PUMPING IRONY: What’s the Score?

My lab test scores tell me I’m a healthy guy, except the part about the imminent heart attack.

It’s an article of faith among consumers of conventional medicine — especially those who are soldiering on through advanced middle age — that you should always know what’s going on in your body. It’s called preventive medicine, an approach that gained popularity in the ’70s and continues to be favored by the medical establishment today, despite the fact that it has led to an onslaught of questionable screenings and tests (see PSA, mammograms) that have driven healthcare costs through the roof. I’m not a big fan of this approach, because I think these tests often produce faulty results, and even when the results are accurate, the cure may often be more harmful than the cause.

That said, I completely understand why most folks are so inclined to agree to these tests. The results are pretty interesting — though not in the way you might expect.

Awhile back, I was asked by one of my editorial colleagues to participate in a lab test as part of an upcoming feature article. (I’m representing the geezer segment of the population in this piece.) So I had some blood drawn at a nearby lab, and last week I found myself poring over the results with a lot more curiosity (and confusion) than I would have predicted.

The good news is that I seem to be pretty healthy — at least based on the majority of my lab results. Plenty of vitamin D, low cortisol levels, and glucose, sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, protein and DHEA all landing where they’re supposed to land. The bad news is that it’s pretty likely that I’m going to have a heart attack.

That’s the problem with these lab tests: One or two measurements can make it seem like you’re on death’s doorstep. In my case, I appear to have “borderline” high cholesterol (238, when it should be below 200). But, digging a little deeper, I discover that what’s pushing that score up is my LDL count (149), which is considered a risk factor for developing arteriosclerosis. My HDL, or “good” cholesterol is right where it ought to be, as is my VLDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels.

Then there’s my C-Reactive Protein (or CRP), which weighed in at 4.12 milligrams/liter, slightly over the 3 mg/L that indicates a high risk for a “future cardiovascular event.” This gets me to thinking about all the people on my dad’s side of the family who had heart attacks, until I notice something in the fine print accompanying my test results: “There are other conditions that can raise CRP levels, including exercise and weight training. . . . The general aging process can also increase CRP levels.” I’m old and my morning workout involves lifting weights, so maybe that had something to do with it. Which gets me to wondering how exercising and weight lifting can contribute to heart disease.

But, wait. Maybe it doesn’t. A little more digging and I notice that, among the recommendations for reducing CRP levels is “30 minutes of exercise daily” along with weight training.

Thankfully, I get to talk with someone who can explain all this to me. That should be interesting.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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