The American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology published cholesterol guidelines early in November aimed at preventing a first heart attack or stroke, which sparked controversy among researchers and has been heavily covered by media.
According to media reports, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston charged that the guidelines relied on old data and that the formula over-estimates cardiovascular risk in certain individuals, which can result in unnecessary, or over treatment.
I can only imagine that this news is disconcerting and confusing for patients. That is why it is so important to have a primary care physician who is familiar with your medical history and can weigh treatment options tailored to your individual health care needs. This is particularly true for older patients who may be managing multiple chronic conditions.
While the controversy surrounding the new guidelines is sorted out, I can safely offer the following information and advice.
What causes high cholesterol? It is common for cholesterol production to become excessive as we age. High cholesterol levels are widespread because we absorb it from certain foods we eat. Once absorbed into the bloodstream, cholesterol is broken down into LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol). While LDL can cause plaque buildup on artery walls, HDL helps reduce plaque.
A total cholesterol count of less than 200 mg/dL is optimal; however, the levels of LDL and HDL are more important indicators of cardiovascular disease risk. An optimal LDL level is less than 100 mg/dL, especially for those with heart disease, diabetes or vascular disease. High LDL and low HDL increase risk for heart disease. Unfortunately, HDL levels typically fall with age, particularly among women. Here are some tips to keep your cholesterol in check:
- Take cholesterol medications as directed by your physician.
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
- Cut saturated fats (red meat, butter, etc.) and replace them with fish, poultry and low-fat dairy products.
- Eat foods high in monounsaturated fats such as olive, canola and peanut oil.
- Exercise regularly
You should have your cholesterol checked every five years beginning at age 20 and more frequently if you have high cholesterol or other cardiovascular disease risk factors, especially diabetes.
If you would like to check your cholesterol or discuss other senior health concerns, feel free to schedule an appointment at my new practice at the Center Communities of Brookline. Call 617-363-8041 to learn more.