Cholesterol Myths & Facts
Cholesterol gets a bad, bad rap.
If you have excess cholesterol, you’re certain to fall victim to heart disease, right?
Well, not necessarily.
In fact, according to Ryan Whitney, MD, Bryan Heart cardiologist, cholesterol is an important part of normal bodily function.
It’s when your cholesterol gets out of control that it becomes a problem.
All of your cell walls are actually made up of cholesterol and other types of “lipids.” But, too much cholesterol can play a big role in the development of plaque and clogging up of arteries, which increases your risk of heart disease and heart attacks.
If your cholesterol is creeping upward, don’t despair. Lifestyle changes can make a huge difference, and if that’s not enough, there are plenty of medications that can help as well.
Good vs. Bad Cholesterol
“The easiest way to explain good versus bad cholesterol is this: think of your good cholesterol – your HDL – as the garbage men,” explains Dr. Whitney. “Your LDL is your bad cholesterol, so think of that as the garbage.”
In short, your LDL is your Lousy cholesterol, and you want it to be low. Your HDL is your Happy cholesterol, and you want it to be high.
“The first thing we all need to do is the stuff that none of us really seem to want to do, which is eat right and exercise,” says Dr. Whitney. “People really underestimate how much mileage they can get out of just making some minor lifestyle changes.”
Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise five times a week is all you need. You don’t have to run or get on the elliptical, either. A brisk walk does wonders.
Basic dietary changes also help. Cut back on simple carbohydrates and replace with complex ones. High-fiber foods, like oatmeal, can aid in lowering your cholesterol. Cut back on animal fats and switch over to healthier fats from nuts, legumes and the like.
Blood Sugar and Cholesterol
As your blood sugars get a little out of control, triglycerides – the fats that float around in your blood – will start to go up. Diabetics who don’t tighten up their blood sugar control will experience triglycerides that continue to creep up. People who are overweight and inactive also have higher triglycerides. Exercise and proper diet can head this off at the pass.
While sleep doesn’t directly affect your cholesterol, it affects a ton of other related factors.
Individuals who suffer with poor sleep tend to have higher blood pressure levels. They may be less active, and they’re more tired during the day.
“If you are having trouble sleeping, please see your doctor, because you may be suffering from sleep apnea,” advises Dr. Whitney. More than just “snoring,” sleep apnea is a serious condition that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Statins, some of the most widely prescribed drugs on the planet, are generally very safe.
But, a lot of patients do worry about the side effects. The vast majority of patients who take a statin have absolutely no problems with this method of treatment. The most common side effects are muscle aches, and those go away with discontinuing the drug or sometimes even switching from one statin to another.
“One of the questions I get asked a lot in clinic is, ‘What about all the side effects?’ based on what patients have read on the Internet,” says Dr. Whitney. “I’ll say, ‘What do you mean about the side effects? That statins have been shown to make you live longer? That they’ve been shown to reduce heart attacks and strokes? Those don’t sound like terrible side effects to me.’”
Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late
A simple blood test will tell you where your cholesterol stands. Dr. Whitney advises getting it checked at your yearly physical.
“Cholesterol is silent,” says Dr. Whitney. “You’ll never know what your cholesterol is if you don’t pay attention until you come in having a heart attack or a stroke. That’s the wrong time to find out your numbers.”
For more information you can go to bryanheart.com.
To listen to an interview with Ryan Whitney, MD, Bryan Heart cardiologist, follow this link: Helpful Ways to Manage Your Cholesterol