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Cholesterol & Triglycerides Health Center

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.
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Plants That Help Lower Cholesterol

In addition to dietary measures, many doctors now recommend the use of "natural plant sterols" to help raise HDL.

They work by competing with human cholesterol, keeping it from getting into our blood vessels where clots can form, says Underberg. Instead, LDL is shuttled off to your liver where it's metabolized and eliminated. Results can be seen in about three weeks.

Cholesterol-lowering margarines containing plant sterols and stanols include Benecol and Take Control.

When Cholesterol Medications Are the Answer

Try as you might, even if you do everything right, your cholesterol may stubbornly remain high. When this is the case, doctors say cholesterol-lowering medications are in order.

Currently, there are five such classes of drugs, nearly all focused on reducing LDL. By far, however, the most frequently prescribed are drugs known as statins.

"These work to slow the body's production of cholesterol and increase the liver's ability to remove LDL from your bloodstream," says Krumholz. They can also reduce triglyceride levels, he says, and can offer a modest increase in HDL.

This group includes:

  • Crestor
  • Lescol
  • Lipitor
  • Mevacor
  • Pravachol
  • Zocor

Like all drugs, these medications can cause some side effects: muscle aches and weakness, mild stomach upset, gas, and nausea. More serious but rare problems include liver damage or muscle breakdown. Regular follow-up with your physician is needed; let your health care provider know your symptoms and always have a list of your medications with you. Still, doctors say side effects are uncommon and in the overwhelming majority of people, benefits far outweigh risks. Pregnant woman should not take these medications.

The bottom line: The data on safety and effectiveness of even aggressive medical therapy is good. Most people get good results from the medication without significant problems, says Weintraub.

More Treatments That Can Help

According to the American Heart Association, other cholesterol-lowering medications sometimes used alone, or more frequently in conjunction with statins, include:

  • Bile acid resins (cholestyramine and colestipol).
  • Fibrates (such as gemfibrozil and fenofibrate)
  • Cholesterol absorption inhibitors (Zetia).
  • Nicotinic acid -- also known as niacin -- in prescription-strength doses.

While doctors enthusiastically agree medications can help, taking medication won't let you enjoy a rich diet without worry.

"You can outeat any medication your doctor can prescribe," says Weintraub. "These drugs are not a license to eat what you want." Indeed, experts say it's vital to maintain strict dietary and lifestyle changes even when your cholesterol begins to drop.

Adds Krumholz: "The more you can do on your own, without medication, the less medication you'll need to remain healthy."

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Reviewed on October 13, 2005

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

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Desirable
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Borderline
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240+

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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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