As a service to the editors of Maximum Muscle Report, I offer evaluation of lab tests for those competing in physique sports to maintain the highest level of health scrutiny. One of the most critical tests that physique athletes need to be aware of is the blood lipid panel. This includes measurement of cholesterol (total, good, and bad), triglycerides, and their ratios. These levels a very important in a sport that often encourages a high protein diet that may contain more animal fats and cholesterol than most, especially in the off-season. Furthermore, oral anabolic steroids often throw cholesterol levels dangerously out of whack!
We have all heard of cholesterol. You may also know of the other parameters of your lipid panel like triglycerides, the “Good” HDL cholesterol, and “Bad” LDL Cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fat-soluble molecule that is essential for human life. It plays critical roles in the normal functioning of cells. It resides in cell membranes contributing to their fluidity. It acts as a precursor to steroid hormones like cortisol, testosterone, and estrogens. Cholesterol is a precursor to the synthesis of vitamin D in our skin and is an important component of bile that facilitates the absorption of fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.
Being that cholesterol is fat soluble it must be carried by proteins in the blood to keep it “in solution” so to speak. It is transported in the blood by those “lipoproteins” with our fat called triglycerides. The triglycerides are 3 fat molecules carried together with a glycerol molecule. Triglycerides are made from dietary fats and conversion of our dietary carbohydrate to fats by our liver. It is in lipoprotein particles like HDL and LDL that our cholesterol and triglycerides are carried.
When Low-Density Lipoprotein or LDL levels are high (hypercholesterolemia) there is a well-documented increased risk for premature cardiovascular disease like heart attack or stroke. Therefore, we call LDL-cholesterol the “Bad” cholesterol. LDL cholesterol can accumulate in the walls of your arteries and form what are called “plaques”. These plaques can lead to occlusion gradually over time or even rupture causing an acute occlusion that is considered a stroke in the brain vessels or a heart attack in the coronary vessels of the heart.
HDL or High-Density Lipoprotein cholesterol particles are considered the “good” cholesterol. Elevated HDL cholesterol has been correlated to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease in epidemiological studies. HDL carries cholesterol away from the plaques and delivers it to the liver for disposal in the bile. Much clinical focus is on lowering LDL while maintaining or raising HDL. Although the literature suggests our major focus should be on lowering LDL.
Several factors lead to elevated LDL cholesterol levels. Our genetics play a huge role in this as apples don’t fall far from the tree. If your father or especially your mother had a heart attack or stroke at a young age (<50 years old) then you are likely at risk and should watch your cholesterol closely. In fact, in those families, doctors shoot for lower levels than the general population can have. These patients should start lipid lowering medications at a younger age if found to be distinctly elevated.
Your life-style including your activity level and diet play a significant role as well. Although the cholesterol you eat has not been shown to correlate well to the levels of LDL in your blood, the role of saturated fats and total cholesterol is still in question. Diets high in saturated fats and trans fats clearly elevate total cholesterol in the blood. It is often suggested that saturated fats should be kept low in the diet to reduce cardiovascular disease risk, while healthier polyunsaturated fats like the omega-3 fish oils should be predominant.
The role of elevated blood triglycerides in cardiovascular disease risk has been largely controversial. However, elevated triglyceride levels are commonly associated with low HDL and high LDL levels. Furthermore, triglycerides are often elevated in sugar-rich diets and those who have metabolic syndrome and type-2 diabetes. Some studies suggest that non-fasting elevated blood levels of triglycerides may corelate more to heart disease risk than the typical fasting lipid panel. In other words, eat more sugar or carbs and get more triglycerides in your blood with an increased risk of heart disease.
The key to avoiding heart disease risk is moderation and prevention. We should moderate our saturated fat intake and sedentary activities. Cardio should be a part of your training, even in the off season. We can prevent issues by consuming more omega-3 fats like fish oils, eating more fiber to carry away cholesterol as bile in the GI tract, and eating less sugar that can convert to triglycerides and cause inflammation. Finally, oral (17a-aklylated) anabolic steroids like Winstrol, Anavar, Anadrol, D-bol crush HDL cholesterol levels by damaging the liver! HDL carries cholesterol away from plaques and reduces the risk of heart disease; don’t put yourself at risk by continuously using oral steroids!