Cholesterol & Heart Disease
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | February 6, 2001

You've just gotten back from an appointment with your doctor, and he or she has told you once again that your cholesterol is too high. This time he's threatened to put you on medication if you don't get it under control. So he's given you a diet to follow, told you to get some exercise and to quit smoking, if you still do. But you feel fine-why should you worry?

For this reason: by the time you do feel it, what you'll feel is a heart attack. If you're lucky, it may be angina, a lack of blood flow to the heart that causes pain. But don't count on that as a warning sign, because many people don't get angina. Consider your doctor's admonition the warning sign and get going.

The logical question is what should your cholesterol be? You should follow your physician's recommendations, but the guidelines from the National Cholesterol Education Program are total cholesterol lower than 200 mg/dl, and HDL-cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol) greater than 50 mg/dl. That puts your ratio of total cholesterol:HDL cholesterol at less than 4.0-a desirable goal.

William Castelli, M.D., was Director of the Framingham Heart Study for over 25 years. He wants to eliminate heart disease because, except for some genetically induced heart disease, it's entirely preventable. It's a disease of our lifestyle-super-sized, high-fat meals, smoking, and lack of any exercise whatsoever. According to Dr. Castelli, in cultures where the total cholesterol is less than 150 mg/dl, there is no heart disease-it simply doesn't exist.

Here are his recommendations for lowering your cholesterol. It's not as simple as popping some pills-it takes more than that. If you want to live a long life, adopt the lifestyle he recommends:

  1. Lose weight if you need to. The risk of heart disease increases as body weight and body fat go up. If you have a lot of weight to lose, start to lose it today. Your heart can receive benefits even if you lose as little as 15 lbs.
  2. Eat 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. We love the starches found in rice and potatoes, but we need the oranges and mangoes and red beans too.
  3. Exercise 30-45 minutes daily. That includes both formal exercise and purposeful, continuous movement such as shoveling snow and cutting the lawn-but not on a riding mower. You must exercise the most important muscle in your body-your heart.
  4. Never use tobacco products-they destroy your arteries from the inside. Find another way to deal with stress, because this one can kill your heart.
  5. Supplement your diet with 400-800 IUs of natural vitamin E every day.
  6. Supplement your diet with folic acid every day. It reduces your risk of second and third heart attacks and, according to new research, maybe the first one as well.
  7. Supplement your diet with 3-4 grams of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil every day. (Or eat fish every day.) Numerous studies have demonstrated that omega-3 fish oils can lower your risk of heart disease by lowering your cholesterol and triglycerides.
  8. Finally, if you've done everything right for a year and your cholesterol is still too high, talk to your doctor about taking one of the statin drugs. All of us at Better Life Unlimited want to avoid pharmaceuticals if we can, just as you do, but when you've done your best with lifestyle and supplements, use the medications. It's really that important. We want you around a long time and living well.
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