Many Laborers have high levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol that increases risk for a heart attack or stroke and they are not alone. In the U.S., approximately one in three adults have high levels of LDL and nearly 800,000 people die every year from cardiovascular diseases.
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance the body needs to develop cells, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids. The liver and intestines manufacture most of the cholesterol in the body (the liver also breaks it down), but sometimes the body makes more than it should and this can affect your health.
Eating foods high in saturated fats, including fatty meats, poultry with the skin on and dairy products made from whole or two-percent milk can also add to cholesterol in the body. There are two types of cholesterol:
- LDL or “bad” cholesterol, blocks blood vessels and can cause hardening of the arteries – a condition called atherosclerosis.
- HDL or “good” cholesterol, helps protect the heart by sending some LDL cholesterol back to the liver, where it’s broken down and eventually leaves the body as waste.
Unhealthy levels of LDL are often associated with diets high in saturated fat, but genetics, aging and routine exposure to hazardous noise are also factors. Without a medical screening, people with high cholesterol will be unaware until they suffer a cardiac event.
Drugs called statins have a proven track record for reducing cardiovascular deaths related to high LDL. A study involving more than 90,000 participants found that statin therapy reduced the five-year incidence of major coronary events and stroke. Statins block the liver’s ability to manufacture cholesterol, but reaching everyone who could benefit and ensuring they take the medication is a challenge.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 78 million Americans have LDL levels that meet current guidelines for taking a statin, but only a little more than half do so. The problem is that statins must be taken indefinitely. They can also produce side effects like muscle pain and occasionally liver damage. A number of factors and behaviors can increase risks for side effects from statins. These include dehydration and excessive use of alcohol – both known risks in the construction industry. Side effects can often be managed by changing behavior and sometimes by changing to a different statin.
What Can You Do to Maintain Healthy Cholesterol?
Reducing LDL can sometimes be achieved by increasing physical activity and improving diet. Other times medication is also needed. To work on lowering your cholesterol without taking a statin, get regular physical exercise as recommended in this Lifelines article, “Physical Wellness: How Much Should I Exercise?”.
Diet is also important. Limit alcohol consumption and include more of these cholesterol-lowering foods in your diet:
- Whole-grain cereals such as oatmeal and oat bran
- Fruits such as apples, bananas, oranges and prunes
- Legumes such as kidney beans, lentils and lima beans
- Fish like salmon, tuna (canned or fresh) and mackerel
Should You Be Taking a Statin?
Current guidelines released by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recommend statins for the following groups:
- People with cardiovascular disease
- People with high LDL cholesterol levels of 190 milligrams per deciliter(mg/dl) or higher
- People age 40-75 with diabetes and LDL levels of 70-189 mg/dl
- People age 40-75 without diabetes, but with LDL levels of 70-189 mg/dl and a predicted 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease of 7.5 percent or higher
What Can Employers Do?
Signatory employers can help educate Laborers on the importance of maintaining healthy cholesterol by holding a LHSFNA-sponsored health fair at their jobsites that includes screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose. Health fairs allow Laborers to obtain this important information and counseling without having to take time off from work. Employers can also order the LHSFNA’s High Cholesterol and Atherosclerosis: Hardening of the Arteries Health Alerts. Order these and other materials by going to www.lhsfna.org and clicking on Publications. For more information, call the Health Promotion Division at 202-628-5465.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]