In the 1990s cholesterol was headlining in heart news.
I didn’t want to know about this. I was tucking into Camembert cheese, butter and big fat steaks.
I was in my 20s, female and in good health; cholesterol problems didn’t apply to me.
Or maybe they did? My family has a history of heart disease. Could I inherit high cholesterol?
Cholesterol problem? Yep.
EDIT – These days the role of cholesterol has become somewhat controversial. This post is written in the 1990s context.
One day my workplace was offering free cholesterol screening tests. I went out of curiosity, convinced that I would be OK. A few days later, I got an urgent message telling me to see my doctor ASAP.
I had a calculated coronary risk ratio twice the average.
Apart from no more Camembert, what does this mean? All my results were over the recommended levels for avoiding heart disease.
To put it simply, I was at very high risk of having a heart attack – if I didn’t make lifestyle changes.
Suddenly, I saw a future me on a stretcher, like my father, being wheeled out to an ambulance.
Changing lifestyle habits.
But be beaten by one high cholesterol result? Not me.
I’m competitive, I love a challenge and this imagined future would not happen to me.
Here’s what I did:
- I read everything about cholesterol
- Followed advice from the Heart Foundation (Australia)
- I bought low cholesterol cookbooks – they were everywhere in those days
- Said bye-bye to processed and high-fat foods
- Said hello low-fat cheese and skim milk
- I joined the workplace netball team and walked more
- Co-incidentally I became an ovo–lacto vegetarian (which was motivated by my dislike for chicken).
After a few months of my new lifestyle, I returned to my doctor (quite a lot thinner, I might add) – expecting good news.
Reducing cholesterol ….. with statins
Doctor H: You’ve reduced your total cholesterol by 10%. Well done, but that’s not enough.
Me: Even after all these changes I made?
Doctor H: I’d like you to try a statin to see if that will help.
Me: Something’s not right. There’s more to this cholesterol thing than my diet and lifestyle.
Doctor H: Yes, with your family history, it’s more than likely you have inherited high cholesterol (hypercholesterolaemia).
I was reluctant to go on statins – but not because statins were controversial. Remember in those days, statins did not cause the debate they do today.
For me, taking statins meant admitting I had inherited a “cholesterol problem”.
Not something I wanted to do.
I was put on the lowest dose of a statin, but it didn’t reduce my cholesterol enough. The dose was increased gradually until I reached the maximum dose. That still didn’t work.
So I tried a different statin and the doses were increased until my cholesterol stabilised and hovered around an OK level of 5 mmol/L.
Happily ever after?
Having regular blood cholesterol tests, taking statins and living a healthy lifestyle became normal. So everything was going to be fine, right?
No.Something bad happened 20 years later.
Please respectfully note: I don’t want to debate the pros and cons of statins or how bad cholesterol is or isn’t. I just want to share the experience of heart disease as a young, fit female with only genetic risk factors. Thanks!
In Australia, we use mmol/L (millimoles per Litre) to describe the concentration of cholesterol in the blood. To convert cholesterol readings from mmol/L to mg/dL (milligrams per deciLitre), use this handy link.