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Seasonal Cholesterol Changes

Q: High cholesterol runs in my family, so last year my doctor suggested I get my levels checked every six months, just to be safe. In August they were normal, but when I went back a few weeks ago my reading was several points higher. I haven't changed my diet since then. Does that mean it's time to go on cholesterol-lowering drugs?

Dr. Donnica: What did your doctor recommend? The answer to this question depends upon a lot of information you didn't give me including your total cholesterol (both times), your triglycerides, your LDL (the "bad" cholesterol) and your HDL (the "good" cholesterol. New cholesterol treatment guidelines released in July 2004 from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute urge more aggressive use of cholesterol-lowering drug therapy, particularly in people with two or more risk factors for coronary heart disease (CHD). These risk factors include race (African American), age (over 50 for men or menopausal for women), family or personal history of CHD, elevated cholesterol, cigarette smoking, elevated blood pressure, diabetes, sedentary lifestyle, and obesity. If your HDL is high (over 60 mg/dL), that would cancel out one other risk factor. You should note that several of these risk factors are modifiable. In addition to following a low-cholesterol diet, you should try to reduce your other risks as well.

Another interesting finding comes from a recent study (Archives of Internal Medicine, 4/04) from the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. After a year studying 517 healthy men and women with borderline high cholesterol, researchers found a seasonal variation in blood cholesterol levels: They peaked during autumn and winter but declined in spring and summer. On average, the difference was only 5 mg/dL higher in winter in women. While these results are intriguing, the study authors acknowledge that making season-specific cholesterol guidelines based upon them is unwarranted.


Created: 11/24/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.


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