What kind of a Scrooge blogs about cholesterol on Christmas Eve eve when he should be decking the halls, harking the herald angels and making spirits bright?
Uh…that would be me!
I didn’t plan it this way, it’s just that I had my annual physical last week and my cholesterol is high, so my primary care provider put me on a statin. Some holiday gift, eh?
I’m a bit befuddled by it all. In my late 50s, my cholesterol numbers were good, but of late, they’ve been hovering at the high end of the safe zone or a little above. I have no idea what changed.
About 2 years ago, I tried taking a statin and it worked. Shortly thereafter, though, I began my quest to lose 40 pounds and to eat a brain healthy diet, which includes foods to help control cholesterol. So I came off the medication and did the experiment to see if weight loss, exercise and diet could bring my numbers into line.
I’ve been eating all the right things for about 18 months now: almonds, olive oil, asparagus, beans, blueberries, tomatoes, avocados, cacao powder, eggplant, apples, and salmon. And then last year, I added oats, oat bran and oatmeal to my daily regimen. On the flip side, I don’t eat fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, or junk food, all of which can raise LDL.
I worked out religiously and lost 40 pounds.
I was pretty sure my behavior had earned me a spot on the lipid screen Santa’s “nice” list, but instead, I got coal in my stocking.
Since it didn’t work, I did a post-mortem.
Getting COVID last April definitely threw a wrench into the works. It left me weaker and unable to do the intensity of workouts I had been doing up until then. To make matters worse, I went off my diet during our cruise last month. I’ve gained back 12 pounds.
I decided to face reality and accept the fact that I probably needed the medication, but there were still a few things that were confusing me, and I wanted some answers.
In spite of the overall bad news, there were two bright spots in my blood work. First, it appeared that my efforts had paid some dividends in terms of raising my good HDL cholesterol level. I had succeeded in raising it to 60 mg/dL, which is very good. Consequently, my LDL/HDL ratio was also an excellent 2.4.
So I could make the case that the reason my total cholesterol had moved into the danger zone (219) was that my HDL had increased…which is a good thing.
So why did I need medication?
I asked my PCP about it when we met and she explained that the American Heart Association developed a formula for predicting the likelihood of heart and vascular disease emerging within the next 10 years. It takes into account factors such as age, gender, smoking history, blood pressure and total cholesterol levels. Their guideline is that your risk factor should be below 7.5%
She typed my numbers into her computer and swiveled her display around to show me the results. My risk factor was at 16.7%.
I felt like I had just been visited by the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.
That sealed the deal. I’m now taking a statin.
What made the decision easier was that I had checked out the research on statins before going for my check-up. For several years, there had been concern that taking a statin could have a side effect of reversible cognitive problems. On the other hand, there were studies suggesting it could provide protection against age-related cognitive decline. So which was it?
A recent study appears to have resolved the conflict: the negative side effect is more likely to appear in those under 45 while the protective benefits seem to accrue to those over 65.
What a nice stocking stuffer!
So why does someone interested in brain health care so much about cholesterol anyway?
There are about 100,000 miles of blood vessels in your brain and their primary job is to provide oxygen and nourishment to each and every one of your 100 billion neurons and 1 trillion glial cells. So you want to do your very best to make certain that nothing impedes the ability of those arteries to deliver their precious cargo. Cholesterol is the grinch in this story that can gum up the works by sticking to arterial walls and restricting blood flow which, in turn, damages or kills cells.
So now you know what I know.
And on that note, I’ll close by wishing a Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!