According to American Heart Association statistics, at least half of the people reading this article have high cholesterol, which means that you or someone you know is probably living with this condition.

Hypercholesterolemia is a condition discovered with a blood test called a lipid panel, which provides information about total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Without testing, the first sign of high cholesterol may be chest pain, stroke or myocardial infarction (heart attack). Having high cholesterol in the blood increases the rate of development of atherosclerotic plaques, which cause narrowing of the arteries and reduced blood flow to the areas down stream to the plaque. This condition in the heart is called coronary artery disease and can result in chest pain. When the plaque ruptures or tears this can completely impede blood flow and cause tissue death downstream from the plaque and result in heart attack or stroke. Plaques form when immune cells take up lipids and become a foam cell. The immune cells and foam cells secrete growth factors that contribute to growth and instability of the plaque, increasing the likelihood of a rupture and subsequent stroke or heart attack.

Hypercholesterolemia is a very treatable condition, making stroke and heart attack preventable. The most basic place to start is with your diet and lifestyle choices. You can reduce the cholesterol you get through your diet by cutting down on animal protein and fat. Triglycerides are reduced by cutting down on sugars and carbohydrates. Exercise can lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing HDL cholesterol. HDL is a lipoprotein that delivers cholesterol from the peripheral tissues back to the liver, preventing the formation of atherosclerotic plaques. LDL is the lipoprotein that delivers cholesterol for deposition into the tissues. When this is in excess it can cause the plaque formation in the arteries. So exercising can result in the perfect alterations in your lipid panel to prevent big problems later. Studies have shown that taking a brisk, 60-minute walk every day in conjunction with a low-fat high fiber diet can have a significant impact on your lipids. Additionally, maintaining optimal blood sugar levels (less than 95) prevents blood vessel damage that results in foam cell formation. Sufficient intake of antioxidants (vitamin A, C, E, selenium and zinc) along with B vitamins protects the artery walls by managing proper disposal of cellular waste products, such as homocysteine and by enhancing liver production of protective substances like glutathione.

When diet and exercise aren't enough, there is great research to support the use of certain supplements to improve your lipid profile. Among them is supplemental fish oil, fiber, soy, oats, plant sterols, cinnamon, walnuts and slow release niacin. These supplements can be used in varying dosages and combinations depending on your lipid goals. Even macadamia nuts, chocolate and alcohol have beneficial actions in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.

If you and your doctor do decide to use pharmaceutical measures to manage your cholesterol and you are worried about the potential side-effects, there are some strategies you can employ to help your body tolerate the treatment and prevent problems.

CoQ10 is depleted by statin drugs, and there is some research to support the prevention of muscle pain with the use of CoQ10. Liver-supportive foods and botanicals can also help.

The most important thing to remember when deciding on how to treat your high cholesterol is that you need to feel great about your treatment and you have many options to choose from.

Your health care practitioner can help you access the information you need to keep your heart and body in great health.

Dr. Christina Amicone is a resident physician in naturopathic medicine at Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic and St. Vincent's Cancer Care. She can be reached at 259-5096. Send naturopathic health questions to ync@180com.net.

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