Cut Your Cholesterol, Without Drugs

Here's the skinny on the troublesome fat your body makes called cholesterol: Chances are good that you may not need drugs to keep it in check.

True, people with a strong genetic predisposition to high cholesterol need medication to control cholesterol. But a lot of us don't.

For most of us, lifestyle changes are the key to maintaining a healthy balance between bad cholesterol, which clogs the arteries, and good cholesterol, which combats the clogging process.

But can you lower the risk for heart disease without medication?

"With enough lifestyle changes early enough, you can reduce the risk for heart disease by as much as 80 percent," says David L. Katz, M.D., from Yale University School of Medicine. He bases that estimate on the long-running Framingham Heart Study and research on other cultures where a lack of heart disease has been linked with healthier lifestyles.

About 105 million American adults have cholesterol levels above 200 mg/dl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Forty-two million have cholesterol levels of 240 mg/dl, which is considered high risk. These numbers indicate that a shift in everyday health habits is in order. Although you can't do much about such risk factors as family history, age or ethnicity, there are others that you can control.

So what's a willing-to-change, cholesterol-conscious consumer to do? Start by getting your cholesterol checked regularly and talking with the doctor about the results. Then take a look at your all-important diet, says Dr. Katz, co-author of the book Cut Your Cholesterol.

Cholesterol-lowering good health calls for a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, skinless poultry, non-fat dairy, beans, seeds, nuts and healthy vegetable oils like olive or canola. Your diet should restrict saturated fat, trans fat and salt. Dr. Katz also suggests you cut back on sugar and refined flour, which have been linked with high triglycerides (another dangerous fat in our blood).

A more sensible diet should help you keep your weight within a healthy range (a body mass index of 18.5 to 25). A healthy weight also reduces your chances of developing metabolic syndrome, a condition associated with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high triglycerides and a high risk for type 2 diabetes.

Other steps to take:

  • Get regular exercise. Regular physical activity is critical to improving your cholesterol levels and cutting your risk for heart disease. Exercise reduces not only total cholesterol, but also LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and increases HDL (good) cholesterol.

  • If you drink, do so in moderation. Excessive alcohol use increases triglyceride levels.

  • Reduce stress. It may help keep your cholesterol in check.

  • If you smoke, quit. Smoking raises triglyceride levels and increases the risk for metabolic syndrome.


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