Monday, September 24, 2007
Know your numbers
OK. I'll admit it. I don't know my cholesterol numbers. That's right. A seasoned medical producer and I'm clueless when it comes to my levels. My eyes glaze over at the mention of HDL and LDL, the same way they do when my husband talks about the NBA. And the sad thing about it is, I'm not alone.

You would think by now that most Americans would know their numbers. But a new study by a group called the Society for Women's Health Research in Washington, D.C., found that older adult American women are better informed about cholesterol and more likely to monitor it than younger adult women. The study also found that more than half the women surveyed under the age of 45 did not know their numbers at all and didn't feel the need to know. Doctors say that's not good, because people of all ages, even children, can have high cholesterol, which can result in such problems as high blood pressure, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), heart disease, stroke, and even early death.

Physicians say knowing your numbers is key. LDL is the "bad" cholesterol because when there is too much of it, it circulates in the blood, and can slowly build up in the walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain. HDL is the "good" cholesterol because it helps remove "bad" cholesterol from arteries and prevent blockage. And then there are triglycerides, which are forms of fat. They're made in our bodies and also come from food. People with high triglycerides often have high total cholesterol, high LDL cholesterol and a low HDL cholesterol level. It's good to keep the HDL up and the LDL and triglycerides down. Ask your doctor what numbers are the healthiest for you.

So how can you keep all those numbers at the right levels? Some folks have to take medication. In fact recent studies have shown that Americans spend billions, not millions, but billions of dollars on cholesterol medicines each year. But doctors say many people could avoid medication if they just changed a few things in their lives.

According to the American Heart Association, the best ways to keep your cholesterol down are to eat foods low in cholesterol and saturated fats, maintain a healthy weight, exercise on a regular basis and see a doctor every year. And if you smoke, quit. If your levels don't even out after making those changes, then it may be time to think about going on medication.

September is National Cholesterol Awareness month. Hey, what's the old saying? "Do as I say, not as I do"? Forget it. I think it's time that I got my cholesterol checked. What about you? Let's do it together. It can make the difference in our health and in our futures, no matter what age we may be.

Are you fighting cholesterol problems? What do you do to keep your cholesterol at a healthy level? We'd like to know.
Keeping control of cholesterol is needed, however thyroid function should be checked firstly as it appears to be the most common underlying cause of chlesterol issues. See excellent references and useful information at Broda Barnes Research Foundation, Inc.
Two years ago I started working out and eating right (low sodium, low fat, etc...)but a year later my cholesterol was still stuck at 255. My doctor recommended medication and three months later my cholesterol was 135. Medication worked wonders in my case.
Too much emphasis on LDL may be misleading.

Almost one year ago, my HDL/LDL ratio was great but my LDL was 135 (that some people would be happy with!). I was taking statins (Lipitor 20mg), and feeling leg and hip pain that I naively attributed to too much time sitting (computer use) -- not to the statin.

To further reduce LDL, I was put on more Lipitor, 40 mg, with the result that I developed extreme hip pain; my leg muscle weakened. I had to stop exercising. I gained 20 lb. Life quality decreased. I decided to stop Lipitor altogether; the pain reduced fast but only stopped after a slow 6 month period. I began exercising again after 7 months. I was told to try another statin (Pravastatin + Zetia), and hip pain returned, so that exercises had to stop again. But now I know better:

- give lifestyle changes (exercise and diet) a real chance to work and be improved by experimentation;

- medication (statins) should not be introduced at the same time as one is experimenting with lifestyle changes;

- improved diet and exercise should be #1 and #2 choices.

These points could perhaps be further explained and exemplified in a follow-up to the article.

As a second suggestion, the ratio of HDL/LDL could be given a higher weight in deciding when and whether to add statins. Third, leg and joint pain should be more clearly used to stop treatment by the patient, because recovery is slow and painful.
I imagine that I have always had high cholesterol. At 15, I was first tested because my father had high cholesterol which could not be managed by diet an exercise alone. We are an athletic family; my father was a national gymnastics champion as a teenager in Romania. At diagnosis my total cholesterol was 391 and I was 5'4'' and 120lbs; my LDL was 320.

After trying a very strict diet and even more exercise, I began taking a statin and am finally in a more reasonable range.

Checking your cholesterol is not only important if you are over 45; if you have a family history or high cholesterol with no obvious cause (obesity, poor diet and lack of exercise) getting your cholesterol checked should be a top priority. From my experience, it is much easier to make a permanent lifestyle change when you are young than when you have grown comfortable in you bad habits.
Fascinating topic. I had all my Cholesterol Levels/numbers etc. tested a little while ago.

When the test result numbers came back, my family doctor shook her head and marveled. Everything was perfect. The hospital dietician even invited me to please share “my secret” with her, which made me smile:

1.) Steel cut Oatmeal in the morning. Adding a few raw sunflower seeds and walnuts.

2.) Wholegrain breads from specialty bakeries. (the bread that is actually baked and not a spongecake)

3.) Cooking and baking with Olive Oil. NEVER using hydrogenated or trans-fats for baking or cooking. Never. (I knew about that years ago…my friend’s husband is a scientific genius and had sternly warned us that the body could never process anything hydrogenated…that was all I needed to know. He was way ahead of his time.)

4.) Salad nearly every single day with Homemade Greek Salad Dressing – fresh olive oil, lemon juice with garlic & oregano.

5.) Plain Yogurt instead of Sour Cream

6.) Fresh Garlic added to most dishes.

7.) (everyone else in my family loves fish…except for me….when I was a kid whenever my mother served fish I would wear huge oversized tennis socks and stuff the fish in my socks when my mother wasn’t looking...I hated fish)

The dietician cheerfully marked it all down – she thought the Olive Oil must be the “trick”. She thanked me as she was so pleased to get a few secrets.

On a side note, many years ago, at a certain point my dear dad had dangerously high levels of Cholesterol. As an Air Traffic Controller it was an important health concern. (we need our Air Traffic Controllers in the best shape possible…) So serious that my dad was immediately referred to a hospital out of province to see a Specialist. And his doctor immediately prescribed a cholesterol lowering medication.

But my dad is a man of very few words…he grew up on a farm, one of 11 children, a quiet peaceful life….so he thinks everything through…he never jumps on the bandwagon for every new thing… and wanted to try something “natural” first.

(PLEASE NOTE: I’m not suggesting anyone do this, this was simply his personal decision)

So he decided to do a temporary test and he took 2 Tablespoons of Cod Liver Oil everyday.

Within record time, after his next tests, his levels were down to almost normal and his doctor was SHOCKED and said: “that prescription is really working for you!” And soon all his levels were normal. I’m not sure if my dad ever told his doctor he never took that prescription. I’ll have to ask him.

I do know that my dad told us that he heard that same prescription was later rumored to be causing cancer risk worries for some. He said he was glad he wasn’t taking it for all these years. (scary)

To this day he takes at least 1 Tablespoon of Cod Liver Oil per day.

My sweet mother used to pay my brother and I to take our Cod Liver Oil…a nickel for each spoonful, then she raised the price to a quarter. I suppose we deserve a raise now! (I’m kidding)

Cod Liver Oil is one of those things that makes you shiver – BLECH! I suppose a little bribery might help do the trick! (I down mine with a glass orange juice…and it’s still just as disgusting….BLECH! yuck!) Help….

Oh well.

Of course, everyone has to make their own personal decision. It’s important to talk to our doctors and get a proper diagnosis. Self-medication can be risky, even deadly, and I’m NOT advising that. Absolutely not. Even certain vitamin supplements can be dangerous too – even affecting liver function etc. We know from experience, that verything is a business, even the vitamin business, so you have to be so careful. But it pays to think things through and know exactly what you are taking in either a prescription or a supplement. We have to be so careful.

Life is a gift and we must cherish it. I LOVE reading the lyrics to this pretty song – as it’s so true – “Life is like a gift”…

We must take good care of ourselves.

Smiles from the seaside from A.G.T.

Life is beautiful........"What do we live for, if not to make the world less difficult for each other?" ~~George Eliot (1819-1880)
I've had annual physicals since I was 26. At age 29 I was told that my cholesterol was high for my age and was told to exercise a minimum of 5 days a week (I was doing 3) and to limit my intake of red meat, cheese and eggs. I've done the best I could to his instructions so my cholesterol has gone up and down the past 5 years but since my good cholesterol has been higher then my bad, I've not had to take any drugs (something I and the doctor are trying to avoid).

I recently switched doctors since my doctor no longer took HMO's. This new doctor assumed that because of my age and I am not anywhere near obese that when I got my physical, I had to tell her to check my cholesterol. Regardless of age, everyone should get their cholesterol checked. Since mine is high, I do it once a year.
Dr. Gupta,
My father has been on cholesterol-lowering drugs for about 12 years. I will get you the name of it if you want later, basically it's another statin drug. A year ago, he developed severe muscle pain and weakness. This is from an otherwise very active and busy man. He went to several doctors who were baffled, but the end result was a probability of statin poisoning. It was so bad, it affected his quality of life. After many consultations and research on his own via the Internet, he was sent to a Cleveland clinic which specializes in these things. Turns out that statin overload may be the cause of his extreme muscle pain and weakness. Prednisone is his current treatment (which has its own dangers) yet has turned his life back to "normal". My question, are we seeing more of these long-term debilitating effects of using cholesteral-lowering drugs? Will we hear more about victims in the future? What do you know about these side effects. Thanks, I really appreciate your time to consider this matter. Laura J. Larson, Anchorage, Alaska 907-245-4186.
Laura, like your dad, I too had and continue to have severe problems from statins. I had a stiff neck, sore leg muscles, extreme tireness, stiff legs, shoulder pains, chest pains that caused me to be hospitalized 3 times over 3 years. The latest time, I finally refused to take any more statins. Gradually, my body has responded. Unfortunately, the lingering side effects for me mean I now am in physical therapy for a sore/stiff shoulder. the muscles are so sore that no one can touch them. And, I can not bear much weight on it because it hyperextends the muscles. Thus the healing process starts all over again - except the muscle has a little less range each time. So good luch to him. I am doing all I can to get my numbers down without taking more statins.
I was on several statins for a long period. I quit 10 years ago and still have the pain in my leg muscles. Nights are rough. Restless legs are enhanced.

My son quit statins 3-4 years ago Knowing what his old man had. He exercises hard to restore his muscles. It does not work.
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