The Glass Is Half Full for Hispanics and Cholesterol

The American Heart Association tagline answers the question, "Why should I care about my health?" The answer? Life is why.

Like many, if not all others, Latinos love life and living a good life. A good life is made more possible with good health and the AHA has defined ideal cardiovascular health, which increases the likelihood, the chance, of a good life based on Life's Simple 7.

The path to ideal cardiovascular health includes improving on Life's Simple 7. You can determine your "cardiovascular health" score by going to mylifecheck.org and answering a few questions. One component of the score is based on cholesterol level.

A study published this summer suggests that, regarding Hispanics and cholesterol, the glass is half full. Half of Hispanics in the study were unaware that they had high cholesterol. Of those who were aware, fewer than one out of three were receiving treatment.

The take-home message? Hispanics are under treated for high cholesterol. In that study of 16,415 U.S. Hispanic/Latino adults, investigators found that only one out of 10 of the study population were receiving cholesterol-lowering statin medications even though, as many as one in three to one in two were eligible for statin treatment.

Knowing about and addressing cholesterol is very important to achieve ideal cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of future heart attacks or strokes. Cholesterol is a major controllable risk factor for heart disease, and high cholesterol, particularly LDL cholesterol, often called "bad," cholesterol, can contribute to narrowing, stiffening, and blocking blood flow through the arteries that carry blood to the heart and to the brain.

The most current AHA guidelines for managing blood cholesterol recommend that doctors use an approach that is based on determining a patient's risk for heart disease and stroke. If the risk is high -- based on a "risk calculator" developed by AHA -- then use of medications, usually statin drugs that lower cholesterol, will be part of the management plan.

Another very important part of the plan is lifestyle modification: eating a heart healthy diet; regular exercise or physical activity; not smoking; and getting to and maintaining a healthy weight -- four of Life's Simple 7.

What a person eats and portion sizes may contribute to high cholesterol and a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes. Eating more fruits and vegetables -- perhaps from our countries of origin or background -- in place of fatty, calorie dense foods is one approach to improve the heart healthfulness of our diets.

Finding ways to use healthy cultural practices and to address factors like access to and affordability of healthy food, might also make it possible for more families to prepare healthy, affordable, home-cooked meals.

Regular physical activity must also be part of a plan to improve heart health. Only 43 percent of Hispanics are getting the recommended amount of weekly physical activity - 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week.

A study published this year in the AHA's journal Circulation found that Hispanics' lower levels of physical activity and higher levels of sedentary lifestyles increases the chances of having more heart disease and diabetes. The study included more than 12,000 U.S. adults with Mexican, South American, Cuban, Dominican, Puerto Rican or Central American backgrounds.

Healthy weight is another important aspect of a plan to improve health and reduce the chance of heart attack or stroke. Among the participants of the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, 40 percent were obese.

The highlighted research seems to point to untreated cholesterol in Hispanics as a factor for poor heart health, but the real take home message is that healthy eating, regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight are every day ways that Latinos and all Americans can improve cardiovascular health and reduce the likelihood of heart disease, heart attacks , and strokes.

Life's Simple 7 is a good starting place to understand heart health and to start living healthy, but a conversation with your personal doctor is also very important to assess the risk and the need to be on medication to lower cholesterol.

The bottom line is that good health is part of a good life -- una vida Buena. Ideal cardiovascular health is important for good health.

Fill your glass with the elixir of life and a toast (un brindis) -- Life is why!

Dr. Eduardo Sanchez is chief medical officer for prevention at the American Heart Association