your heart disease risk online, and talk to your doctor.

If you already take statins (or have heart disease already) the online calculator won’t work for you — in that case, talk to your doctor about what the new guidelines mean for you.  Maybe your doctor will recommend going off statins for a bit to see what your baseline cholesterol level is now. Or maybe your doc will want you to stay on statins, but will switch you to a different one.

Either way, the times have changed. Read up on the new guidelines and talk to your doctor about how they apply to your situation.

I know I will.

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