The Nation's Health + [Small LDL]

Why haven't you heard about lipoprotein(a)?

Lipoprotein(a), or Lp(a), is the combined product of a low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particle joined with the liver-produced protein, apoprotein(a).

Apoprotein(a)'s characteristics are genetically-determined: If your Mom gave the gene to you, you will have the same type of apoprotein(a) as she did. You will also share her risk for heart disease and stroke.

When apoprotein(a) joins with LDL, the combined Lp(a) particle is among the most aggressive known causes for coronary and carotid plaque. If apoprotein(a) joins with a small LDL, the Lp(a) particle that results is especially aggressive. This is the pattern I see, for instance, in people who have heart attacks or have high heart scan scores in their 40s or 50s.

Lp(a) is not rare. Estimates of incidence vary from population to population. In the population I see, who often come to me because they have positive heart scan scores or existing coronary disease (in other words, a "skewed" or "selected" population), approximately 30% express substantial blood levels of Lp(a).

Then why haven't you heard about Lp(a)? If it is an aggressive, perhaps the MOST aggressive known cause for heart disease and stroke, why isn't Lp(a)featured in news reports, Oprah, or The Health Channel?

Easy: Because the treatments are nutritional and inexpensive.

The expression of Lp(a), despite being a genetically-programmed characteristic, can be modified; it can be reduced. In fact, of the five people who have reduced their coronary calcium (heart scan) score the most in the Track Your Plaque program, four have Lp(a). While sometimes difficult to gain control over, people with Lp(a) represent some of the biggest success stories in the Track Your Plaque program.

Treatments for Lp(a) include (in order of my current preference):

1) High-dose fish oil--We currently use 6000 mg EPA + DHA per day
2) Niacin
4) Thyroid normalization--especially T3

Hormonal strategies beyond DHEA can exert a small Lp(a)-reducing effect: testosterone for men, estrogens (human, no horse!) for women.

In other words, there is no high-ticket pharmaceutical treatment for Lp(a). All the treatments are either nutritional, like high-dose fish oil, or low-cost generic drugs, like liothyronine (T3) or Armour thyroid.

That is the sad state of affairs in healthcare today: If there is no money to be made by the pharmaceutical industry, then there are no sexy sales representatives to promote a new drug to the gullible practicing physician. Because most education for physicians is provided by the drug industry today, no drug marketing means no awareness of this aggressive cause for heart disease and stroke called Lp(a). (When a drug manufacturer finally releases a prescription agent effective for reducing Lp(a), such as eprotirome, then you'll see TV ads, magazine stories, and TV talk show discussions about the importance of Lp(a). That's how the world works.)

Now you know better.