I’m 34 & I Have High Cholesterol

Health + Fitness

Ande Dagan headshot 200x150
Ande Dagan





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:

  • Eat some healthy nuts every day. Nuts, especially almonds, walnuts and cashews, contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.
  • Substitute soy protein for animal protein. The protein in whole soy foods has been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
  • Use fresh garlic regularly in your meals. Garlic has been shown to lower both cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
  • Drink green tea daily. The antioxidants in green tea help lower cholesterol and prevent the LDL cholesterol in your blood from oxidizing.
  • Eat plenty of soluble fiber. Soluble promotes the elimination of cholesterol through the gastrointestinal tract. The best sources of soluble fiber are beans and lentils, apples, citrus fruits, oats, barley, peas, carrots and freshly ground flax seed.

Additionally, Dr. Weil suggests these lifestyle changes:

  • Lose weight. Even a modest amount of weight loss can lower cholesterol levels.
  • Reduce the amount of saturated fat you eat.
  • Avoid trans-fat, which can reduce HDL levels and raise LDL levels.
  • Limit refined carbohydrates, which can increase triglyceride levels and lower HDL.
  • Exercise. It can increase HDL levels.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking is a risk factor for heart disease all by itself, but can also significantly lower HDL cholesterol.
  • Relax. Emotional stress may trigger the body to release fat into the bloodstream, raising cholesterol levels.

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 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

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  • The best advice on cholesterol that I have seen. I believe when the numbers are high and you are taking good care of yourself the main culprit is stress. If you lower your stress levels by meditation, yoga or visualization and that still doesn't work then medication is the only and last resort.

    Posted by Bonnie Gudis, 18 August 2010.