HEALTH TALK: Cutting your cholesterol fast

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HEALTH TALK: Cutting your cholesterol fast
Dr. Victor Emanuel
Dr. Victor Emanuel

I’m guessing, not hoping, that by now you know that high levels of cholesterol, and fats (triglycerides) in your blood can lead to clogged arteries, resulting in heart attacks, strokes, other circulation problems and yes, even erectile dysfunction .

So, how’s your cholesterol? What used to be o.k. in 2004 (or earlier) is no longer so. Don’t feel too comfortable if your level is now what it was back then.

It just might be too high. And levels often rise with age. So now cardiologists say everyone 20 or older should be screened for high cholesterol every five years or more frequently if you’re found to be at high risk for heart disease.

The good news is that if your total cholesterol level exceeds the desirable level of 200 ( not 220 or 239, as reported by our local labs), or if you “LDL” or “bad” cholesterol is above 100, you can get it down to a safer level, maybe more easily than you think. With simple lifestyle changes – and, if necessary, drug therapy – you can see healthy reductions in six weeks.

Here are some tips experts recommend on how to cut high cholesterol fast.

1. SET A TARGET

How much you need to get your number down depends on your own or family history of heart disease, as well as whether you have cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking.

High risk means most doctors will treat for a target LDL of less than 70; moderate risk target is generally about 130; low risk means a target of 160 is reasonable. If you have two or more risk factors, the trend is to treat you earlier.

2. CONSIDER MEDICATION

Anyone with high cholesterol must make lifestyle changes. But a high cardiovascular risk means you may also need to take a cholesterol-lowering drug.  Drug therapy is the only thing that will work fast. You should do the basics of course, like stopping smoking and losing weight. But these things lower the risk (for complications) only modestly.

Several types of cholesterol-lowering medication are available, including niacin, bile acid resins, and fibrates. But statins (Lipitor, Zocor, etc.) are the treatment of choice for most people. They can lower LDL cholesterol by 20% to 50%.

3. GET MOVING

Regular physical activity lowers bad cholesterol AND can raise “HDL” or “good “cholesterol by up to 10%. Moderate exercise, such as brisk walking will do it. You might want to do a 45-minute walk after supper if you can.

Whatever form your exercise takes, the key is to do it regularly. Every day may be best, but five days is more realistic.

4. AVOID SATURATED FAT

It used to be thought that the key to lowering high cholesterol was to cut back on eggs and other cholesterol-rich foods. Now we know that dietary cholesterol isn’t the main culprit. Eggs don’t really raise cholesterol that much, although you don’t want to throw down six a day. It’s really the saturated fat that causes cholesterol increase, such as if you cooked your eggs in a slab of butter.

You need to cut back on saturated fats and start eating more ‘smart fats.’ Use canola or olive oil, rather than vegetable oil, butter, stick margarine, lard, or shortening. Reduce meat and increase fish.

5. EAT MORE FIBER

Fruits and vegetables including whole grains are not only rich in heart-healthy antioxidants, but also of dietary fiber, which lowers cholesterol. This is especially true for soluble fiber, which acts like a sponge to absorb cholesterol in the digestive tract. You can get soluble fiber in beans, oats, and barley.

6. GO FISH

Fish and fish oil have omega -3 fatty acids, which lower cholesterol and triglycerides. Check with doctor if you want to use fish oil, if you’re taking a blood thinner.

Recommendation: eat fish two or three times a week. Salmon and tuna are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Plant sources include soybeans, flaxseeds, walnuts, and their oils. Fish omega-3’s are not the same as plant omega-3’s. Fish ones have more heart benefit.

7. DRINK UP (SURPRISE!)

Moderate alcohol consumption can raise “good” cholesterol by as much as 10%. This means one drink a day for women and up to two a day for men. Drinking has risks though, so I’m putting a caution against increasing your intake or starting if you don’t already drink.

8. DRINK GREEN

Green tea is healthier than sodas and sugary stuff. Green tea has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol.

9. EAT NUTS

Extensive research shows that regular consumption of nuts can bring modest reductions in cholesterol, especially walnuts and almonds. However, nuts are high in calories, so a handful a day is enough.

10. SWITCH SPREADS

In recent times there has been the introduction of margarine-like spreads and other foods fortified with cholesterol-reducing plant compounds called stanols.

11. DON’T SMOKE

Smoking lowers “good” cholesterol and is a major risk factor for heart disease.

See you next week.

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