Food vs. Drugs: Lowering Your Cholesterol

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You’ve got high cholesterol. Now what? What’s the best option to lower it?

According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 102 million American adults have total cholesterol above healthy levels. This statistic should be concerning, especially if you have other risk factors for heart disease including obesity, type 2 diabetes, family history of heart disease or you use tobacco.

Your healthcare provider will commonly measure two kinds of cholesterol: LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or bad cholesterol, and HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or good cholesterol. This is part of what is known as a lipid profile. Too much bad cholesterol or not enough good cholesterol increases your risk for plaque to build up in your arteries. Plaque buildup is called atherosclerosis and can lead to a heart attack, stroke or peripheral vascular disease.

“The cholesterol level in your blood is a significant risk factor for heart attack and stroke,” says Dr. Daniel Courtade, Cardiologist at the St. Elizabeth Heart and Vascular Institute. “The best way to improve your profile and lower your risk for a potential heart event is a proper diet and exercise.”

Dr. Courtade recommends the following tips to manage your cholesterol levels:

  1. Follow a healthy diet. The earlier in life you begin a healthy eating lifestyle, the less risk you will have for developing plaque in your arteries.
  2. Exercise regularly. Regular exercise that increases your heart rate can help build good cholesterol. Thirty minutes of walking at least five days a week is a good start.
  3. Follow a diet high in legumes, fruits, nuts, grains and vegetables. A diet high in these foods has shown to lower your bad cholesterol.
  4. Avoid trans fats. Trans fats in many meats, butter, lard, cream and dairy products raise your bad cholesterol and lower your good cholesterol.
  5. Avoid eating meat from hoofed animals. Proteins from hoofed animals including beef, lamb/sheep, bison, venison and pork are high in saturated and trans fats. Healthier proteins include seafood and chicken.
  6. Avoid saturated fat in oils. Healthier oils include olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil and sunflower seed oil.
  7. Lower sodium intake. Although sodium doesn’t affect cholesterol levels, it impacts other risk factors including elevated blood pressure. Processed foods have a significant amount of sodium and should be limited.
  8. Get screened for cholesterol. Start getting screened in early adulthood and follow your physician’s guidance on treatment and follow-up screenings.

Should I be on cholesterol medication?

Although studies show maintaining healthy cholesterol levels lowers your risk of a heart attack or stroke, not everyone needs medication to manage cholesterol.

“It is very individualized who should be on medication,” says Dr. Courtade. “Your doctor needs to look at a number of factors including family history, history of smoking, and level of good vs. bad cholesterol. Other contributing factors include diabetes and obesity.”

Work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan to lower your risk of heart disease.

“A better diet and exercise can treat unhealthy cholesterol levels and even prevent them from occurring,” says Dr. Courtade. “Some people may also need medication to manage levels, but the bottom line is—healthy levels of cholesterol can prevent you from having a heart attack or stroke.”

For just $25, you can have your cholesterol checked as part of an overall cardiac age risk assessment on the St. Elizabeth Cardiovascular Mobile Health Unit. Find out when the van is near you and call 859-301-WELL (9355) to schedule an appointment for your risk assessment.