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My Defensive Strategy for High Cholesterol

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 22, 2020

By Dan Meyers, as told to Stephanie Watson

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I've always thought of high cholesterol as a problem that unhealthy people have -- those who don't eat well or exercise. But good health has been a part of my life since I was a kid. My mom and stepdad are both extremely healthy. In high school, my friends would tease me because I refused to eat at McDonald's.

Yet despite my best efforts, my cholesterol has always been high. It's consistently in the 215, 220 range. It must be genetic, because my mom also has high cholesterol.

When my doctor first told me how high my cholesterol was, I laughed. He said, "You need to change up your diet." "Really?" I replied. At the time I was training for a bodybuilding competition and eating nothing but chicken and broccoli. I knew my diet wasn't the source of my cholesterol problem.

My doctor wanted to put me on a cholesterol-lowering drug, but I’m not a big fan of taking medication. I won't even take ibuprofen for a headache. But my diagnosis did reinforce for me the importance of eating healthy and staying active. And an experiment with a new diet quickly made me realize that I can't take any risks with my health.

The Keto Challenge

I get bored pretty easily, including with my diet. Sometimes I like to try new things. A few years ago, I went on the keto diet, just to see how my body would react. There are a few doctors in my wife's family, and they were a little worried about me going on a diet so high in fat. Once I'd been on the diet for a while, they suggested that I see a doctor. So I went to Penn Medicine to have my cholesterol level checked out.

My cholesterol had jumped to 480. My doctor was astonished by it, and so was I. It was as if I'd been eating a pack of bacon at every meal. They did a bunch of tests to try to figure out what was going on.

Continued

The doctor said he'd seen a case like mine only once before. He came to the conclusion that I'm a hyper-absorber. Where most people absorb only a small percentage of cholesterol from the food they eat, my body was absorbing most of the cholesterol. So if I were to eat 40 grams of saturated fat a day, my body would absorb most of those 40 grams.

I decided to get off the keto diet and go back to my previous healthy diet. Soon after, my cholesterol dropped back down to 220.

My Typical Day

I try to be smart about the way I eat. Each day I'll get about 30 grams of carbohydrates, 30 grams of protein, and 10 or less grams of fat.

My diet is pretty basic and boring, but it's healthy. Breakfast is usually oatmeal with blueberries and pecans or walnuts. I eat a lot of sweet potatoes, quinoa, chicken, and fish. Maybe twice a month I'll have a steak. I eat about once every 4 hours throughout the day to keep my metabolism going.

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Battle Plaque Buildup in Your ArteriesAtherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease, or ASCVD, causes your arteries to narrow and harden. This increases your risk of heart attack or stroke, but it’s very treatable. Here’s how to lower your LDL.233

SPEAKER 1:

Atherosclerotic cardiovascular

disease, ASCVD for short,

can be caused

by unhealthy levels

of bad cholesterol or LDL

that form plaques on the walls

of your arteries

and make them

narrow and hardened.



High levels of bad cholesterol,

or LDL cholesterol, can increase

the chances you're going

to develop blockages

in your arteries

and plaque will form inside

of your arteries,

very similar to the way

that plaque can form

on your teeth

if you don't brush your teeth.



But there are a lot

of other factors

that also contribute

to development of ASCVD,

such as high blood pressure,

diabetes, obesity, lack

of exercise, and smoking.

Over time, plaque can build up

inside of your arteries

and can slow or even block blood

flow and oxygen coming

from your heart

to the rest of your body.

This can lead to development

of chest pains,

or in a worst case scenario,

can lead to heart

attacks or even a stroke.



SPEAKER 2: In the US,

there are over 800,000 heart

attacks each year,

one every 40 seconds.



SPEAKER 1: ASCVD can be genetic,

which means you may have

inherited some risk

for development of artery

blockages from your parents.

Now there's not a lot that you

can do with regard

to your family history,

but fortunately, there are

several lifestyle changes

that you can make to lower

your risk.



Number one, quit smoking.

Smoking is a known leading cause

of ASCVD because it damages

the lining of your arteries

and make it much more likely

that you will develop a blockage

in a heart artery.

Number two, a healthy diet.

One easy way to reduce your risk

is to change your diet.

It's important to eliminate

high fatty foods

such as greasy foods,

fried foods, burgers, pizza,

foods

that are very high in sugar

content, and eliminate processed

foods.



Instead, you should try and mix

in healthier alternatives

such as fruits, vegetables,

nuts, and whole grains.



Number three, exercise.

Exercising is extremely

important.

The American Heart Association

recommends that you exercise

for 150 minutes per week

at a moderate level

of intensity.

It's probably easier to think

about this as obtaining

30 minutes of moderate intensity

exercise five days a week.

That can include things

such as biking or power walking

or swimming.



They also recommend

that if possible, you obtain

75 minutes of strenuous exercise

such as going for a run, power

lifting, and strength training.



SPEAKER 2: ASCVD is manageable,

and these three steps will go

a long way in lowering your risk

of a heart attack or stroke.

If you have also been diagnosed

with diabetes,

you need to be even more

careful.



SPEAKER 1: Diabetes is

a major risk factor

for atherosclerotic

cardiovascular disease,

and it also greatly increases

the chance that your blockages

in your arteries will increase.

It is extremely

important, if you have diabetes

and ASCVD, that you follow up

very closely with your doctors

to make sure that the diabetes

is very well controlled.



SPEAKER 2: ASCVD is

a long-term challenge.

And while these lifestyle

changes will provide

significant benefits,

you'll still need to monitor

your progress along the way.



SPEAKER 1: It's very important

that you make

sure that your cholesterol

levels are rechecked regularly,

and that your other risk factors

for cardiovascular disease

are all controlled.

If you do this, there's

a good chance that we can keep

away a lot of the complications

that often occur

with atherosclerotic

cardiovascular disease.

Michael Lee, MD<br>Cardiologist<br>Medstar Cardiology Associates/delivery/aws/31/14/3114ba47-60e8-4b6c-a716-ba15fd5e61f4/dc5e70a8-15eb-4c02-add7-a667d942d56b_funded-briefbreakdown-ascvd-high-cholesterol_,4500k,2500k,1000k,750k,400k,.mp412/21/2020 09:36:0018001200photo of cholesterol/webmd/consumer_assets/site_images/article_thumbnails/video/funded_briefbreakdown_ascvd_high_cholesterol_video/1800x1200_funded_briefbreakdown_ascvd_high_cholesterol_video.jpg091e9c5e820b0d6a

I'm also consistent about exercise. I wake up around 5 every morning and bike for 20 minutes before getting on with my day. Then at the end of the day, at least five times a week, I'll do a higher-intensity workout with weights.

My wife and I are very active in general. We live in Florida, and we spend a lot of time outdoors. We like to go hiking and paddleboarding in our free time.

Staying on the Level

It was concerning to me when my doctor told me that my cholesterol had jumped to 480. That's very, very high. Because of my genes, I don't expect that I'll ever get it down to a completely normal level, but I've been doing everything I can to make sure that it doesn't go any higher than 220.

Now that I'm in my 30s, I know how essential eating well and staying active are for my health. At this point in my life, I just want to be healthy and mobile, and live a long life.

WebMD Feature

Sources

Dan Meyers, St. Petersburg, FL.

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