16 Things Doctors Do to Lower Their High Cholesterol
Doctors get high cholesterol, too. Here are heart-healthy tips from doctors and some things they do to get cholesterol under control.
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When doctors are patients
When you’re battling high cholesterol, you’re not alone. Lots of doctors have cholesterol issues too. They use the same treatments and advice that they give patients. From diet and exercise to medication and stress reduction, here’s a look at the successful things doctors do to lower their own high cholesterol.
Eat foods high in magnesium
Studies indicate that a diet high in magnesium may help keep bad cholesterol in check. Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, a heart health expert and author of Atrial Fibrillation: Remineralize Your Heart, is a firm believer in this little-touted, cholesterol buster. Magnesium works as a natural calcium channel blocker and may improve heart health, she says. When a person has a magnesium deficiency it can lead to angina, heart arrhythmia, and even heart attacks, she explains. (Think you’re deficient? Check for these 10 signs you’re not getting enough magnesium.)
Keep your motivation up
Keeping your eyes on the (healthy you) prize can help, says Eliot A. Brinton, MD, president of Utah Lipid Center. “Wake up every morning with a positive thought. Ask yourself what is keeping you motivated. Maybe it’s a loved one, or a personal goal you’ve set for yourself,” he says. “Every day, reaffirm to yourself why you are committed to your heart health.”
Watch your sugar
You probably already know that too much sugar may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, but did you know that it may also raise cholesterol? “I try to adhere to a plant-based diet, with a moderate amount of protein,” explains Manfred Sandler, MD, a cardiologist at CardioVascular Group in Atlanta. “I definitely try to avoid white, starchy carbohydrates, and processed sugars. This type of diet not only keeps your cholesterol and triglycerides in order, it can help keep your weight down,” he says. (You can cut your sugar intake with these 13 easy food swaps to reduce your sugar intake.)
Eat a high-fiber diet
Soluble fiber can reduce low-density lipid cholesterol, aka the LDL or “bad cholesterol,” your doctor keeps warning you about.
“Choose foods that are high in fiber, such as whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and nuts,” suggests Dr. Brinton. (For more inspiration, check out these 30 ways to get more fiber in your diet without even trying.)
If you think you have to be a gym rat to lower cholesterol, think again. Howard Eisen, MD, cardiologist with PennState Health, uses a stationary bike, to stay active. “I encourage my patients to walk for two miles in 45 minutes. Even walking around the mall in cold winter months, can do the trick,” he says. Aim for at least two and a half hours of aerobic exercise every week.
Choose the right statin
When it comes to cholesterol-lowering medications, it’s important to know your options, says Dr. Brinton.”There are seven statins, and each one is different. If you are doing poorly on one, ask your doctor about switching. Remember that he or she can’t help you fix a statin-related problem, unless you speak up,” he says. Statins vary in cost, effectiveness, and side effects. Potential statin side effects include muscle pain, fuzzy thinking, and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Statins are helpful, but drug-free ways to lower your cholesterol also may work. You’ll also need to be careful eating grapefruit while taking statins—here’s why.
Say ‘no’ to second helpings
If you marvel at your cardiologist’s svelte form, this may be why: When it comes to food, portion size counts. If you routinely go back for more of anything, other than veggies sans-dressing, you may be eating too much, and upping your cholesterol (and weight) to boot. “Don’t eat more calories than you need. The best way to do that is to watch portion size, and don’t have second helpings. If you eat too much, you will never maintain a healthy, low weight, regardless of how much you exercise,” says Dr. Brinton. Take this portion distortion quiz, and you’ll never have to guess about the right serving size again.
Consider going vegan
When it comes to lowering cholesterol, if you love vegetables, you may be halfway home. Vegetarian and vegan diets are more than just hype, says Shalini Bobra, MD, a cardiologist with White Plains Hospital Medical and Wellness in Armonk, New York, and the Montefiore Einstein Center for Heart and Vascular Care. “With all the new research on how a healthy diet can reverse the threat of heart problems, I recommend, and follow, a diet rich in plant-based, unprocessed foods. These have been shown to lower cholesterol, reduce necessary medications, and leave patients feeling better, overall,” she says. (Eating more plant-based meals is easy with these 14 vegetarian dinner recipes.)
Stop smoking already
As reported in 2014 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), less than 2 percent of doctors smoked cigarettes … and probably, even fewer doctors are smoking now. Doctors see the damage cigarette smoking does every single day. Cigarette smoking also lowers HDL, the good type of cholesterol you want, and increases your overall risk of coronary artery disease. “Even one cigarette a day increases heart disease and stroke risk,” says Dr. Brinton. (Need help? Here are the 22 best ways to stop smoking.)
A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids is many cardiologists’ secret weapon against high cholesterol. Following a food plan, such as the Mediterranean diet, is a great way to ensure you get plenty of this essential fatty acid in the correct ratio to omega-6 fatty acids, another health booster. In some research omega-3s have been found to raise good cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and lower the risk of heart disease, reports Penn Medicine. (Start small with some tricks that make your diet more Mediterranean.)
Cultivate a close relationship—with your doctor
Doctors need doctors, too, and they recommend you find one you feel comfortable with and trust. Stick with them, so they get to know you over time. This type of relationship breeds a level of communication, which may help support your quest to lower cholesterol, year after year. “I have a fabulous internist. We have a great partnership, focused on my individual needs, and health issues,” explains Stacey Rosen, MD, professor of cardiology at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell and co-author of Heart Smart For Women: Six S.T.E.P.S. in Six Weeks to Heart-Healthy Living.
Get enough sleep
Dr. Brinton recommends trying to sleep at least six hours per night. “Since lack of sleep is a common contributor to heart disease and stroke, if you’re having trouble sleeping soundly, talk to your doctor about how to help fix that,” he recommends. Dr. Rosen agrees. “I find I need more sleep as I’ve aged, and try to focus on my sleep hygiene habits, which means no electronic devices in bed, cool temperature in the house, and a minimum of seven to eight hours of sleep each night,” she says. (There’s hope for a more restful sleep with these 10 different bedtime routines that can turn you into a sound sleeper.)
Reduce your stress level
Research indicates that stress can raise bad cholesterol levels. Stress can impact upon your ability to acquire and maintain healthy, cholesterol-busting habits. It can also trigger an adrenaline-triglyceride response, which may uptick bad cholesterol numbers. “High-stress levels increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, even if your cholesterol is well-controlled,” says Dr. Brinton. Good stress busters to try? Meditation, yoga, physical exercise, and friendship.
Know your family history
Atlanta-based integrative and functional medicine physician, Bindiya Gandhi, MD, says that it’s important to be aware of genetic factors, such as family history and health issues, which might impact upon those numbers. “Often, we forget that genetics can play a part in cholesterol numbers, especially in patients who follow strict lifestyle modifications and still have abnormal cholesterol levels.”
It’s about more than lifestyle habits
Some medications, such as some types of oral contraceptive pills, and medical conditions, like hypothyroidism, also may elevate total cholesterol levels, Dr. Ghandi says. Make sure your doctor has your whole health profile top of mind when you are analyzing those numbers month-by-month, especially if you are doing everything you can to reduce your cholesterol, or already are taking a statin.
Don’t forget your triglycerides
Even if your cholesterol numbers are in the OK range, your doctor should be checking your triglyceride levels as part of your cholesterol panel. “You want to keep your total triglyceride levels below 100,” says Dr. Ghandi. Patients who are prone to high triglycerides need to limit their carbohydrate consumption and avoid high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and honey. “I recommend niacin, CoQ10, and high-quality omega-3 fatty acid supplementation,” says Dr. Ghandi. She also likes red yeast rice for elevated lipid levels, which is what traditional statins are made of.
Up next, here are 44 things cardiologists do to protect their own hearts.
- Nutrients: “Dietary Magnesium and Cardiovascular Disease: A Review with Emphasis in Epidemiological Studies”
- Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, heart health expert, and author of Atrial Fibrillation: Remineralize Your Heart
- Eliot A. Brinton, MD, FAHA, FNLA, president of Utah Lipid Center
- Manfred Sandler, MD, a cardiologist at CardioVascular Group, in Atlanta
- Howard Eisen, MD, cardiologist with PennState Health
- Harvard Health: “Statin Side Effects: How Common Are They?”
- Shalini Bobra, MD, a cardiologist with White Plains Hospital Medical and Wellness in Armonk, New York, and the Montefiore Einstein Center for Heart and Vascular Care
- JAMA: “Changes in Smoking Prevalences Among Health Care Professionals From 2003 to 2010-2011”
- Journal of Cellular Biochemistry: “Effects of cigarette smoking on HDL quantity and function: implications for atherosclerosis”
- Penn Medicine: “The Truth About Fish Oil, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Heart Health”
- Stacey Rosen, MD, professor of cardiology at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell and co-author of Heart Smart For Women: Six S.T.E.P.S. in Six Weeks to Heart-Healthy Living
- Endocrine Connections: “The appraisal of chronic stress and the development of the metabolic syndrome: a systematic review of prospective cohort studies”
- Bindiya Gandhi, MD, Atlanta-based integrative and functional medicine physician