University of Michigan doctor shares tips for managing cholesterol

DETROIT – Roughly 20% of Americans have high cholesterol, which left untreated, raises the risk of heart disease.

About a third of people with high cholesterol are completely unaware of the problem and the longer it goes untreated, the higher the risk of suffering a heart attack.

The effects of high cholesterol take years to cause damage. By far the biggest factors in having an increased low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol are diet and lifestyle, although genetics also play a role. It’s critical for everyone to know their cholesterol, but especially for people with a strong family history of high cholesterol or heart disease at an early age.

“So high, harmful types of cholesterol, like LDL cholesterol harm the body, because those cholesterol molecules go into the walls of our arteries,” said Dr. Eric Brandt. “And then over time, they build up plaques. Eventually, those plaques can block the flow in the artery, or they can lead to things like a heart attack.”

Brandt, the Director of Preventive Cardiology at the University of Michigan, said there are good ways to manage cholesterol.

“I like to say we treat with a combination of lifestyle and — when needed — medications,” Brandt said. “ Lifestyle is mostly driven by diet, eating a healthy whole food plant-based diet.”

Brant said some studies have shown that a whole food and plant-based diet can lower cholesterol by as much as 30% in a few weeks.

However, for some, high cholesterol can also run in families and can cause heart disease even earlier in life. That’s why it’s important to screen for it early and to manage what is in your control.

“I like to tell people, ‘We inherit two things, we inherit our genetics for our family, and our lifestyle, only one of those we can control,’” Brandt said. “And from research, what we know is that good lifestyle, even among those that are at high genetic risk, can lower the risk for heart events by over half. So, we’re not doomed by our genetics, we can do a lot to control that risk through a healthy lifestyle.”

When medication is necessary the first line of treatment uses medications called statins. Generally, they are very well tolerated, but there are some people who they don’t agree with — in those cases there are other medications available.

More: Heart Month

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