The National Lipid Association, a society of physicians and researchers, had a slogan, “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.” It didn’t catch on, maybe because it sounds harsh. But it isn’t any harsher than the truth. Cholesterol is an ingredient in one of our nation’s greatest threats to life. With such a dreadful role, why is it so hard to get people to pay attention to it?
Maybe boredom is part of what makes high-LDL cholesterol such a threat to our health. It’s been a high-profile story for a long, long time, and cholesterol might simply have blended into the background of our lives. Unfortunately, hiding in that background, cholesterol is connected to heart attack and stroke, the No. 1 and No. 4 causes of death in the U.S.
A Story for Our Times
More than 60 years ago, doctors and public health officials began to remark on a rapid rise in heart attacks, particularly among men barely past middle age. Somehow tens of thousands of people who had survived the Great Depression and World War II were dying suddenly at work, at play, at home.
In the mid-20th Century, during the greatest period of optimism and prosperity our nation had ever seen, many of the men and women who made it possible did not live long enough to enjoy it. Deaths from heart attack shot up 37% from 1950 to 1970 – nearly 200,000 more deaths per year – and continued to rise relentlessly through 1983.
Beyond the Usual Suspects
Looking for additional factors, beyond the pervasive smoking of that day, researchers became interested in the waxy fat – cholesterol. The body needs it, in some forms and measures, but the tendency for it to build up on artery walls in a form called plaque became suspect.
Autopsies of soldiers who died in combat during the Korean War put cholesterol in the center of the investigation. It was found that American men as young as their early 20s already had substantial plaque buildup in the arteries. The presumption that this was just a natural part of aging began to evaporate. Heredity plays a part in high cholesterol, yes, but other risk factors are well within our grasp.
Some of those risk factors are harder to change than others. Diet is more than nutrition. It is custom, heritage, regional, and family identity. So, it’s hard to overturn some of the ingredients that contribute significantly to high cholesterol. The good news is that we miss some of those foods and cooking styles a lot less than we think we will.As for the significance of a “National Awareness” month, denial shouldn’t be overlooked as a contributing factor. Many of us don’t like admitting we’ve reached the age of cholesterol awareness, not even to ourselves. But take heart. The CDC suggests beginning cholesterol screening every five years as early as our 20s!
Keeping Score for Your Life
Knowing your score is the beginning. We’d like to help you begin this careful approach by getting your serum cholesterol tested, and then advising you personally on what makes sense for you, in protecting yourself and your family from the serious threats of high cholesterol.
Just call us at 843-815-6468.