The Facts About Cholesterol

Cholesterol is an important substance in our bodies that, for the most part, occurs naturally. It helps our bodies make hormones, process vitamin D, build cells and create substances that help us digest food. Cholesterol can become dangerous, though, when the levels in our blood stream get too high.
Most of the cholesterol in our bodies—about 80%—is made by our liver. The other 20% comes from the foods we eat. A person can’t tell if his or her cholesterol levels are too high, as there aren’t any noticeable symptoms. To determine your cholesterol levels you need to have a blood test done by your doctor involving a tiny sample of blood.
The test will analyze the two main components of cholesterol—low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
LDL is sometimes referred to as “bad” cholesterol, because at high levels it builds up and can block our arteries, preventing blood moving freely through our bodies. HDL is usually called “good” cholesterol, because its job is to carry excess cholesterol from other parts of our bodies, including the arteries, back to the liver. Not only does the liver produce cholesterol, it also removes it from our bodies.
Your doctor may also assess your triglyceride and C-reactive protein levels. These are other indicators found in your blood test that could signal an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.

Lowering Cholesterol

The first step is to make a lifestyle change, and a big part of lifestyle is eating a healthier diet. Here are some things you should reduce or avoid to maintain healthy cholesterol levels:
  • Saturated fats—These are found in animal-based foods such as meat and dairy products, and in some plant foods such as coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter. Avoid or limit deli meats. Choose lean cuts of meat, or replace with fish and legumes (lentils, beans) instead.
  • Trans fats—These are a form of man-made fat that is created during a process called hydrogenation. This is where liquid oils are turned into solid fat (such as some margarines.) While technically unsaturated, these facts act like saturated fats and raise blood levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Choose oils high in mono-and polyunsaturated fats such as canola, corn, or soya oil. Use in moderation.
  • Avoid dairy products with high milk fat—choose 1% MF (milk fat) or cheeses with 15% MF or lower.
There are things you can add to or change in your diet which help the body eliminate excess blood cholesterol.
  • Soluble fibre—This is found in oat bran, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Unsaturated fats—These are found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.
  • Cooking—More often than not, opt to broil, bake, poach, or even microwave food instead of frying.
Image from

Other tips to beat “bad” cholesterol

Keeping active and maintaining a healthy body weight will also help reduce cholesterol levels. And finally, quit smoking. It’s been found that tobacco reduces your level of HDL, “good” cholesterol, and raises your total blood cholesterol levels—which makes the perfect combination for increasing your total risk of having a heart attack.
If your doctor feels you need to be on cholesterol-lowering medication, it’s important to take it exactly as directed. For more information on cholesterol, or advice on making different lifestyle choices, come by the pharmacy and ask your London Drugs pharmacist.
This article is based on the patient information pamphlet and “My Cholesterol Journal”, available at your London Drugs pharmacy.

Dr Art Hister – Food to Lower LDL

First, the very, very good news: a study has shown that a combination of foods – not just single good-guy foods such as fish or veggies but the whole shebang put together – can significantly lower the risk of bad health consequences in individuals who eat that combo, and in only a short period of time, which may be even better news.

Thus, in this small study of 44 overweight people from Lund University in Sweden, the individuals who ate the way they were told to eat lowered their LDL levels (that’s the “bad” cholesterol) by a staggering 33 % through diet alone (in most diets the maximum LDL-lowering effect is usually about 15-20 %), their total cholesterol levels fell by 14 %, and they also experienced significantly improved levels of other important metabolic factors such as clotting proteins.

So what’s the bad news, you wonder.

Just this: the foods they were given to eat which were very rich in the usual good-guy elements (anti-oxidants, fish oils, probiotics, fibre etc.) and which included good stuff like blueberries and veggies also included heavy doses of barley, soy protein, oily fish (which in Sweden must surely have been herring and the like) and vinegar.

I think if it were me, I’d settle for less of a drop in LDL if it also meant less of an intake of tofu, barley, and herring.

Dr Art Hister – Marathon Runners

If you want to run a marathon, get tested first.

For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, so many baby boomers have set themselves a goal of running a marathon (or several) before they pass into older age. Unfortunately, many have set out to do this without first determining if they are fit enough to undergo the load that marathon-running puts on their no-longer-that-young hearts.

So a recent study presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2010 should get at least a few marathon-hoping individuals to sit up and take note.

In this study that used MRIs and a sophisticated battery of tests on a group of amateur marathon runners both before and up to 8 weeks after the race, the researchers found that “abnormal heart segments (are) more widespread and significant” in non-fit runners (presumably, more widespread than most people or doctors think).
And the lead researcher concludes that “marathon runners can be a lot less fit than they think” (which if you’ve ever been to a marathon and watched the parade of runners that come by is absolutely no surprise). He goes on to advise that everyone who is thinking of running a marathon should seriously consider getting a test known as Vo2 max, which measures oxygen consumption by the heart while the person is working out.

Dr Art Hister – Cold and Your Heart

As the days get colder, a reminder for all of you who are at higher risk of heart disease (which is just about anyone over the age of 40, I think) that when the weather turns cold, the number of heart attacks goes up.

In fact, a few months ago, a study published in the British Medical Journal found that when the temperature in the UK drops by one degree Celcius, the number of heart attacks goes up by about 200.

There are a number of potential reasons starting of course with the fact that people become more sedentary when winter sets in, that people who should know better still go out and clean snow off their driveways after a snowfall (well, if you’re like me, you better clean your walkway if you want to keep peace at home), and probably because cold temperatures have a biological effect on the body, perhaps by making the blood more “Sticky” and hence leading to more clots, such as those that occur in some heart attacks and strokes.

So, when the temperature goes down, remember to try to keep warm, to avoid overdoing it when working outside, to keep working on reducing your other risk factors for a heart attack, and if you can afford it, of course, to spend as much time as you can in Hawaii.

Dr. Art Hister – Heart Disease in Obese Kids

If your kids are fat, they’re dying too quickly.

I realize that’s a pretty scary headline but it’s really true and this is a very serious health matter, mainly because so many surveys reveal that many (perhaps even most) parents of overweight and especially of obese kids don’t realize how fat their kids are or how serious the situation is for their kids.

So to underline the seriousness, you should pay attention to a very depressing study presented at the recent Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2010.

The average age of the kids in this study of 63 obese kids was 13, and the researchers concluded that although they all still seemed to have normal blood pressures and normal cholesterol levels (compared to a control group of 55 non-obese kids), their blood vessels nevertheless had the kind of stiffness (the more stiff your arteries, the greater the risk of heart disease and strokes) normally not seen until middle age, and then only in middle-aged people with heart disease.

In other words, unless something was done to alter their status, these kids were in serious danger of developing heart disease probably as early as their young adult years.


Dr Art Hister – It’s Never Too Late to Change

One of the most important lessons I try to leave with my audiences, especially when I’m addressing a group of seniors, is this: it’s never too late to change and to start doing healthy lifestyle things you’ve long neglected or even never done.

So even when you get into your nineties – and the great thing is that the over-80 demographic is probably the quickest-growing demographic in Canada – there is always something more you can do to make your life more pleasant, to give you more energy, to help you cope with the inevitable conditions that accompany aging, to reduce your risk of illness, to keep your brain sharper, and even perhaps to prolong your life. Although, if you are going to make a change, one other bit of advice: go about it slowly because there’s really no rush.

And to illustrate the truth of that advice, that is, that it really is never too late to make healthy lifestyle changes, a study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston followed 2231 patients who had what is called left ventricular (LV) dysfunction, that is, in these people, the left ventricle of the heart (the bearing chamber that sends blood into the rest of the body) wasn’t working properly any more as a result of a heart attack.

Of these people, 463 had been smokers at the time of their heart attack, and although most of us would think that none of them would continue to smoke after suffering a heart attack, we know from many studies that a majority of smokers continue to smoke after a heart attack, which was the case in this study, too: 268 of these people continued to smoke.

At the end of 5 years, comparing the smokers with the ones who’d quit, 15 % of the non-smokers had had a 2nd heart attack compared to 23 % of the smokers.

So repeat after me: it’s never too late to quit, to start doing more exercise, to eat better, etc. It just takes will.

Heart-Healthy Living – Part 5

Shopping for a Healthy Heart
Eating for a healthy heart begins with a trip to the supermarket. Making wise choices there will make it easier to eat healthy all week.

« Previous Page Next Page »