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Diet or Medication to Lower Cholesterol?

Por Eleazar Lara-Pantin, MD, MSc.* -
Diet or Medication to Lower Cholesterol?

Recently, several magazines published comments regarding the results of a study that compared the effects of diet versus medications on cholesterol levels. The study apparently found that a strict vegetarian diet was comparable to some medications in lowering blood cholesterol levels. It could be beneficial to clarify some aspects related to the problem that inspired the study. Here we present a summary:

It’s important to point out that medications used to treat this problem were not designed to replace diet in order to control high levels of fat in the blood. These medications must not be prescribed "instead" of a well-balanced diet, but "together with" a healthy diet, and a regular exercise program. Cholesterol-lowering medications are used only when diet and exercise are not enough to control cholesterol levels.

Aside from the genetic factors that may explain why some people have higher cholesterol levels than others, improper eating habits and a lack of physical activity are the elements that most contribute to this problem. In most cases, eating a healthy diet and remaining active will control cholesterol production, both of total cholesterol and “good cholesterol” or HDL (which reduces the risk of having heart and coronary disease).

It is possible to normalize cholesterol levels by correcting poor dietary behaviors if that was what caused the elevation. In addition, a regular exercise program helps to increase good cholesterol levels, which contributes to the prevention of damage to the arteries.

It is necessary to make the effort to improve the lifestyle habits that can contribute to increasing cholesterol production. Do not misunderstand this as the need to follow an impossible diet. One of the main reasons people do not maintain certain diets is because they are usually too restrictive. These types of unrealistic diets cannot be followed for the duration required to improve cholesterol levels, which is generally for life.

The key is to follow a healthy diet that includes a variety of foods from each of the food groups, and keeping portion sizes in control. Balance that with 30 minutes of exercise each day, and your heart will thank you for it!


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