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Combating Cholesterol

When a doctor starts your appointment with the phrase, "I've got some bad news..." you know it's not going to be a great day. That's how a friend of mine (we'll call him Tim) got the news that he had "dangerously high cholesterol."

The doctor proceeded to tell Tim what that meant and wrote a prescription for a type of cholesterol-lowering drug called statins. After giving the prescription, the doctor scheduled a follow-up appointment and sent my friend on his way.

It was all wonderfully efficient. Here's your problem. This is the pill you need to take to fix it. Have a nice day.

That's when Tim called me. He already takes a handful of pills every day to combat other health issues. Tim was taking the pills the doctor prescribed, but he wanted to know if he could do anything else to lower his cholesterol. I told him there was, but he would have to take a close look at the things he did every day.

Starting out the morning with half a dozen fried eggs, sausage and bacon had to stop. Eating foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol would only make his situation worse. I had him invest in a non-stick pan, taught him how to separate the yolks from the eggs and replaced the white bread with a high fiber multigrain. On days he wanted something different; he has a high fiber cereal with fat-free milk or a low sugar oatmeal.

Changing nothing but breakfast can lower the bad cholesterol levels 4-6% in 60 days. But we were just starting.

Tim loves shellfish. In fact, he eats it at least three or four times a week. Unfortunately, shellfish is high in cholesterol. I suggested Tim switch to other types of seafood (baked, not fried) and save the shellfish for an indulgence once a week.

The last step was the most difficult. I told him he had to start exercising. He needed to start resistance training at least three days a week. On two of the four days he wasn't in the gym, he had to do something aerobic in nature. Take a walk, ride a bike, swim, in-line skate, something for at least 30 minutes.

The exercise part was a hard sell for Tim because he's been a couch potato for the last decade. But then I told him about the numbers.

A resistance training program can lower cholesterol levels by as much as 20% over a six month period of time. Add cardio to the mix and a drop of as much as 35% is not unusual. He looked at me in disbelief. "Thirty-five percent?" Tim said. "That's how much the drugs I'm taking are supposed to drop my cholesterol. Plus, they cost over $700 a year!"

Tim had his wake-up call. He took the medication as prescribed by his doctor, but he also started making healthier food choices. Two weeks after he began the medication, he went back to the gym. It wasn't easy, but those cholesterol test results taped to the refrigerator kept him going back.

Six months after his first test, Tim's cholesterol had dropped to 186. Borderline by today's standards, but certainly not the scary 254 he was at before. His doctor took him off the cholesterol medication with the understanding that he get another blood test in 3 months to confirm he was keeping it under control.

At nine months, Tim's cholesterol had dropped even further to 156 and he had lost almost 40 pounds of fat. He loves eating breakfast now because instead of making him feel bloated, it gives him the energy to face the day. Working out is something he looks forward to and he really likes all the attention he gets when he goes out. Of course saving $60 a month because he doesn't need cholesterol-lowering medication is a big plus.

Now it's time you took a look at your lifestyle. Are you taking medications to counteract the effects of a poor diet and lack of exercise? If you are, schedule an appointment with your doctor and see if it's time you started exercising. If not for your health, think of all the money you'll save.

Learn more about how cholesterol drugs may defeat exercise programs here.

Red Yeast Rice Update

Have you been told you should eat red yeast rice to lower cholesterol? That was actually TRUE. But the red yeast rice you can buy today is very different from what was on the shelf in the year 2000. Click Here for the whole story.

Progression of Atherosclerosis

Progression of Atherosclerosis

What Cholesterol Numbers Mean

Total Cholesterol (TC) = 200 (or less)
(This is a combination of HDL and LDL cholesterol numbers.)


200 to 239 mg/dL: Borderline-High Risk
240 mg/dL and over: High Risk

HDL = 45 (or higher)
(This is the "Good" Cholesterol)
Think of HDL as HEALTHY or HAPPY.
40 mg/dL or less for men: Higher Risk for Heart Disease
50 mg/dL or less for women: Higher Risk for Heart Disease

LDL = 100 (or lower)
(This is the "Bad" Cholesterol)
Think of LDL as LAZY or BAD.
Less than 100 mg/dL: Optimal
100 to 129 mg/dL: Near Optimal/ Above Optimal
130 to 159 mg/dL: Borderline High
160 to 189 mg/dL: High
190 mg/dL and above: Very High

Triglycerides = 150 (or lower)
(These are the fats your body makes from the food you eat.)
150 mg/dL or less: Normal
150 to 199 mg/dL: Borderline High
200 to 499 mg/dL: High
500 mg/dL and over: Very High

Total Cholesterol to HDL Ratio = 4.4 (or lower)
(Higher than 4.4 and your cholesterol isn't balanced, potentially endangering your arteries.)

Fasting Blood Glucose = 100 (or lower)
(Used to detect both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia and to help diagnose diabetes.)
100 to125 mg/dL (5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L): Impaired Fasting Glucose (Pre-Diabetes)

126 mg/dL (7.0 mmol/L) and above on more than one testing occasion: Diabetes

Call for a FREE Consultation (305) 296-3434
CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.

Updated 6/27/2010
Updated 7/24/2010
Updated 9/23/2011
Updated 1/5/2013
Updated 7/6/2013
Updated 1/16/2022

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  • What is Cholesterol?

    Cholesterol is a lipid found in the cell membranes of all tissues. It is essential to human survival because it's a critical component our bodies need to build and maintain cell membranes.

    Do Statins Work?
    (Cholesterol Lowering Drugs)

    There is great concern they may not. The January 28, 2008 issue of Businessweek had on the cover, "For Many People, Cholesterol Drugs May Not Do Any Good."

    Here's a direct quote from the article for you to consider.

    "The printed ad (for Lipitor) proclaims that 'Lipitor reduces the risk of heart attack by 36%...in patients with multiple risk factors for heart disease.'

    The dramatic 36% figure has an asterisk. Read the smaller type. It says: 'That means in a large clinical study, 3% of patients taking a sugar pill or placebo had a heart attack compared to 2% of patients taking Lipitor.'

    Now do some simple math. The numbers in that sentence mean that for every 100 people in the trial, which lasted 3 1/2 years, three people on placebos and two people on Lipitor had heart attacks. The difference credited to the drug? One fewer heart attack per 100 people. So to spare one person a heart attack, 100 people had to take Lipitor for more than three years. The other 99 got no measurable benefit." (Added emphasis ours.)

    While statins seem to have little benefit, eating well and exercising has been shown to produce GREAT benefit, even in small amounts.