Friday Miscellany: Cholesterol And More…

Larsson & Jennings watch

A couple of you asked about the size of the “Norse” watch I featured last week; here it is on my wrist. (Note, my wrists are pretty small.) The loafers are from Everlane. Mine were purchased last year but this color is still available.


oatmeal to lower cholesterol

I had my physical last week, and all’s well except that my cholesterol has crept up into the “let’s keep an eye on it” range. My cholesterol levels have always been low since I began having them checked in my late 30’s, and have increased only in the last couple of years. I’m mostly attributing this to aging, as my diet is pretty healthy (lots of fruits and veggies, hardly any junk food and minimal processed foods) and my weight is as low as it’s been in decades. There’s been some debate in recent years as to whether cholesterol is as directly linked to heart disease as once thought, but I still want to take steps to lower it (especially the LDL). So I’ll be going back to oatmeal for breakfast (my favorite, above) as well as working more fatty fish, olive oil, beans, legumes, and any foods with soluble fiber into my diet. I’m still trying to shave off that last five pounds, so will resume tracking my overall intake too.

My BP’s still really good though, so that’s a comfort.

Have you made dietary changes for lowering cholesterol or other health reasons? Did it help?

Bon weekend!

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  1. In my particular family, unfortunately, there is a strong genetic component to heart disease. My grandmother, then my Dad, and then one of my sisters and me. My Dad was an absolute health nut way before his time— healthy, abstemious eating, no drinking or smoking, and especially, rigorous daily exercise. But he still had heart attacks and had to be on medication.

    The good news with all that is that he lived to be 90, which isn’t too remarkable these days, but given his history, pretty good.

    My high cholesterol seemed to appear out of the blue, and is such that only medication seems to quell the bad numbers. But, there is I think, plenty of research to suggest that for many cases, diet and lifestyle choices can be enough to keep it at bay.

    It seems to me that both Pritikin and Dr.Dean Ornish say that following a highly specialized diet can improve numbers enough to eliminate the need for medication? Perhaps there are physicians on this thread who could weigh in?

    1. My cholesterol has always been on the high side and I get a lot of lectures. Earlier this year I was reading that lamb and salmon, as well as sesame seeds can have a beneficial effect (this was not “I read on the Internet” but in an article with sources!) So I started eating lamb and/or salmon twice a week–my doc had suggested wild-caught salmon only twice a week). And I changed from high fiber cereal to oatmeal with a couple of teaspoons of sesame seeds each morning. And my numbers dropped like a rock! Make sure you chew the seeds as they do tend to pass whole if you don’t. I sometimes add ground flax seeds as well.

    2. I have had high cholesterol for past 10 years recently taken off statins because they disagreed with me. My doctor suggested I try a natural tablet called armolipid it has taken it down lower than it has ever been. By the way like you I eat very healthy. Hope this may help more people. Love this site too x

  2. I read somewhere that menopause and estrogen changes effect cholesterol and it certainly changed mine dramatically. Had to go on meds as everything else failed. I was really miffed that the HDL’s dropped so low, mine used to be fantastic.

  3. I prefer the pinhead steelcut oats; you can find them imported from Scotland and Ireland, where they were mainstays of the diet; we also make steelcut oats on the Canadian Prairies, and in the US, you’ll find Bob’s Red Mill.

  4. I also love Steel cut oats. Our favorite brand is Bob’s Red Mill, purchased on line through – free shipping at $49 and frequent discounts. Highly recommend them. Also a good source for supplements and vitamins.
    I lowered my cholesterol significantly through Weight Watchers…and being very vigilant about sugars and carbs (which turn into sugar in the body). Also walking several miles a day. Good luck!

  5. My 64-year-old husband — a distance cyclist with a 34-inch waist and zero lifestyle health-risk factors — had sudden cardiac arrest on August 7 while biking. Nearby EMTs saved his life via CPR. Application of automatic defibrillator paddles re-started his heart. A week in cardiac ICU ensured his survival. Then, numerous tests revealed significant arterial blockages, which led to double-bypass surgery in October.
    I share this story because my husband has always had low LDL, low BP, never smoked, eats carefully, etc. etc.
    Subsequent to his cardiac arrest, he learned of many family members who have dealt with major cardiac problems. Clearly, it is sometimes genetics that trip us up. In my husband’s case, 50+ years of healthful lifestyle choices likely contributed to what appears to be his complete recovery (it’s early days yet but we are very hopeful).
    I have an appointment in December to discuss MY high LDL with my primary care physician. I will probably go on a statin, as I know my own genetic make-up includes coronary artery disease although I have no symptoms.
    But neither did my husband…

    1. Judith, how frightening! I will hold a good thought for his complete recovery. My father-in-law also had cardiac issues (a bypass and a couple of those balloon de-blocking procedures) despite an incredibly healthy diet and active lifestyle. I think genetics do play a major part.

    2. It’s good to keep this n mind because often we get into a mode where we imply that the person could have done more, a cousin to the blame the victim mentality, and that’s not true. Health isn’t always in our control.

  6. Recently cut out all sugar and most processed foods in hopes of clearing up my skin. (Almost 61 and still have acne-my dermatologist just suggested Acutane. O please, what kind of Hell is this? Acne and wrinkles together.) With no sugar, the butter ceased to be as appealing so I’ve cut most of that out too. Upped the veggies because that’s what my tastebuds crave. Very interesting to see how one change can steam roll. And I’m very curious to see if these diet changes affect my cholesterol levels. (Very high HDL, slightly elevated LDL…no one is too concerned about it.)
    And no. It didn’t help the acne.

    1. You might want to try the hand-held blue lights for acne. Some of the devices have both blue lights, which kill the bacteria that cause acne, and red lights, which build collagen. The devices are FDA approved for these purposes.

    2. I don’t want to be a salesperson, but look into Roden & Fields products for your skin problems. It is sold through agents in a similar manner as Mary Kay. My niece is an agent, but I am just suggestion you look at their literature. She became an agent after clearing up her own skin problems with R&F

      1. Sarah, I ask this with complete sincerity and hope you receive it that way. If one is eating an essentially vegan diet (no animals, no dairy), and then eliminates grains, what is left? Do you eat only fruits and vegetables? I hope you will answer. Thanks.

        1. You can also eat nuts and seeds. Quinoa is a seed, not a grain so that would be one way to get something grainy. From what I’ve been reading, seeds and nuts are critical to health, along with vegetables and fruits. Try reading “How Not to Die” by Michael Greger, MD and any of the Dr. Joel Fuhrman books. They both talk at length about vegan diets with limited grains, and Dr. Fuhrman has a cookbook. Also try “10 Reasons You Feel Old and Get Fat” by Frank Lipman, MD. I haven’t finished that one yet, but what I have read is interesting and useful. I’ve gotten them all from the library, so it doesn’t need to cost you anything to check them out.

          Good luck!

        2. HI Linda just drop grains. Eat all types of meat and fish, vegetables, dairy if you can tolerate , eggs, nut, seeds. Healthy oils like olive oil and coconut oil. Fruits that are low in fructose. There’s a lot to eat. I don’t mean vegan or vegetarian. Real food not processed with additives.

          1. Thanks, Sarah. I misunderstood because you mentioned the vegan diets recommended by those two authors.

  7. I love oatmeal and eat it pretty often (and I have some other Silver Palate books but not this one). But I think I’m mostly cruising on good genes (Grandma Let-Me-Double-The-Butter-And-Sour-Cream lived to 100). We live in la Maison du Beurre, mostly due to my husband. A friend who is a rail-thin, vegetarian yoga teacher and avid hiker has very high cholesterol, which runs in her family. She tried statins but had side effects; she tried diet but lost even more weight. Now she is just ignoring it.
    Good luck to you. I think you will be happier if you are able to get results from diet. Drugs can still be there for later.

  8. My family has genetically high cholesterol, and I’ve tried statins and had to stop because of the side effects, although they dropped my numbers like a rock.

    My DH had rising numbers at his last annual visit, so his doctor suggested he might want to have a CT artery scan. Wow! He has three of four arteries with significant calcium blockage. To his credit, he dropped 25 lbs (he was never very heavy to begin with) and changed his diet. He has always loved pizza, red meat and all things sugar. His numbers are now amazing, which his cardiologist says wouldn’t happen just from meds, so he’s found “religion” on the diet/exercise front. But he also carries digitalis with him now, although he’s never had any symptoms or an event, thank goodness.

    This all has me considering the CT scan, although I’ve always been a pretty healthy eater and only a little overweight off and on throughout my life. DH’s diet changes have helped me drop 12 lbs and I do feel better overall. I think genes are the big driver. Ironically, my father had high cholesterol his whole life and died of cancer. So who knows?

    Good luck! I hope the diet changes help!

  9. I am not a physician, but my husband is, and this is his specialty. Although he is retired from clinical practice he still teaches endocrinology at the local medical school, and interestingly, this topic came up over there last week so i will relate what he told me: although there have been studies that show diet and exercise can reduce cholesterol somewhat, those who have been successful and maintained their success were in highly controlled situations in which the subjects were very closely supervised and supported. Dietary control alone has not been successful in the general population, and it is most successful when the cholesterol is only slightly higher.

    The current thinking is that Cholesterol lowering drugs are not prescribed nearly enough, especially in women and most especially in diabetics who are at much higher risk for heart disease. The current guidelines from the American Heart Association (released just last week) recommend a lower threshold than before and clearly state that diet alone is not sufficient. At the last national Endocrine Society meeting there was general discussion about the need to update training not only for physicians in training but for physicians already in practice who have not kept pace with current research. While everyone thinks of cholesterol and heart disease, high cholesterol is also a high risk factor for stroke, and the incidence of strokes is increasing. Studies are ongoing about the role of cholesterol and dementia.

    This is not to say that diet is not an important part of management. Dietary control may reduce the amount of statin needed, and that may lessen the risk of side effects. But at his recent team meeting which also included two academic pharmacologists, the consensus was that that the case for medication as the only long term effective treatment was very strong and well supported, and the diet alone was sufficient only in a small number of cases.

    I have a family history of very high cholesterol; I also have a family history of Alzheimers and stroke. For me, taking a statin was a no brainer. The smallest dose (10mg) dramatically lowered my cholesterol in three months. I have taken it for 15 years. In the last couple of years, I have begun to get some leg and toe cramps at bed time. This annoys me a lot at times, but I have figured out coping stategies because i would never, ever consider stopping the medication. The annoyance of cramps is a really small price to pay for a better old age than my parents and grandparents experienced.

    Off my soap box now.

    1. Ellen

      Thank you for this. I think my success was because my numbers were marginally high. But I will take this information to heart (pardon the pun) and if it creeps up in spite of my diet, I will accept medication. I have lucky genes too as my father lived into his 90s with very high cholesterol and bad diet, and his siblings are in their 90s and never met a piece of bacon they didn’t like.


    2. I would love it if you could post a link to the studies done demonstrating the benefits of statins for WOMEN. I believe that there has never been a study demonstrating this. Also you recommend statins for diabetics when it’s a well known side effect of statins that they increase the risk of diabetes. There is a lot of debate in the cardiology circles about whether cholesterol is even responsible for heart disease. Over 30% of people who have a cardio vascular event have low or normal cholesterol readings. What’s the cause in these people. Think carefully before starting statins. The numbers go down but does that make any difference to mortality?

    3. if you are on statins, you need to be taking Co-Enzyme Q10 to deal with the destruction of hormones by the statin. It helps to prevent the muscle cramps.

  10. My cardiologist (at Vanderbilt) believes that inflammation is the major culprit in cardiovascular disease, not cholesterol.

  11. Retired RN here with a thought: a simple blood test called CRP (C-reactive protein) can give you important info on your body’s general state inflammation. Ask your physician. If your insurance doesn’t cover it, pay out of pocket. It’s worth the peace of mind.

  12. Oatmeal is supposed to act like a sponge for cholesterol…my levels are a bit high but the doctor says it is in a healthy ratio.
    It is fabulous to hear that you are at a healthy weight. I am trying to shed 5 pounds and am finding it a real challenge…have you done anything different with your diet?

  13. Re: Inflammation – Turmeric is helpful in reducing inflamation. My surgeon recommends it. You can use it in cooking as a spice, or if you can’t handle spicy food (I can’t) it also comes in pill form (though not cheap when from a good source).

    Ditto other commenters on the statins. I have taken one for more than 16 years due to genetic inability to reduce my numbers by diet alone (e.g. father had heart attack before age 55). However, being on a statin doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you want. My numbers are always the very best when I am following a healthy diet (vegs, fruit, low/no-processed food in reasonable quantities). I have blood work twice a year to keep an eye on the numbers.

  14. I have high cholesterol but can’t cope with statins due to side effects. I have just had a genetic test to see if l have genetically high cholesterol which means there is nothing I can do re diet to “fix” the problem. The good news is if the test is positive I will get a place on a trial of a new non statin drug.

  15. My husband and I eat almost the same diet. We are vegetarians who eat fish a couple times a year and are now beginning to phase that out as well. I eat very little dairy and bread. My Dr. reported that I had the best cholesterol levels she has ever seen. My husband still has to take meds to keep his in check. It runs in his family.

    I make my own overnight oatmeal once a week that I love. I use a glass jar and fill it just over half full with a mixture of kamut, quinoa, steel cut oats, chia seeds and large flake oatmeal. Then I add 1/3 cup of unsweetened applesauce and fill the remainder of the jar with almond milk. Give it a stir and put it in the fridge. Overnight it will become oatmeal. I sprinkle a few more bran buds on top in my bowl in the morning to give it some extra crunch. This is very high fibre with very little sugar and it tastes great. I often pop it in the microwave to warm it up a bit. I only make it once a week and it takes about 5-10 minutes to make.

    My husband doesn’t eat this with me and I often think that is why my cholesterol is so good.

    I would still like to lose 10 lbs. That is proving to be more of a challenge now that I seem to have developed arthritis in my hips and back.


  16. My cholesterol was very high a year ago and my sugar level placed me in the per-diabetic range. That was my wake-up call. I began exercising, monitoring my sugar and carb levels, eliminated red meat from my diet and replaced it with salmon and sardines. I have lost 50 lbs. and my cholesterol and sugar levels are both within normal range. Tracking my food intake and exercise on has made it easy. We also cut back on eating out-now only once/month.

  17. My cholesterol levels are fine, but about two years ago I tried Earth Balance spread (comes in a tub) and liked it. My daily breakfast is buttered toast, usually whole-grain. So I decided to start having Earth Balance on the toast. To me it tastes very buttery, and I figured it couldn’t hurt. It’s a pretty significant change in terms of cholesterol, to go from having perhaps a teaspoon to a half-tablespoon or so of butter every day to a spread with no cholesterol. Fast forward to my cholesterol test this year: HDL and LDL were pretty much the same as two years ago, but triglycerides were 55, down from 75 in 2014. This is anecdotal, with no provable cause-and-effect, but the only real dietary change I made was to cut butter consumption pretty dramatically. (I still eat butter often, but not on toast.) So for what it’s worth!

  18. I know there are posts from the medical community here so I offer this as just my two cents, very unofficial. I have read many things about cholesterol, including studies that show the drugs do little to change a person’s survival rate. In short, some go so far to say it’s merely the drug companies, yet again, pushing drugs and I personally, and strongly agree. For example, I am of French Canadian descent, and our biology is shown to have a much higher ‘baseline’ or normal-for-us cholesterol number. Both my parents’ had what were considered high numbers yet nobody on either side of the family ever had heart disease (15 siblings between the two!). Blood pressure and inflammation, on the other hand, are important to note in one’s health. I believe in keeping a check on stress, including incorporating mindfulness, walking, meditating, awareness of breath, etc. At my last physical my doctor saw fairly normal cholesterol numbers, of course the LDL could be lower. He suggested the drugs and I politely said no. 🙂

    1. I’ve been recently reading the same things about cholesterol; that drugs do lower the level of cholesterol in the blood, but that it has NO correlation to morbidity. I found that shocking. Isn’t the first rule of being a doctor is to “first, do no harm”? Those meds have a LOT of side effects, which often bring in more meds to counteract. I don’t know if this is all true or not, but I suspect it is.

      Anyway, here’s some researched info on Cholesterol from


      The Actual Benefit of Diet vs. Drugs

      Best wishes

      1. Thank you, Garden Goddess. Best Wishes to you as well. I love the notion, “Let food be thy medicine..” There is an interesting book, The Schwarzbein Principle, that challenges how doctors traditionally treat blood pressure and diabetes and how it adversely affects a person’s health long-term, and the Shwarzbein Principle, where “From her work with insulin-resistant patients with Type II diabetes, Dr. Schwarzbein concludes that low-fat diets cause heart attacks, eating fat makes you lose body fat, and it’s important to eat high-cholesterol foods every day.” It’s “food” for thought. 😉

  19. One of my friends started eating steel-cut oats with flax seed, and saw a drastic reduction in her cholesterol. I cook mine by putting 1 cup of oats in a pan with 4 1/2 cups of water, bring it to a boil, then turn the heat ‘way down so the oats just really slowly simmer, without a lid. About 45 minutes later, they’re ready. Make up more than one day’s worth, because they heat up in the microwave beautifully. Add half an apple, grated, and a couple of pecans, broken up, and you won’t need any other sweetening.

  20. I went to a ketogenic diet and got great results on my cholesterol tests. I eat bacon, eggs, butter, whole milk, cheese, olives, flax seed meal, 100% chocolate, fish, chicken, some pork and beef, nuts, seeds, a few berries, and a lot of vegetables. Last month my numbers were 43 LDL, 93 LDL, 66 triglycerides, 148 total cholesterol. My C-reactive protein was not detectable. My A1C was 5.3. Taken off bp meds and it’s 120/60. I am also now at a normal weight. This WOE may not be for everyone but clearly it works for me.

  21. I’m of the school of thought that meds are to be avoided if at all possible. My mom had genetically high BP and cholesterol. She was slim and ate very healthy, but she was, I believe, overmedicated. I think that contributed to dementia and other problems late in life. I wonder if they had just ignored her numbers, whether she’d have lived longer &/or had a better quality of life.

    So that probably informs my own choices. I’m nearly 60 & I take no meds, except for vitamins & other supplements. My BP is borderline high, but not consistently, & I do worry about that. But although my LDL is a bit high, my HDL is super high, so the ratio is great. I know statins are very widely prescribed, but I really believe they have side effects, so I’m trusting that the HDL has a protective effect (which is a real thing, not just wishful thinking on my part. High HDL is a negative risk factor for heart disease.).

    How do we know we are aging? Because we are talking about our cholesterol!

  22. Years ago, I tried the Dean Ornish extremely low fat diet. I was constantly hungry which turned me into an angry monster! There was far too much carbohydrate in the diet which didn’t suit my metabolism. My triglycerides and cholesterol level were up. Although it went very much against the prevailing wisdom of the time, I found I did much better with a lower carbohydrate, higher fat diet. If I need to lose weight, I up the ante to the ketogenic diet.
    We are all so different that there is no cookie-cutter solution. Good luck with finding what works for you.
    PS! In contrast to another poster, I recently read an opinion that statins are over-prescribed. I think it’s well worth while being vigilant regarding the source, and source biases, of our information.

  23. I had a similar experience to Judith…my very fit (good diet, non-smoker, low body fat) husband began to experience symptoms that turned out to be a major heart blockage but were dismissed as that because he had no risk factors. He did NOT have a heart attack thank goodness, but did have bypass surgery. And afterwards we re-thought our diet. After surgery and recovery, despite being on statins, his cholesterol rose. But an increase in the dosage of his Crestor had side effects that were hard for him to deal with, especially emotionally. A further tweak to our diet seems to have worked.
    Still… without knowledge of family history…his father died very young of cancer… we assume he just has a genetic predisposition…and do our best to live a healthy lifestyle.
    As a wise dietitian at he Heart Institute told us…”You can seriously drive yourself crazy listening to everyone’s well meaning anecdotal advice.” No offense intended to the other commenters. But once I would have been taking notes from their remarks and stressing about what was best for us. No more.

  24. About 20% of the population has a high lipoprotein(a) level. It is an independent factor for premature CVD and may explain all of those healthy, trim athletes dropping dead of heart attacks in their 50s. It is genetic and is not affected by lifestyle factors. There is no drug that lowers it (plus it’s unknown if lowering the level would decrease mortality). The best advice is to lower LDL as much as possible. I have an extremely high level of Lp(a) although there’s no history of heart disease in my family. Thankfully, I also have a very low LDL level. The test was done on me simply because my doctor ordered a “complete” lipid panel and for some reason this test was included. Still, if someone does have a family or personal history of CDK, or if their LDL level does not respond to statins, they may want their doctor to order this test. Or maybe not. :-/

  25. I am in the process of losing weight and lowering all levels that are checked in my blood test. It is not an easy thing to do but so worth it when I see all the bad numbers go down and the good ones go up.