September is National Cholesterol Awareness Month, so it’s a great opportunity to educate yourself about the vital role cholesterol plays in your health.
Most people are aware that you want to have low LDL (“bad”) and high HDL (“good”) cholesterol. But there are a lot of misconceptions about what makes your LDL and HDL go up or down. Should you avoid egg yolks? Should you stick to low-fat foods, or is sugar the real culprit?
To help clear things up, we’ve compiled a list of tips that we, as dietitians, routinely share with our patients — especially those who are trying to improve their cholesterol numbers, or who have a family history of heart disease and want to reduce their own risk.
In 1984, there were more women who died of cardiovascular disease than men. Cardiovascular disease has been the number one killer of American women, more than all cancers put together. Women were being treated differently than men, including hormone replacement therapy for high cholesterol instead of the more effective cholesterol-lowering medications called statins. This resulted in thousands more women dying from cardiovascular disease.
In 2001, the American Heart Association started a campaign to increase awareness about heart disease in women. This campaign was named the Go Red for Women campaign in 2003. Lynne Braun PhD, ANP, and I were involved with the inception of the awareness campaign, and we both continue to be involved with Go Red for Women.
In 2003, the Rush Heart Center for Women opened its doors to prevent and treat heart disease in women. In addition to our services, we also offered complimentary nutrition counseling, which we were able to offer through funding from grateful donors. We wanted to give comprehensive evaluation and compassionate care to prevent devastating cardiac events.
Despite all the advances the medical community has made in the treatment of coronary heart disease, preventing the occurrence of heart attacks, strokes and other forms of vascular disease remains essential to our fight against this No. 1 killer in America. In this fight, a portion of our community remains particularly susceptible — African Americans.
African Americans have a higher chance of death if they suffer a heart attack compared to Caucasians. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2007, African American men were 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease compared to Caucasians. The explanations for this disparity have not been discovered. What’s clear is that preventing heart disease is one’s best chance of living a longer and healthier life. The only way to prevent heart disease is to control or prevent the classic risk factors. These controllable risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is nearly 1.5 times more common in the African American population. In addition to leading to heart attacks and strokes, hypertension increases your chance of developing heart failure, kidney failure and vision loss. The goal is to reduce your blood pressure to less than 140/90 mmHg. This can sometimes be accomplished with a low salt/sodium diet and exercise, but often requires medications. Medications that are often particularly effective in African Americans include diuretics, or “water pills,” and calcium channel blockers. Continue reading →