This is the second of a two-part article on cholesterol levels as we continue our deep dive into understanding how to interpret these numbers and what you can do to bring down bad cholesterol levels.
As mentioned in Part 1, the total cholesterol number is the sum of LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, non-HDL, and triglycerides.
As I suspected, there are causes of cholesterol production that we can control without statins. These include:
Diet. The main sources for dietary cholesterol come from saturated fats and food-borne cholesterol. Steer away from the deep-fried, baked goods, and (please don’t hate me) chocolate. Fast foods will kill you in so many ways. They are soulless foods that are high in saturated fats, as are highly processed products such as packaged lunchmeats.
Weight. Carrying around excess body weight puts a strain on the heart and every other part of your body and is unquestionably associated with poor heart health. Overweight and obesity are linked to elevated cholesterol levels. Weight loss helps lower the LDL (bad) cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglyceride levels while raising the HDL (good) cholesterol level.
Physical activity. Sitting around and not being physically active is also linked to heart disease. Incorporating regular physical activity into your lifestyle not only helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels, but it also promotes weight loss. This is a double-win! Experts say that 20-30 minutes of walking at least four days a week is enough to start seeing the desired effects. Of course, more exercise is better for you.
Smoking. Tobacco use is bad, m’kay? Smoking cigarettes is one of the worst things you can do to the temple that is your body. Those highly addictive butts lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels. This defeats the cleansing properties of HDL and can lead to higher LDL (bad) cholesterol counts.
Some factors linked to raised cholesterol levels are completely out of our control:
Age and gender. Cholesterol levels rise in both women and men as they get older. Pre-menopausal females have total cholesterol levels that are lower of men their age. But after “the change,” a woman’s LDL (bad) cholesterol levels often go up.
Genes. Genetically inherited traits influence how much cholesterol the body produces on its own. Some families have histories of high blood cholesterol.
Ethnicity. Some races of human populations tend to be at a greater risk of high blood cholesterol levels. Africans and their descendants have been found to have higher HDL (good) and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels as compared to their white counterparts.
According to Medical News Daily, unhealthy cholesterol levels in youth come from the same things that affect adults:
“Sedentary, overweight children who eat a diet high in processed foods are most likely to have high cholesterol. Children who have a family history of high cholesterol may also be at risk.”
Because cholesterol levels build over time, it is really important to teach young children how to cultivate health-promoting habits to last a lifetime. The longer people wait to address high cholesterol levels, the harder it is to bring those levels down.
Experts recommend that every individual over age 20 get a lipid profile (blood panel) at least once every five years. Men who are 35 years and older plus women who are 45 and older are advised to get tested more often.
The bottom line here is that a total cholesterol count does not, in and of itself, predict the likelihood of developing heart problems. High blood pressure and drugs used to control it can also raise cholesterol levels.
It is my personal recommendation – and I am not a licensed healthcare provider! – that anyone whose doctor advises a statin prescription to lower cholesterol levels study up on the negative side effects they can cause, which include:
- Liver damage
- Raised blood sugar levels/type 2 diabetes
- Muscle pain and damage
- Neurological side effects
The latest research on statin use is showing that using these drugs may not be the cure-all doctors have been trained to tell their patients. The AARP passed along this expert medical advice:
“If your only risk factor is your age, you may not need to be on a statin.” – Michael Blaha, M.D., director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease.
Empower yourself. Understand your cholesterol numbers as they relate to your age, gender, and race. Question your doctor: does s/he know where the total cholesterol number comes from?
If not, take charge of your own health. Use the tables in Part 1 of this article to find your age bracket and gender classification to compare with your test results. Then, discuss your findings with any health practitioner who wants to put you on a statin – before blindly agreeing to accept this artificial course of treatment.
There will be some cases where a statin prescription may be appropriate and the course of wisdom. But science marches steadily forward as doctors gain a better understanding of the complex interaction between triglycerides, LDL (bad), HDL (good), non-HDL, and total cholesterol levels.