Learning About Cholesterol

It’s been rather a long while since I wrote about the importance of finding reputable online resources for learning about cholesterol. You can permanently locate links to educational resources on my Resources/Info Links page, but I thought it might be helpful to discuss in a post.

Why?

Well, quite frankly it’s because when discussing high cholesterol and heart disease risk, many doctors – who speak daily, probably, about cholesterol – rush through the conversation and use unfamiliar terms. On the receiving end it can feel like a tornado rather than a give and take discussion of personal cholesterol results and the resulting medical goals.

Plus, you’re going to google cholesterol anyway, you know you are.

Which is good, actually, because the more you know about cholesterol and heart disease risk – and treatment alternatives — the more committed you are likely to be to your cholesterol management program. Well, maybe. (My commitment waxes and wanes.) At the very least, researching online will enable you to create a list of questions to ask your doctor at a follow up appointment.

And researching should help you question whether prescription medication is absolutely necessary for your personal cholesterol management plan. Which is a vital step many seem to skip.

Truth be told, cholesterol-lowering statin medication is absolutely justified for many, many people – and these meds have undoubtedly saved many lives. But if high cholesterol is your only risk factor, you should question the validity of statin meds for you individual case. Have a discussion about the pros and cons with your doctor. And to do that well, you need knowledge.

But you don’t want to search just anywhere on the web. Some sites – such as WedMD — are largely funded by big pharmaceutical companies so you’ll want to know their slant. To help ensure you are gleaning information from reputable, unbiased sites, here are a few to check out.

An excellent source is the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) which I recently wrote about in my post, September is National Cholesterol Education Month. This site has a great deal of useful information, though it’s layout makes it difficult to navigate. See my post for specific links to the useful sections of this site – including an online calculator for heart disease risk.

For an excellent overview about cholesterol, a visit to the American Heart Association – Cholesterol Overview site is a great place to start. This site explains that cholesterol itself is not ‘bad’ and that it is created both by our bodies and from the foods we eat. Scrolling through this article you’ll find an explanation of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol, and there’s even an animation if you really want to get a visual of what cholesterol is and how it works in your body.

The Mayo Clinic is one of my favorite sites for unbiased, well-explained information about cholesterol and heart disease risk. (Go ahead. Color me geeky.) It is vital to truly understand your personal heart disease risk; the Mayo Clinic’s High Cholesterol Risk Factors page explains that there are seven conditions which, when combined with high cholesterol, elevate heart disease risk.

Test results are a big factor in risk assessment, and it’s pretty likely that your doctor zoomed through your personal lipid panel test results and what they mean. To learn more about why the goal for ‘total cholesterol’ is at or under 200 mg/dL, what triglycerides are, and what those HDL and LDL numbers really mean, visit the Mayo Clinic’s incredibly useful High Cholesterol Tests and Diagnosis page. This page is an excellent reference that explains the targets for each key cholesterol measure – and relates them to heart disease risk level. In my humble opinion, this page is one of the most useful online resources available.

Finally, if you want to avoid statin medication by lowering cholesterol through diet and lifestyle, you’ll want a good nutritional resource. For that, the Cleveland Clinic’s Nutrition-Cholesterol Guidelines is a terrific resource that explains what’s good and bad about things like the different kinds of fats, dietary cholesterol, protein, carbohydrates, and plant sterols. Even better, it gives a daily target for each. Best of all (major geek alert), there’s a handy chart that summarizes the key info all in one place. Make sure you scroll to the bottom of the page to see this useful chart.

And OK, I lied a minute ago. In my humble opinion, the Cleveland Clinic’s nutrition-cholesterol guidelines page is one of the most useful online resources available.

Let’s make it a tie. I vote that the Mayo Clinic’s High Cholesterol Tests and Diagnosis page wins for explaining test results and targets, and the Cleveland Clinic’s Nutrition-Cholesterol Guidelines page wins for showing how to combat high cholesterol, nutrition-wise.

Beyond these there are, of course, many other great online sources for information about cholesterol and heart disease risk. And your doctor is potentially the best resource of all. That said, the more you know, the better questions you can ask your doctor — and that will go a long way to ensure the program you and your doctor devise is the best possible course for you.

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September is National Cholesterol Education Month

Ah, September.  The time of cool, crisp weather (sometimes) and back-to-school (did you hear the collective Mom sigh?) Oh, and National Cholesterol Education Month.

What?

Who  knew there was a National Cholesterol Education Month?

Not me, and I, um, write about cholesterol.  Weekly.

As a marketing professional, this is distressing. As a writer, I can’t believe it took me until September 29th to pen a post about September being National Cholesterol Education Month.

And no, it doesn’t get any ‘ringier’ the more I type “National Cholesterol Education Month.”

How about this: NCEM.

Nope. Not catchy either.

OK, so I give up on making National Cholesterol Education Month sound tantalizing. So let’s get on with what it is.

Way back in November 1985, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) – a division of the National Institute of Health – launched the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP).  The stated goal of the program is to “raise awareness and understanding about high blood cholesterol as a risk factor for coronary heart disease (CHD) and the benefits of lowering cholesterol levels as a means of preventing CHD.”

And while big advances have been made in reducing cholesterol and heart disease since the 1980s, the NCEP is a government program, and is, um, not well marketed.  To the public at least.

The crazy thing is: there is some fantastic information on the National Cholesterol Education Program website – it’s just buried in an extraordinarily difficult to navigate interface.  If you manage to realize that ‘Patients/General Public‘ is the right link to click — which it is, there’s a ton of great info buried in this page — you’re left to wonder where to go next to actually find the information. Because, um, clicking the link on the title of what you’d like to open doesn’t work (the trick is to click ‘PDF’ next to it).

So in an effort to actually ‘educate’ – and by that I mean to provide links that are easy to open so you can actually find out more about cholesterol, here are links to the good info buried on the NCEP site:

The NCEP wants you to know it’s important to get your cholesterol checked to reduce the risk of heart disease – still the #1 killer in the US.  Who should get their cholesterol checked and how often?

“The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that adults aged 20 years or older have their cholesterol checked every 5 years.”

And if you’re like me, you need your cholesterol checked far more frequently than every 5 years.  For me, it’s annual.  The recommendation is a more frequent cholesterol check (possibly annually) if:

  • your total cholesterol is 200 mg/dL or higher,
  • you are a man older than age 45 or a woman older than age 50,
  • your HDL cholesterol is lower than 40 mg/dL,
  • and/or you have other risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

As it’s September (well, for a few more hours) and September is National Consumer Education Month (nope, still not catchy), please make an appointment to get your cholesterol checked.  I’m due for my annual check in November.  How about you?

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