Like many people, I have high cholesterol. Unlike some of those people, however, I have my cholesterol under control through a combination of diet, exercise, and medication. Hyperlipidemia (the medical term for high cholesterol) runs in my family; my parents had it, my siblings have it, I have it. Mine was diagnosed back in the 1990’s when I was in my 30’s. I had never smoked and wasn’t overweight. But there I was, baking bran muffins to beat the band. I’m not much of a baker but as it turned out, no degree of culinary skill was going to enable me to eat sufficient bran muffins to make a difference in my body chemistry. So I’m one of the over 30 million adults in the U.S. who take a cholesterol-lowering medication. More on that later.
September is National Cholesterol Education Month, so in the spirit of education here are a few facts courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
- Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that your body needs. But when you have too much in your blood, it can build up on the walls of your arteries and form blockages. This can lead to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
- There are two kinds of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL is also called “good” cholesterol. LDL is called “bad” cholesterol. When we talk about high cholesterol, we are talking about “bad” LDL cholesterol. Anyone can have high cholesterol, including children.
- Seventy-one million American adults have high cholesterol, but less than half are getting treatment to lower it, and less than one-third have the condition under control. 1
What does it mean to have one’s cholesterol “under control”? According to the CDC, it means having a total cholesterol level under 200 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter of blood), high-density lipoprotein level (HDL or “good” cholesterol) over 60 mg/dl, and a low-density lipoprotein level (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol) level under 100 mg/dl. 2 Simply put, you want more of the good and less of the bad.
A tricky aspect of having high cholesterol, and likely one of the reasons why so many people don’t have it under better control, is that it has no symptoms. You need to be screened with a simple blood test to find out if you have high cholesterol and then consult with your doctor on how best to treat it. For some folks, changes in diet and exercise will be sufficient. For others like me, genetics (that family history thing) make controlling high cholesterol difficult without medication.
Speaking of which, there are literally dozens of medications targeting high cholesterol, not to mention supplements and diets. I’m not advocating any particular therapy or medication here, as that’s best worked out with your doctor.
By the way, low-income people without health insurance are at higher risk of having undiagnosed high cholesterol, which places them at higher risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.3 These health crises are much more expensive to treat than to prevent in the first place, and supporting Mercy Health Clinic in tackling high cholesterol is a great place to start. No bran muffins required.
— Pam Saussy, Board Member
1 Source: http://www.cdc.gov/features/cholesterolawareness
2 Source: http://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_cholesterol.htm
3 Source: Health Affairs, 2009.