Battling Familial High Cholesterol: A Personal Journey of Perseverance and Adaptation


A woven thread of heart disease courses through my paternal lineage. My grandfather succumbed to a severe heart attack at the tender age of 57, and a similar fate befell my father at 63. Even during his years spent grappling with vascular dementia, he was subjected to an emergency quadruple bypass surgery in his 70s until he finally gave up his mortal remains.

The common denominator linking these tragic episodes is the malevolent low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, infamous as the “bad cholesterol.” Regrettably, I too carry this bane in my genes. A shocking revelation awaited me in the mid-90s when I was just in my early 40s – my cholesterol was dangerously high.

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With a total cholesterol of over 400 milligrams per deciliter in my system, I was drastically over the recommended levels of less than 200 mg/dL. Alarmingly, my LDL cholesterol alone surpassed that ceiling. The remedy proposed by my physician was statins, drugs renowned for their effect on reducing cholesterol by impeding its production and encouraging reabsorption of the accumulating plaque on arterial walls.

An alteration of diet was also necessitated, subtly orchestrated by my wife. Personally abiding by a novel culinary regimen, we decreased our red meat consumption and embraced the use of olive oil over butter. Even the taste of the bran biscuits, reminiscent of sawdust, was tolerated given their cholesterol-reducing properties. Together with my dietary adjustments, I took up walking a few miles each day. Despite these drastic steps, five years later, my cholesterol remained defiantly high.

Acknowledging my familial predisposition towards heart disease, my doctor supplemented my regimen with additional medication designed to lower my cholesterol. Semi-annual check-ups became routine, grappling with the invisible enemy within.

My hard-fought perseverance saw occasional victories. My LDL levels plunged below 100 mg/dL, settling at a comfortable 97 during my last visit. The “good” cholesterol, synonymously known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL), landed within the recommended 40 to 60 mg/dL range at a healthy 53. Victorious as I may have been, the threat of cholesterol resurgence lurks in the shadows if I cease my proactive approach.

As a 61-year-old, I pride myself on maintaining an active lifestyle. From the occasional walks to arduous chores like mowing the lawn with a manual lawnmower or clearing the snow-laden driveway, every step counts. Even scaling the roof to unclog the gutters in the fall, much to my wife’s displeasure, contributes to my defense against cholesterol.

While I attempt to uphold a healthy diet, the constant shifts in dietary research only breed confusion. The disarray of determining ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fats, coupled with the reversal of certain food prohibitions, is confounding. Even so, recent studies suggest that genetics might play a more significant role than diet in dictating one’s cholesterol. My daughter, a wholesome eater at 26, was not spared from the familial curse of high cholesterol.

In conclusion, while diet and exercise hold significant importance, they may not suffice alone in the fight against high cholesterol, particularly with a familial history akin to mine. I implore others grappling with similar setbacks to seek medical counsel for potential treatments, to pave a path towards health and longevity.