Updated 27 September 2016

Give your heart some TLC this V-day

With nearly 200 South Africans dying every day from cardiovascular disease, modern-day thinking around cholesterol management is that we’ve been doing “too little too late”.


With nearly 200 South Africans dying every day from cardiovascular disease, modern-day thinking around cholesterol management is that we’ve been doing “too little too late” says the Medical Nutritional Institute (MNI).

As cholesterol-related deaths continue to rise and treatment guidelines become ever more stringent in response, MNI says South Africans need to start managing their cholesterol levels far more proactively than previously thought if they wish to extend their longevity.

High cholesterol affects some 16 million South Africans and according to The Heart and Stroke Foundation SA (HSFSA), 195 citizens die a day from some form of heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease.

Dire situation that gets worse

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that cardiovascular disease is already the leading cause of death in developing countries and the HSFSA’s analysis of recent trends has led them to predict that premature deaths due to heart and blood vessel diseases among South Africans of working age (35 - 64 years) will have increased by 41% between 2007 and 2030. “Staggering numbers indeed,” says Dr Conrad Smith, MNI director and a GP in private practice in Johannesburg.

“As medical practitioners, we are now taking a much more proactive and aggressive approach to cholesterol management.

“South Africans seem to have the mistaken notion that cholesterol and cardiovascular disease are concerns they need only worry about if or when they experience an event or are handed a diagnosis by their doctor; this despite the overwhelming evidence that anyone who wants to live a long, healthy life needs to keep their cholesterol levels low”, says Smith

Cholesterol treatment guidelines have been tightened over the last few years.

“While the Department of Health guidelines haven’t been revised since 1998, both the American NCEP ATP III and European Cholesterol Guidelines have become more stringent every time they have been reviewed in response to the discovery that large numbers of people with cholesterol levels previously considered ‘okay’ or ‘borderline’ were developing cardiovascular disease,” says Smith.

Patients must be more active

As treatment management guidelines are reviewed and revised, so patients need to take a much more active stance in taking responsibility for their heart health. “To promote longevity, every South African over the age of 25 must make sure they have their cholesterol regularly monitored. Women are particularly bad at checking their levels, in part because they tend to be under the erroneous impression that heart disease is predominantly a ‘male’ condition. This mindset needs to shift urgently if we are ever to see a decrease in cardiac-related deaths.”

While lifestyle changes such as diet, stress management and exercise play an important role in maintaining a healthy cholesterol level, these adaptations are oftentimes difficult to incorporate into today’s hectic schedules. Some patients also really struggle to bring their cholesterol down despite even the most erstwhile lifestyle changes says Smith.

Reluctance from cholesterol patients

Many patients with high cholesterol are reluctant to take conventional statin drugs because of the side effect profile and the fact that the drugs block not only the production of cholesterol but also essential nutrients. Smith says alternative safe and effective non-prescription treatment options with reduced side effect profiles are available for these patients.

“Those who wish to maintain a life-long healthy cholesterol level or who have an already elevated cholesterol level and want to avert a future health crisis should consider non-prescription medicines – but only those that have proven to be safe and effective. Look for a product containing red yeast rice extract which has been clinically tested and found to be as potent as prescription drugs. First prize would be to use a non-prescription product that has a dual action; lowering both LDL and triglyceride levels. These non-prescription medicines have a reduced side effect profile,” says Smith.

“The ultimate and best anti-ageing strategy anyone can invest in is to reduce your cholesterol. In so doing, you’ll extend your lifespan by as much as 30%,” he says.

(Press release, February 2011)

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