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.
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:
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:
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."