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High Blood Cholesterol

Fats can be both good and bad, so it is important to learn what cholesterol is, how it affects your health and how to manage it in your diet. This risk factor can only be detected by blood screening.

Prevalence

  • About 10 percent of adolescents ages 12-19 have total cholesterol levels exceeding 200 mg/dL.
  • Beginning at age 45, a higher percentage of women than men have total blood cholesterol of 200 mg/dL or higher.
  • The prevalence of cholesterol screening during the preceding 5 years increased from 67.3 percent in 1991 to 70.8 percent in 1999.
  • A 10-percent decrease in total cholesterol levels (population-wide) may result in an estimated 30-percent reduction in the incidence of CHD.

Adherence

  • Less than half of persons who qualify for any kind of lipid-modifying treatment for CHD risk reduction are receiving it.
  • Less than half of even the highest-risk persons, those who have symptomatic CHD, are receiving lipid-lowering treatments.
  • Only about half of the people who are prescribed a lipid-lowering drug are still taking it six months later, after 12 months this falls to 30-40 percent. This is especially troubling, because it takes 6 months to one year before the benefit from treatment becomes apparent.

LDL (Bad) Cholesterol

  • The mean level of LDL cholesterol for American adults age 20 and older is 127 mg/dL. Levels of 130-159 mg/dL are considered borderline high. Levels of 160-189 mg/dL are classified as high, and levels of 190 mg/dL and higher are very high.
  • Among non-Hispanic whites, 20.4 percent of men and 17.0 percent of women have an LDL cholesterol level of 160 mg/dL or higher.
  • Among non-Hispanic blacks, 19.3 percent of men and 18.8 percent of women have an LDL cholesterol level of 160 mg/dL or higher.
  • Among Mexican Americans, 16.9 percent of men and 14.0 percent of women have an LDL cholesterol level of 160 mg/dL or higher.

HDL (Good) Cholesterol

  • The higher a person’s HDL cholesterol level is, the better. Less than 40 mg/dL in adults is low HDL cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
  • Men and women who have low HDL cholesterol and high total cholesterol levels have the highest risk of heart attack. However, men with HDL levels of 37 mg/dL or lower or women whose levels are 47 mg/dL or lower are at a high risk regardless of their total cholesterol level. Conversely, those with high levels of total cholesterol have lower risks of heart attack when they also have higher levels of HDL-C (53 mg/dL or greater in men and 67 mg/dL or greater in women).

What Can You Do?

  • Become aware of what foods you should not eat.
  • If you find favorite foods among the not good foods, look for a low fat substitute. The market is full of them.
  • Always read the labels of food before purchasing them. If they exceed your recommended levels, put them down. Not having them in your environment will help you not to eat them.
  • Increase the fiber in your diet. Some cereals, prunes and other fruits are fiber rich.
  • Avoid foods with palm oil and coconut oils.
  • Add olive oil to your diet, using it as a replacement for other bad oils.
  • Use Pam for cooking.
  • Replace fat in your favorite baking recipes with applesauce and real eggs with egg substitutes. You might find the taste improves when you remove the guilt from your cooking.
  • Take your medication exactly as the doctor prescribes. Cholesterol lowering medication should be taken at night. That is when your liver makes cholesterol.
  • Enjoy eating; don’t feel deprived. This is how you should have always been eating.
  • Have your lipid levels checked and be patient, it may take a year but your hard work will pay off with cleaner blood vessels and a healthier heart.
Success Stories - High Blood Cholesterol and other Lipids

Carl, age 75
When I was asked to talk about my battle with lipids, I had to search my memory. It all began so long ago. It has been at least 20 years since my youngest sister, who was then only 38 had a heart attack. The entire family was shocked; she didn’t seem like a candidate for a heart attack, a young, slim, active woman with young children. She seemed the poster girl for good health. But, we almost lost her. While the doctors tried to figure out what had gone wrong, they detected a tryglyceride level of over 500 in her.

Now, we had never heard of tryglycerides. As it turns out tryglycerides are a fat our body produces from carbohydrates. Too many carbs and the tryglycerides level will shoot up. But, there is another very strong component to this fat and it is genetic. The doctors suggested that the entire family be checked for this fat in our blood. Sure enough all but one of us had levels equal or greater to my sister. This was a tough one to deal with.

We were told that certain sweeteners commonly used in processed foods were extremely dangerous for the production of this substance in the blood. The two major offenders were coconut oil and palm oil. We had to begin reading labels. It was amazing to all of us how much of those two products were used to sweeten every day foods. We all immediately cut back and began to watch our carbohydrate intakes. Slowly, very slowly, we saw our numbers decrease. We take medication that also helps. I am glad to report that 20 years later all but one of my 5 siblings is still alive and enjoying our golden years together. If my sister hadn’t had that heart attack, we might all be gone by now. Killed by something none of us had even heard of.

Jane, age 42
God, I hate not being perfect!!! I used to be perfect, well maybe not, but at least I was ignorant. And isn’t the old saying, “Ignorance is bliss.” A few years ago during my routine annual exam my doctor told me that my bad cholesterol was too high and my good cholesterol was too low. So what, was my original response. I am young, I have lots of years ahead of me, I’ll fix it later. My doctor suggested a low fat diet and Lipitor to lower the bad and raise the good. And exercise seemed to have an ability to raise the good cholesterol also. So, eat less, move more, and take the pill. I was willing to take the pill. But, I couldn’t help but start to look at labels to see the fat content of food. I was just curious at first. I thought, well maybe I can give the diet a try. I replaced fats with applesauce and learned to bake things that tasted just as good without the fat. I learned to love skinless chicken breast and found a thousand ways to cook them. I began eating eggbeaters with lots of fresh vegetables at breakfast, I even discovered the lowly soybean and all the wonderful things you eat that were made from them. I even found chocolate milk that tasted just like the real thing, but had almost no fat and 80 calories. I discovered fake bacon, hamburgers, even cheese which all tasted like the real thing. It began to be a game with me, and the game was fun. My entire family joined me in this new eating pattern, but they never realized we were eating healthier.

I discovered that I was taking the Lipitor at the wrong time of day. Our bodies make cholesterol at night when we sleep, that is why diet alone usually isn't enough. Some livers make more cholesterol than others. Mine was a veritable "cholesterol-making dynamo". Taking the pill in the morning wasn’t working, but when I changed to taking it in the evening my numbers finally came into the normal ranges. The thing that really amazed me was when my doctor told me how much I had lowered my risk of having a heart attack. It made me feel that I had done something really good for myself, and my family because we were all in this together. Now, as I get older, I have one less thing to worry about.