The Baby Boomer Heart: Cholesterol Rising
People between ages 45-60 years are at risk for high cholesterol. High cholesterol can build up even in trim, active people.
If you are active and young enough to think that "middle age" begins
at 60, you're probably a baby boomer who never thought you'd need to worry
about high cholesterol. That's something that happens to "older"
people, but not you!
The truth is, if you're 45 to 60 -- or even younger -- you're at risk. The
American Heart Association reports that some 107 million Americans have
borderline high or higher cholesterol levels. And experts say that ignoring
even slightly elevated cholesterol levels may be a setup for
"There are few things in modern medicine clearer than the link between
high cholesterol and heart disease," says Harlan Krumholz, MD, professor of
cardiology at the Yale University School of Medicine, and author of The
Expert Guide to Beating Heart Disease.
In at least one major worldwide study of some 29,000 men and women,
researchers found that an elevated cholesterol level was among the top risk
factors for heart attack.
But Krumholz tells WebMD that you don't have to fall prey to statistics.
"Studies also show that lowering your cholesterol can reduce your risk of
having a heart attack by as much as 40%."
Understanding Cholesterol: What You Must Know
Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance produced in the liver. How much
cholesterol you produce is affected by your genes and by what you eat. And at
least some cholesterol is essential for good health.
"It's necessary for producing cell membranes as well as certain
hormones, and it plays an intrinsic role in a number of key bodily
functions," says James Underberg, MD, director of the Lipid Research Center
at Bellevue Medical Center in New York City.
Here are a few basic facts. Cholesterol comes in two main forms:
- Low density lipoprotein or LDL -- the "bad" cholesterol which can
build up in artery walls, causing inflammation and clot formation.
- High density lipoprotein or HDL -- the "good" cholesterol that
helps remove LDL and carry it to the liver, where it's processed and
You'll also hear about total cholesterol levels, which are made up of LDL,
HDL, and other blood fats. You also have triglycerides, another blood fat,
which are also linked to heart disease and stroke.
These numbers can get confusing. The bottom line? You want high HDL and low
triglycerides and LDL.
"When HDL levels are high and LDL levels are low your body is likely
maintaining just the right amount of cholesterol necessary for good
health," says Krumholz.
Balancing Your Risks: Food and Genetics
Unfortunately, it often doesn't take much for this delicate balance to go
awry, particularly as you age.
"Some folks are simply genetically prone to making too much LDL. They
aren't overweight, they exercise regularly, but as they get older HDL goes down
and LDL goes up, and they just make too much cholesterol," says Howard
Weintraub, MD, co-director of the New York University Lipid Clinic in New York