By Ande Dagan
Age is a relative number. Ten years ago I couldn’t comprehend life past the age of 30. And in ten years from now, I’ll probably look back at 34 as an age of being young and carefree. I don’t necessarily feel old, but when I found out that I had high cholesterol, I suddenly felt like complaining about today’s pop music and screaming at kids to get off my lawn.
First off, let’s break down the sciencey stuff - what exactly is cholesterol? According to the American Heart Association, cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found among the lipids (fats) in the bloodstream and in all your body's cells. A high level of cholesterol in the blood — hypercholesterolemia — is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, which leads to heart attack.
As I imagined the sticky, gooey cholesterol creeping through and building small forts in my arteries, I began to feel a sense of betrayal from my body. I grew up in sunny Southern California and have spent the last thirteen years or so abstaining from meat. I try to eat as many whole foods (including things that would be classified as “weird hippie foods” - like nutritional yeast and seaweed salad) as much as possible and I usually avoid processed foods - save for the occasional cookie. I don’t smoke and I exercise regularly. Excuse me high cholesterol, I think you have the wrong body.
There are two main factors that determine cholesterol levels in the blood - lifestyle and genetics. Damn you, Midwestern/Eastern European heritage (shakes fist at sky, goes into kitchen to look for hummus and celery snack). High cholesterol runs in my family - I was predisposed - so now what?
I sought out the advice of Dr. Weil, a world-renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, an approach to health care that encompasses body, mind, and spirit. (If you have high cholesterol, talk with your doctor before following this or other advice.) On his site, he recommends the following foods to help lower cholesterol levels:
Additionally, Dr. Weil suggests these lifestyle changes:
If lifestyle changes are not effective in lowering cholesterol levels, drug therapy is often recommended. Statin drugs are commonly used to lower cholesterol and protect against heart disease and heart attacks. For more on statins, which should always be taken under the supervision of a physician, visit Dr. Weil’s site.
For me, my cholesterol levels aren’t so high that I need to go on medication, but I am definitely going to follow Dr. Weil’s advice – and keep an eye on my cholesterol levels. See ya later, occasional basket of happy hour fried cheese sticks.
Ande Dagan is the Web Producer for Womensconference.org. She is young at heart and plans to stay that way, one cup of green tea at a time.
For more on cholesterol and how to lower it, visit