Preventing heart disease with TLC: Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes
Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up tall, there’s a land where they’ve never heard of cholesterol. — Comedy writer Allan Sherman
High blood cholesterol can affect anyone. It’s a serious condition that increases the risk for heart disease, and it’s the No. 1 cause of death for American men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While studying up on the issue I ran across an 80-page booklet on the website of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (see bit.ly/2tp3frY). You can order printed copies or download a PDF.
The booklet covers the department’s TLC program, which stands for Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes. It’s a three-part program designed to show us how to use diet, physical activity and weight management to lower cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in the walls of cells in all parts of the body, from the nervous system and liver to the heart. Our body uses cholesterol to make hormones, bile acids, vitamin D and other substances, and it makes all the cholesterol it needs.
This stuff circulates in the bloodstream, but since cholesterol and blood do not mix, some of the excess can stick and become trapped on artery walls. Over time it builds up and it’s referred to as plaque.
The plaque can narrow vessels anywhere in the body, including those of the heart, which are called the coronary arteries. If they become partly blocked, the blood may not be able to supply enough oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle. Hence heart disease. There are two kinds of cholesterol:
Low density lipoprotein or LDL, which is also called the “bad” cholesterol because it carries cholesterol to tissues, including arteries. The higher the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood, the greater the risk for heart disease.
High density lipoprotein or HDL, is called the “good” cholesterol because it takes cholesterol from tissues to the liver, which removes it from the body. A low level of HDL cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease.
There are risk factors for heart disease that we can’t change, such as being 45 or older for men and 55 or older for women, and family history of heart disease.
But there are factors we can change, including smoking, high blood pressure or cholesterol, being overweight, being physically inactive or diabetes.
And if you need them, there are cholesterol-lowering drugs, including statins, your doctor can prescribe.
One special concern for diabetics in all this is Metabolic Syndrome. It’s not really a disease, but the name given to a cluster of risk factors for heart disease.
Its underlying causes are having too large of a waist and physical inactivity. That’s connected to insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes.
A fasting blood sugar of 100 or higher, and high triglycerides, cholesterol and blood pressure, are other parts of the syndrome. And if you drink alcohol, do it in moderation or it can become a risk factor, too.
Lifestyle changes are the main treatment for escaping from the syndrome — healthful habits that lead to lowered cholesterol and lower other risk factors. Living healthier and longer is the goal.
I’ve been researching diabetes and other diseases for a while, and it’s amazing how so many can be made better by watching what we eat and being more active. It sounds so simple, but why does it seem so hard some days?
The TLC program can be a family affair. Discuss your needs as a group and come up with a plan to get healthier — together.
It has to be a way of living — it’s not a quick fix. We will slip every now and then, but the main thing is that we get back up.
Don’t try to do too much at once. Break it down into small steps and celebrate your success.