Cholesterol Management for Heart Health

Heart made of Pills & Vitamins

Forward Pharmacy Can Help You Navigate the Ins and Outs of High Cholesterol Treatment

February is American Heart Month. This year, we’ve been focusing on high blood cholesterol, and the way it contributes to heart disease. It’s estimated that nearly 1 in 3 American adults have high blood cholesterol, and with newly released guidelines, the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention (DHDSP) hopes to spread the word on preventing and managing this disease.

What exactly is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found among the fats (also known as lipids) in your blood and in the body’s cells. Of the many kinds of cholesterol used by your body, the most important are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Usually, when someone is talking about “bad” cholesterol, they mean LDL—too much of it in your blood can leave you at greater risk for heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular disease in general.

3d illustration of a constricted and narrowed artery and the blood cannot flow properly called arteriosclerosis

Here at Forward Pharmacy, we’re committed to helping you navigate your way to healthy blood cholesterol levels. For some people, a lifestyle that includes a healthy diet and exercise is enough to maintain healthy cholesterol levels, but for others, medication is also necessary. We can help you develop healthier habits, understand your medications and when to take them, and find the right treatment plan that fits your needs and your budget.

The Consequences of High Blood Pressure

Most folks don’t intuitively understand the consequences of high cholesterol. That’s because it’s the consequences of high cholesterol that make you sick, not directly the high cholesterol itself. If you hear of someone having a heart attack, often high cholesterol is one of the leading factors or at least partly to blame, but because it’s an indirect cause, you won’t necessarily connect it as the cause of death. But high cholesterol is one of the biggest contributors to heart disease, which is the number one cause of death in the U.S. So while you’ll probably never see high cholesterol in an obituary as a cause of death, it can be there as an underlying cause.

Healthy Lifestyle

One common misconception or piece of misinformation is that eating foods high in cholesterol will raise your body’s cholesterol. But it’s actually a myth that what causes high cholesterol in your body are foods that are high in cholesterol.

In reality, caloric intake—the number of calories and the quality of the calories you eat or drink—is what makes the difference, as far as lifestyle goes, in your body’s cholesterol levels. Your body actually does the work to convert your food to cholesterol, and that is what contributes to the level of cholesterol in your body—not whether the foods you eat themselves have high or low cholesterol content. Eating a balanced diet, as opposed to avoiding foods that are high in cholesterol, is what makes the difference.

For example, a few decades ago eggs got a bad rap as a food because they are high in cholesterol. This trend was unfortunate, because eggs are actually a really good source of protein, omega-3s, and other nutrients, and the fact that they have cholesterol doesn’t mean they are going to be responsible for raising cholesterol levels in your body. By the same token, a 20-ounce regular soda doesn’t have any cholesterol, but because it is high in empty calories, it will most certainly turn into cholesterol in your body. Many foods that say “low cholesterol” or even “low fat” on the label may still not be heart healthy. They may contain other types of “bad” fats, such as saturated fat, trans fat, or total calories.

Genetic Factors

There is a genetic component to cholesterol for some people. Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a condition that runs in the family where people have very high LDL cholesterol levels in their blood. Folks with FH are basically born with high cholesterol, and it gets worse over time. FH can’t be treated by diet and exercise alone, so medication is also needed.

If you have FH, don’t use it as a crutch, or an excuse not to eat a good diet. For some people, though, positive lifestyle changes simply aren’t enough to bring their cholesterol levels down to the safe zone. If your doctor says you need it, don’t be afraid to go on a medicine to help bring your cholesterol down. And, even if you do take medicine for cholesterol, it’s still important to eat a heart-healthy diet and get a good amount of moderate intensity physical activity.

If you are prescribed a medication for high cholesterol, it’s important that you take it every day. There may be barriers to taking your medication regularly, but they aren’t insurmountable, and it’s important to address them.

The fact that you can’t physically feel high cholesterol can make it less motivating to treat high cholesterol. Since you don’t really “feel” the medicine making you better, you can’t quite notice if you forget to take it.

Sometimes, the side effects of a particular drug can discourage folks from staying on their cholesterol medication. If that happens to you, keep in mind that there are other options and many different cholesterol medications available, so if you are experiencing side effects, talk to your doctor.

There are often differences in how much the various cholesterol medications cost, depending on what your insurance covers for you. I’d you’re finding that your cholesterol medications are costing too much for you, talk to your pharmacist about lower-cost options.

Let’s face it: changing long standing diet and exercise habits is easier said than done. Diet and exercise are two easy words to say that are hard to implement. But if you’re at risk for high cholesterol, that doesn’t mean you should give up. Giving it your best effort can go a long way, and there are resources out there that can help. At Forward Pharmacy, we’re versed in a lot of strategies to create and keep healthy strategies, so if you’re wondering where to start—just ask!