Information and Friends Make the Difference to Health

Appeared in Brownsville Herarld and Valley Morning Star on March 31, 2013

By Lisa Mitchell-Bennett

Mary sat in the clinic staring at the paper the nurse had given her. “You don’t have diabetes yet, but your cholesterol and triglycerides are high.” The nurse rushed out of the exam room leaving Mary to contemplate her ‘high levels’. “Of course I’ve heard that cholesterol is bad, but I didn’t have any idea about triglycerides.  After all, I felt fine and I didn’t have diabetes. That was great news right? So the doctor gave me medication, but no one explained what I might do to lower my cholesterol with lifestyle changes. One friend told me to stop eating eggs. Another said since I was on the medication I could eat whatever I wanted. My husband said he hoped I wouldn’t make him go on some kind of diet!”

A few weeks later, Mary received a visit from her friend who also happens to be a community health worker. “As we sipped coffee she explained what she had learned about high cholesterol and that what I eat and how much I exercise can be very important to controlling this condition which can lead to heart disease and stroke! She brought me a pamphlet from the clinic where she works and together we figured out how I could change my diet to help reduce my cholesterol.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC– “Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that your body needs. But, when you have too much in your blood, it can build up on the walls of your arteries. There are two kinds of cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL). It is also called “good” cholesterol. There is also low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is the “bad” cholesterol. When we talk about high cholesterol, we are talking about too much of the “bad” LDL cholesterol.”

The CDC recommends eating a healthy diet that is low in salt; low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol; and rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. The website also recommends getting plenty of exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking. These are all factors that can increase the risks associated with high cholesterol. The CDC also recommends having your cholesterol levels checked every 5 years and following your doctor’s instructions for your medications, if prescribed.

So Mary and her friend worked out a plan to for her to eat more fruits and vegetables, and to eat less salty, fatty foods. “I just made sure I always had a vegetable on my plate, and I tried to cut back on flour tortillas, and fried foods.” Mary and her friend also started walking every morning and evening, just 15 minutes at a time.

Mary didn’t feel like her husband and teenage sons were on board at first. “They kind of teased me that I was going to waste away to nothing, and said I was being a health fanatic. The truth is, I was only making small changes, and I felt so much better, and even slept better. Finally, one evening I sat down with my family and asked for their support. I told them about my high cholesterol and that it could ultimately kill me or leave me disabled from a stroke. I think it kind of scared them. I told them that the teasing wasn’t helpful, and that I was trying to do something good for myself and I would appreciate their support. The change was amazing and immediate. Now my husband walks with me in the evenings, and my son finds healthy recipes for me on the internet. I don’t think they meant to hurt me with their teasing. Sometimes we just need to tell our loved-ones we need their support, or look outside of our family for someone who will help us make positive changes. Finding that support is crucial!”

The results are clear. When Mary went to the doctor nine months ago, her cholesterol was over 200. At her last visit in February it was down to 93. She went from weighing 201 pounds to 183 and is still losing about a pound a week. Since her cholesterol decreased so drastically the doctor reduced her medication.

It just goes to show, getting accurate information and finding someone to support you can mean the difference between accepting illness and thriving, because Tu Salud Si Cuenta! (Your Health Matters!)

Tu Salud Si Cuenta is an obesity and chronic disease prevention campaign supported by the University of Texas School of Public Health and Transforming Texas.