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‘If my cholesterol is a little high, is that really so bad?’

‘If my cholesterol is a little high, is that really so bad?’

Mark, 51, has healthy levels of HDL, the so-called “good” cholesterol, but his LDL (“bad” cholesterol) is a little high. He’s heard of some new research that suggests if his numbers are a little high, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He’s wondering what Harry thinks.

Mark, did you know that heart disease is the number one killer of men in this country? That’s why we, as doctors, try to focus on preventing heart disease—and one of the ways we do that is to help people manage their cholesterol levels.

Now, first, let’s be clear that your total cholesterol level isn’t what’s really important. It’s your LDL that is critical.  It should be less than 100, especially if you are a smoker, are overweight, or have a family history of heart disease.  So you want LDL to be low, but you want your HDL to be high because HDL takes cholesterol out of your blood and helps protect your heart. How do you keep HDL high? Exercise and eating a healthy diet is, by far, your best bet.  If you do this, you’ll also be keeping your testosterone levels naturally high, which can also help raise HDL levels.

Now, with someone at your height (5’10”) and weight (190 lbs.) with a waist size of 36, you don’t have a big risk for heart disease from weight alone. You do smoke cigarettes, however, which raises your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.

I’m most concerned, however, by your blood sugar levels.  You say yours is 105, and it’s supposed to be under 100. This is pretty high, so I would suggest testing your hemoglobin A1C level, which is a better gauge of your average blood sugar levels and your risk of developing diabetes. Diabetes is going to raise your risk of heart disease too—along with a whole lot of other health problems.

Bottom line: I think you should take even a small rise in your LDL seriously.  It’s a warning sign that you’re not on a healthy path.  Try to quit smoking, start exercising, and stay away from sweets, processed foods, and empty carbs.  You’ll see your LDL numbers come back into a healthy zone, but, more importantly, you’re going to feel a whole lot better.

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