September 05, 2008

It's National Cholesterol Education Month, and clearly, many of us need a refresher: About half of Americans have high or borderline blood cholesterol levels, a major risk factor for heart disease and a serious threat to overall health.

I'm a strong believer in trying dietary solutions before—or, if needed, in conjunction with—pharmaceutical approaches. Compared with a daily pill, lifestyle changes can be cheaper and just as effective, without the fear of unwanted side effects. This is especially relevant now, as scientists speculate on the safety and effectiveness of Vytorin, a popular cholesterol-lowering drug. 

Some of my clients come to me thinking that diet and lifestyle changes are just too difficult or not worth the hassle. But I learned firsthand the impact of sudden death from a heart attack when my father passed away at the age of 62—and you've likely had a personal experience with the disease, considering the following:

•    One American dies every 37 seconds from heart disease
•    In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 26 seconds
•    The annual U.S. health-care costs to treat heart disease are more than $450 billion

That's why I'm passionate about daily, drug-free adjustments you can make to help lower your cholesterol. I've written about these changes as part of Health.com's in-depth cholesterol center. Check out my tips here, and let me know your own heart-healthy strategies.

By Julie Upton, RD

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