TUESDAY, Dec. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Advances in medical science
have made it easier than ever to lower dangerous cholesterol
A class of cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins have
proven particularly effective, reducing the risk for heart-related
death by as much as 40 percent in people who have already suffered
a heart attack, said Dr. Vincent Bufalino, president and chief
executive of Midwest Heart Specialists and a spokesman for the
American Heart Association.
"People have said we need them in the drinking water because they are just so effective in lowering cholesterol," Bufalino said.
But he and other doctors warn that when it comes to controlling
cholesterol and enjoying overall health, nothing beats lifestyle
changes, such as a heart-friendly diet and regular exercise.
"Once we became a fast-food generation, it's just too easy to order it at the first window, pick it up at the second window and eat it on the way to soccer," Bufalino said. "We need to get you to change now or you're going to end up as one of these statistics."
Folks with high cholesterol often are overweight, and if they
deal with their cholesterol through medication only, they leave
themselves open to such other chronic health problems as diabetes,
high blood pressure and arthritis, said Alice Lichtenstein,
director and senior scientist at the Cardiovascular Nutrition
Laboratory of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center
on Aging at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.
The thought of controlling cholesterol solely through medication
is "an unfortunate point of view," Lichtenstein said. "There are a
lot of other factors, especially when it comes to body weight, that
the medications won't help. The idea that 'I'll just take
medications' isn't a very healthy option, especially for the long
That point of view seems to be bolstered by new evidence that
using cholesterol-lowering drugs won't necessarily help a person
who hopes to avoid heart disease.
British researchers who pooled and re-analyzed data from 11
cardiovascular studies found that taking statins did not reduce
cardiac deaths among people who had not developed heart
The finding has been questioned, however, by some medical
experts, who note that the research did find an overall reduction
in cholesterol levels linked to statin use. "I have to tell you
that belies a lot of the other science," Bufalino said of the
High cholesterol is strongly connected to cardiovascular
disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States,
according to the American Heart Association. Nearly 2,300 Americans
die of cardiovascular disease each day -- an average of one death
every 38 seconds.
Cholesterol, which is a waxy substance, occurs naturally in the
human body. In fact, the body produces about 75 percent of the
cholesterol needed to perform important tasks, which include
building cell walls, creating hormones, processing vitamin D and
producing bile acids that digest fats, according to the U.S.
National Institutes of Health. The other 25 percent of a person's
cholesterol is ingested in foods that are eaten.
But many people's diets include the wrong type of cholesterol.
They eat foods loaded with saturated fats or trans fats, which
increase levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the
LDL, the so-called "bad" cholesterol, forms plaques on the sides
of artery walls, narrowing the arteries and forcing the heart to
work harder to pump blood. Saturated fats are found in most animal
products, and trans fats are found in processed foods that contain
But other foods are rich in "good" cholesterol: high-density
lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. It acts as the bloodstream's garbage
truck by rounding up and hauling off some of the bad
These days, it's easier than ever to choose foods that contain
lots of good cholesterol and little to no bad cholesterol,
There are lots of healthy choices, including low-fat or nonfat
dairy products, lean cuts of meat, poultry, fish, vegetables and
grains, she said.
And for people who want to buy a processed food, the Nutrition
Facts label on every product explicitly states the amount of fat it
"From a consumer's perspective, it's easier than ever to restrict saturated fat and trans fatty acids," she said. "It's just a matter of doing it."
People also can lower their cholesterol by eating foods that
contain lots of dietary fiber. Soluble fiber has been found to draw
cholesterol out of the bloodstream, Bufalino said. Such foods,
including oatmeal and whole-grain bread, are an important part of a
But beating cholesterol takes additional steps as well. Because
high cholesterol is closely linked to being overweight or obese,
losing pounds is critical -- as is keeping them off. And that means
exercising as well as eating right.
Exercising as little as 30 minutes every day can reduce a
person's risk for heart disease, according to the American Heart
Association. Even more exercise can help achieve greater weight
The important thing is to remain dedicated to your own health,
"People can be good with it for a while, but it's hard to stay disciplined all the time," he said. "We don't need folks to be perfect. If you can be good 80 to 90 percent of the time, that's great. That's all we need from people."
The American Heart Association has more on
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one woman's story.