High Cholesterol is a Bad Thing, and Now Low Cholesterol Is Not Much Better

Since I was a little girl and able to understand scary stuff, my mother said that her body “manufactured” too much cholesterol. Never mind the fatty foods she ate like red meat and extra buttery toast and cheesecake, her favorite dessert. She stood by her story to the end. I was scared I would inherit the same “manufactured” condition. But I was spared even though I had a hemorrhagic stroke that was from Protein S deficiency. (Don’t get me started on a lousy gene pool).

My mother probably familial hypercholesterolemia, this news  brought you by US National Library of Medicine, a disorder that is passed down through families. It causes LDL (bad or think of loathsome) cholesterol level to be very high. The condition begins at birth and can cause heart attacks at an early age. My mother didn’t have a heart attack, but she could have had one.

Familial hypercholesterolemia is a genetic disorder. It is caused by a defect on chromosome 19. The defect makes the body unable to remove low density lipoprotein (LDL, or bad) cholesterol from the blood. This results in a high level of LDL in the blood.

This condition makes you more likely to have narrowing of the arteries from atherosclerosis at an early age. The condition is typically passed down through families in an autosomal dominant manner (that is, inheriting a disease, condition, or trait depending on which type of chromosome was affected).

And that’s probably what she meant by manufacturing high cholesterol. So I thought to myself, I’m lucky that I escaped the high-cholesterol syndrome, and now that I am a pescatarian or, as I like to say, a vegan with fish. That got me thinking: Can your cholesterol be too low? The answer scared me more.

In April of 2019, a study by the American Academy of Neurology said that low cholesterol was linked to a higher risk of “bleeding [hemorrhagic] stroke” in women.

A study found out that women who have levels of LDL cholesterol 70 mg/dL or lower may be more than twice as likely to have a hemorrhagic stroke than women with LDL cholesterol levels from 100 to 130 mg/dL.

The study also discovered that women with the lowest triglyceride levels, that is, fat found in the blood, had an increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke compared to those with the highest triglyceride levels.

“Strategies to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, like modifying diet or taking statins, are widely used to prevent cardiovascular disease,” said Pamela Rist, ScD, study author of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

“But our large study shows that in women, very low levels may also carry some risks. [I’ll say]. Women already have a higher risk of stroke than men, in part because they live longer, so clearly defining ways to reduce their risk is important. Women with very low LDL cholesterol or low triglycerides should be monitored by their doctors for other stroke risk factors that can be modified, like high blood pressure and smoking, in order to reduce their risk of hemorrhagic stroke.

“Also, additional research is needed to determine how to lower the risk of hemorrhagic stroke in women with very low LDL and low triglycerides,” Rist said.

My head was spinning. Low cholesterol and low triglyceride are considered bad now? I wanted to find out more.

The study of 27,937 women age 45 and older participated  in the Women’s Health Study (supported by the National Institutes of Health) who had total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL or good cholesterol), and triglycerides measured at the beginning of the study. Researchers reviewed tons of medical records to determine how many women had a hemorrhagic stroke.

With an average follow up at 19 years, researchers identified 137 women who had a bleeding stroke. Nine out of 1,069 women with cholesterol 70 mg/dL or lower, or 0.8 percent, had a bleeding stroke, compared to 40 out of 10,067 women with cholesterol 100 mg/dL up to 130 mg/dL, or 0.4 percent.

Some other factors were weighed in that could affect risk of stroke, such as age, smoking status, high blood pressure and treatment with cholesterol-lowering medications, and researchers discovered that those with extremely low LDL cholesterol were 2.2 times more likely to have a bleeding stroke.

Researchers divided the women into four groups for triglyceride levels. Women in the group with the lowest levels had fasting levels 74 mg/dL or lower, or non-fasting levels of 85 mg/dL or lower. Women in the group with the highest levels had fasting levels that were higher than 156 mg/dL, or non-fasting levels that were higher than 188  mg/dl. Researchers found that 34 women of the 5,714 women with the lowest levels of triglycerides, or 0.6 percent, had a bleeding stroke, compared to 29 women of the 7,989 with the highest triglycerides, or 0.4 percent.

The study’s key limitation was that cholesterol and triglyceride levels were only measured once at the beginning of the study. In addition, menopause was evident in a large number of the women, which prevented researchers from examining whether menopause status may be the missing link between cholesterol and triglyceride levels and bleeding stroke. More study is needed.

WELCOME TO CHECK. CHANGE. CONTROL. CALCULATOR, compliments of the American Heart association (AHA).

Through blood tests, CBC and Lipid Panel, and vitals like blood pressure, you can fill in the blanks on the form to see if you’re susceptible to a heart attack or stroke. Shouldn’t you know rather than guess?

Statins are effective at lowering cholesterol and protecting against a heart attack and stroke, although they may lead to side effects for some people.

The Mayo Clinic says that doctors “often prescribe statins for people with high cholesterol to lower their total cholesterol and reduce their risk of a heart attack or stroke.” But they have been associated with the onslaught of muscle pain, digestive problems, and mental confusion in some people who take them and may cause liver damage, albeit rare.

Statins include:
  • atorvastatin (Lipitor)
  • fluvastatin (Lescol XL)
  • lovastatin (Altoprev)
  • pitavastatin (Livalo)
  • pravastatin (Pravachol)
  • rosuvastatin (Crestor, Ezallor)
  • simvastatin (Zocor, FloLipid)


The reason that doctors prescribe statins is that that block a substance your liver needs to make cholesterol, and causes your liver to remove cholesterol from your blood.
If you’re already on statins, talk to your doctor before stopping them. My doctor told me to stop reading articles on the Internet. Hoo, boy. Like that’s gonna happen.
If you have muscle pain, the statin you’re on may be producing  rhabdomyolysis which can cause severe pain, liver damage, kidney failure, and death. The risk is very low, and numbers are equal to a few cases per million people taking statins. Rhabdomyolysis can happen when you take statins in combination with certain drugs so ask your pharmacist.

Or statin use could cause an increase in liver inflammation. But if the increase is severe, you may need to try a different statin because all statins are not alike. Again, talk to your doctor, if you also have unusual and increased fatigue or weakness, loss of appetite, pain in your upper abdomen, dark-colored urine, or yellowing of your skin or eyes.

It also possible your blood sugar level may increase when you take a statin, which may lead to developing type 2 diabetes.
The risk is barely significant but important enough that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a change on warning labels regarding blood glucose levels and diabetes with statin use prevalent.

Also, the FDA issues a warning on statin labels that some people have memory loss or confusion while using statins.

Everyone who takes a statin may not experience side effects.

Risk factors include:

  • Being female
  • Being age 80 or older
  • Having kidney or liver disease
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Having certain conditions such as hypothyroidism or neuromuscular disorders including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Having a small body frame
  • Taking multiple medications to lower your cholesterol

If your doctor says it’s fine, take a small break from statin and see whether the muscle aches or other problems you’re having are statin side effects. It may be just part of the aging process.

Or switch to another statin drug if that’s ok with your doctor.
Or change your dose with the doctor’s permission. Another option is to take the medication every other day, especially if you take a statin that stays in the blood for several days. Again, talk to your doctor.
More than usual exercise may increase the risk of muscle injury. And it’s difficult to know if your muscle pain comes exercise or a statin.
One more thing. Is your diet healthy enough not to produce high cholesterol and, by the way, high triglycerides? My mother, again, probably had Familial hypercholesterolemia, the inherited gene that you could help by eating healthy, exercising, and not smoking, all of which my mother did not do.

Kobe Bryant and Me: Thoughts on Life and Death

I never knew Kobe Bryant even though we each lived in Pennsylvania at some point in our lives, less than 30 minutes and years apart –me for 60 years and Kobe for 18 years when, upon graduation, he went to his only team, the Los Angeles Lakers where he had a 20-year career. He was scouted as #1 in the country and played in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Among his many accomplishments, as a shooting guard, he won five NBA championships, was an 18-time All-Star, and got to be the best shooter ever after Wilt Chamberlain.

Unless you’ve been sequestered with jury duty or living under a rock, Kobe died Sunday along with his daughter and 7 others in a foggy and then fiery helicopter crash which killed them all.

I watched the news reports Sunday and, after a while, stopped watching because the reporters occasionally brought up that incident where in 2003, Bryant was accused of sexual assault by a 19-year-old hotel employee. Shortly after, Bryant issued a public apology, with his wife by his side, but that action resulted in several endorsements which were cut off immediately including McDonalds and Nutella.

Then the devil sat on one shoulder and said, “Was that really necessary to bring that up considering all the good things he did, like the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation whose goals were helping young people in need of support, encouraging the development of physical, emotional, and social skills through sports, and assisting the homeless? Didn’t the good things eventually overpower the bad? Can’t we just move on?”

But the angel who sat on the opposite shoulder said, “Can you really get over sexual assault?” The angel won.

It was 1 in the morning now on Monday. But I was really into it–the thinking, I mean. I sat on my comfortable sofa, for 3 hours, just hammering out what had happened. The Grammys were on Sunday as well in the Staples Center where the Lakers played. I started feeling overwhelmed.

I said to myself, if Kobe was so famous, and people tend to forget even the famous over time, little by little, what chance do I, a regular person, have to be remembered? I fell asleep somewhere in the middle but didn’t lose direction one bit, returning to the internal discussion at hand.

Then around 2 on Monday, I thought of my father who was killed in his North Philadelphia store in 1971, and I didn’t even think of him every day after awhile, except right around the holidays which were important to him because, other than working seven days a week to support his family, he liked fun.

It was about 3:30 on Monday. The only thing was the country by Randy Travis called Three Wooden Crosses that pulled me out of whatever had taken over my mind. The song is  about four people–a farmer, a teacher, a preacher, and a hooker–going down to Mexico in search of various things. He was awarded the Academy of Country Music Award for Song of the Year. Listen to it for a moment.


It’s the refrain.
I guess it’s not what you take when the you leave this world behind you.


It’s what you leave behind you when you go. 

And then I also knew. My father left his incredible work ethic, Kobe left his iconic basketball fame, and I guess people will remember me, too, albeit I don’t know for what.

I asked one of my sons the next day, “Will you miss me when I’m gone?”

He took a long time to answer and then he said, “You have your moments.”

That’s good enough for me, wiseass.

Patient Education: Making Sleep a Health Priority

Get the best out of your sleep

Good sleep is a necessity for the healthy functioning of the mind and body.  It is also one of the things that we can forcibly deprive ourselves.  Ideally, we spend one-third of our lives asleep.  Improving your sleep quality can be the first step toward stress resilience and  healthy decisions.

Could you imagine sleeping for 4 hours, then waking up to go to the gym to exercise, then going to work, and taking an extra cup of coffee to stay up?! If this happens to you, wouldn’t you skip the gym and maybe skip preparing a healthy meal? Without sleep, the brain has a lower threshold to develop stress, anger and impatience.  Driving a car after not sleeping well the night before is equivalent to driving under the influence of alcohol.  The system doesn’t just recalibrate the sleep deficit by sleeping in on a Saturday morning.

Sleep affects more than just the neurologic system.  Many first-time parents probably remember getting up at night because of a crying baby.  Most people recognize that sleep reduces memory and concentration and impairs judgement, but sleep also reduces the immune system, leads to weight gain and increases the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.  The endocrine, immunologic and vascular systems are regulated by sleep.

Here is a list of tips to ensure ideal sleep:

  1. Tone down technology: Silence your cellphones and other technology and put them in a different room at a set time each evening, preferably at least 2 hours before bedtime.  The screen lights can inhibit the production of melatonin, which would otherwise prepare you for sleep.
  2. Preparation: Provide yourself a 30-60 minute of winding down before lights out. Limit reading time to 20-30 minutes.
  3. Make sleep a routine: Go to bed and wake up at consistent times.  Most of the time, you will sleep for 6-8 hours naturally.  With a natural routine, you will very likely not need an alarm clock.  If you do use it, stop it and get up – don’t hit snooze 5 times.
  4. Your bed, the slumber throne. Limit activities to sex and sleep.  Watching TV, eating, working on the computer may affect your body’s ability to rest in bed.
  5. Avoid medicating to sleep: Medications to sleep should be avoided or limited to a low dose of melatonin (2-4mg nightly).  Although the medications may sometimes “work”, they come with side effects and, moreover, are not addressing the source of the problem.  The last thing you want to do is develop dependence on alcohol, benzodiazepines or ambien, etc.  and then can’t sleep without it.  As for the other side of things, avoid any intake of caffeine after noon hours.  Avoid any stimulant medications, e.g. albuterol inhalers, immediately prior to sleeping.  One interesting association of sleep apnea is the patient who drinks high levels of caffeine during the day and then takes a sleeping medication at night.
  6. Environment: Keep sleeping area dimly lit or dark.  Ambient noise should be at a minute, though white noise is acceptable.  Temperature should be on the lower side, between 60-67 degrees F.
  7. Trouble-shoot for the future: If you are having problems sleeping at night and find yourself tossing and turning, thinking too much or waiting until that magic click to start, limit time in bed to about 15-20 minutes. There is usually a reason that this has happened and it is up to you to brainstorm it.  You can sit in your chair to begin to rest, meditate and then return to your bed to sleep.  The next day, think why this happened:  It could have been that maybe you exercised too close to bedtime, took too warm of a shower before sleeping, saw a stimulating program on TV, or tried to squeeze some work on the computer too close to bedtime.

If you still have trouble sleeping after following this checklist, you should consider being evaluated for sleep apnea or other conditions (parasomnias) associated with sleeping, such as restless legs, etc.

sleep man on desk

sleep man on desk