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High Cholesterol Treatment -- What Works?

Safe, effective treatment for high cholesterol isn't hard -- but it can be confusing. Get the facts.

Eating Right as a High Cholesterol Treatment continued...

  • Calories. According to Wong, the importance of counting your calories is often overlooked by people with high cholesterol. No matter how much or how little fat or cholesterol is in a food, its calories still add up. Eating too much of it can lead to weight gain, and that increases your risk of high cholesterol.

  • High cholesterol foods. Experts have long urged people with high cholesterol to shun foods loaded with cholesterol, like egg yolks, shrimp, and organ meats. While some recent evidence suggests eggs may not be quite as harmful as once thought, experts still generally recommend you limit all high cholesterol foods. Also, don't assume that a food labeled "cholesterol-free" is necessarily good for you.

So what sort of diet works as a high cholesterol treatment? Ask your doctor for specific recommendations. Some experts recommend a Mediterranean-style diet, which cuts down on saturated and trans fats, while boosting intake of healthy unsaturated fats from fish and nuts.

If an improved diet doesn't help your cholesterol, don't feel like a failure. Because of their genes, some people just don't respond as well to this approach.

Weight Loss & Exercise as a High Cholesterol Treatment

Being overweight or obese ups your odds of having high LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglyceride levels and low HDL (good cholesterol) levels. It can also lead to other serious risks like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. So it's crucial to keep a healthy weight.

As a high cholesterol treatment, physical activity can have a modest effect. Exercise can lower your triglycerides (and bad LDL cholesterol to a lesser extent) and boost your good HDL cholesterol. So you should aim to get some physical activity -- even just a brisk walk -- for 30-60 minutes most days of the week.

But there are limits to what exercise can do. "For most people, exercise by itself wouldn't be an effective therapy to lower cholesterol," says Laurence S. Sperling, MD, director of preventive cardiology at the Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Ga. But it can keep your weight down and reduce other cardiovascular risks.

Medications as High Cholesterol Treatments

If lifestyle changes haven't been enough as a high cholesterol treatment -- or if you're at high risk of cardiovascular problems -- your doctor will likely turn to medications. In most cases, the first drug you will try is a statin.

Statins like Crestor, Lescol, Lipitor, Mevacor, Pravachol, and Zocor work by blocking the effects of an enzyme that helps make cholesterol. They can lower bad LDL cholesterol by an impressive 20-55%. They have a modest effect on triglycerides and give a mild boost to your good cholesterol, too.

But don't assume that taking a statin makes you invulnerable. They won't cancel out a diet of french fries and fondue. "Statins are a complement to dietary changes," says Hutter, "not a replacement for them."

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Is Your Cholesterol Level Heart Healthy?
What is your LDL (low-density lipoprotein) level?

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or
Answer:
Desirable
0-199
Borderline
200-239
High
240+

Your level is currently

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal.

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is borderline high. If your LDL goes higher, your total cholesterol level could become Borderline High. Consider reducing the amount of foods you eat with saturated fats and increasing physical activity. If you get more exercise, your level of "good" HDL cholesterol may increase, which could also help to keep your levels of LDL and total cholesterol in check.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL. The HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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