Jane J. is 74 years old, retired, and lives in Florida. Over a period of years, her doctor noticed that her LDL ("bad") cholesterol was gradually getting higher. It began in the "near optimal" range, but three years later had moved into "borderline high." Over the next couple of years it continued to rise -- and was approaching 160, the classification for "high" LDL. Furthermore, she had a significant family history of heart disease. Her doctor believed she was "slipping in the wrong direction" and recommended she begin taking a cholesterol-lowering medication to help prevent heart disease.
What did you think when your doctor prescribed a pill to take every day?
I don't like taking medication and was dismayed that I would probably be on it forever. At the same time, however, I was concerned about plaque build-up in my arteries. Out of the 12 people in my music group, one friend has had a heart attack and two have had strokes just in the past couple of years. Furthermore, I used to work at the admittance desk in an emergency room and saw many people who had heart attacks. So I am well aware of the dangers.
I am suspicious of taking medicine for any little complaint. However, I see it as the lesser of two evils -- I am very aware, and so is my doctor, that my brothers and sisters have all had heart problems and I am trying to do what I can to prevent that in me.
And, the good news is that the medication did bring my cholesterol down quite a bit.
Other than medication, how do you control your cholesterol levels?
I watch my diet closely. I eat a lot of beans and vegetables. Drink only skim milk. I eat bananas and grapes, although I don't get enough fruit. I eat cereal with whole grains. I avoid butter. I eat almost no meat, no fast food, never fried food, and no prepared food. I am good about reading food labels, especially for the amount of fat.
It's not just about my cholesterol levels. I think a bad diet is responsible for many illnesses, so eating healthy can only help you.
It sounds like you are pretty conscientious about your diet.
Unfortunately, I eat too much chocolate, which is a major weakness in my diet.
How have you altered what you normally used to eat?
The main thing I successfully gave up was the amount of meat. Also, I found that vegetables taste better (after you get used to them) served plain without butter or sauce of any kind. I don't use much salt. Looking at a recipe, I immediately omit as much as 1/2 cup sugar, more than 2-3 eggs, sausage, mayonnaise, bacon, etc.
What types of exercises do you do, and how regularly?
I left weights 6 days a week. One day is upper body and takes an hour. The next day is lower body. There are many exercises I can't do because of a bad knee, so I add 5 miles (slow) on the bike.
Jane manages her cholesterol with medication, as well as eating right and exercising as best she can. She has cut a lot of the "unhealthy" foods out of her diet, but not all -- and that is ok. You can eat meat in moderation, or sneak some sweets, and still keep cholesterol under control. It is better to try and cut some things and look for ways to improve, than not try at all.
If you want to learn more about how to get your cholesterol under control, review step 6 of the guide -- Maintain Healthy Habits.
Glenn Gandelman, MD, MPH, FACC Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at New York Medical College; Private Practice specializing in Cardiovascular Disease in Greenwich, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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