Let me tell y’all a little story. 2009-Manda was at her highest weight ever, and she went in to get blood tests done. Her blood tests were generally bad, but the number we’ll focus on here is HDL, or good cholesterol. Her HDL was very low, at 34 (HDL is supposed to be greater than 39). This was expected, since 2009-Manda was about 100 lbs overweight.
Fast forward to February 2012. Feb-2012-Manda had lost about 70 lbs and was only a couple pounds away from being officially overweight instead of obese. She went in for blood tests, which were generally good – except for her HDL, which was at 34. That’s right. Despite the doctors saying that HDL should go up a point for every six pounds you lose, Feb-2012-Manda had an identical HDL level to 2009-Manda.
And it gets worse. Fast forward to Dec-2012-Manda, now having lost almost 100 lbs and only a couple pounds shy of a healthy weight. Where is her HDL? 28. Another 30 lbs lost meant a drop of 6 points. Isn’t it meant to go the other way??
Now we get to the good news. In December 2014, 2014-Manda (who is the same weight as Dec-2012-Manda) takes another blood test. Suddenly, her HDL has jumped up to 49! Hallelujah! 2015-Manda does even better with 58, despite regaining 40 lbs. 2016- and 2017-Manda stay up high as well, despite regaining 70 lbs from her lowest weight down in the 2014 time period. This new heavier Manda is only 30 lbs down from 2009-Manda, but her HDL looks phenomenal. Why??
I’ll tell you why. Wine. Back in December 2014, when my HDL suddenly jumped to ideal numbers, my doctor asked me if I’d started drinking wine. I was surprised. Indeed, I had started drinking wine. Before 2013, I didn’t drink alcohol at all. I just didn’t like the taste. But a couple times in 2013, I tried out a few wines I liked, and in the fall of 2014, I started attending wine tastings and drinking more regularly. My doctor told me that regularly drinking moderate amounts of red wine often causes an increase in HDL, particularly in women. Who knew? (Well, scientists knew, but I didn’t.)
Personally, I suspected at the time that the increase had more to do with eating a more paleo diet. Not the paleo part itself, but the cutting out of all processed foods and sugar. I didn’t eat a lot of processed foods or sugar to begin with, but the cutting out of all could definitely affect my blood tests, I thought. Only, I didn’t continue with paleo after that fall for unrelated reasons, and yet my HDL stayed high despite regain. Until April 2018.
April-2018-Manda went in for blood tests after cutting out most sugar for about five months. She’d also cut out alcohol for a little over a month before these tests. She was astonished when her HDL dropped to 42. Not too low, but certainly a lot less than she’d been maintaining, and nearly 15 points below where she’d been six months earlier. She was uneasy, but decided to continue to keep away from alcohol because she was actually losing weight since she quit drinking it. But then the catastrophic summer happened, and wine reentered the picture, as well as lots of processed food and eating out and stress. When Oct-2018-Manda took blood tests, she was less than two weeks out from a very indulgent cruise and expected her numbers to be atrocious. Turns out, they were all better than in April – in fact they were the best they’d been in several years – and her HDL popped back into the 50s.
Which leads us to Jan-2019-Manda, who had blood tests done only 12 weeks after her last. During the gap, she’d had no alcohol and a loss of almost 10 lbs. But what happened? All her numbers got worse, and her HDL dropped to frickin’ 36. That’s right, folks. It seems that in order to actually lose weight, I must cut out alcohol, but if I cut out alcohol, my HDL drops to way-too-low. I’m more than a little irritated that these two things are mutually exclusive.
But you know what? HDL be damned. When I’m drinking, even a tiny amount, I don’t lose weight, I start getting depressed, and I just don’t feel good. Plus, I’m now on a sleep medicine that has a bad interaction with alcohol, so it’s just not going to happen. My doctors are going to fret over these new low HDL numbers, and I’m going to have to point out that at my lowest pre-alcohol weight, my HDL dropped to 28. Apparently my body is just like this. It’s frustrating, but beyond sabotaging the rest of my health, I have no idea how to make that any better.
ETA: I found my post (on another blog) about my December 2012 HDL results. My reaction: “The reason this is so frustrating and confusing is that I am doing everything that they tell people to do to raise HDL cholesterol. I’m losing weight, I exercise a lot, I don’t eat a lot of processed foods or trans fats, and I eat tons of tuna, nuts, olive oil, avocados, nut butters, fruits, veggies, and all the other things they tell you to eat (except salmon, which I don’t like at all). And yet, my HDL continues to go down!” Sounds familiar, Dec-2012-Manda. I sympathize.