How important is checking your cholesterol levels?

That depends on a number of factors.

The study began in 1948. The original cohort included 5209 people and continued through 2011.

We know from the Framingham Heart Study that no one (in the study’s cohort) with a total cholesterol score below 150 has ever died of heart disease. Armed with that number, Dr. Esselstyn decided to make sure that all of his patients got their total cholesterol below 150—primarily through diet. He instructed them to eliminate ALL animal products and other very high-fat, plant-based products like oil, avocado and nuts. If a patient was still over 150, he prescribed a mild statin drug.

But what about a guy like me? A guy that has taken charge of his own health and only goes to the doctor for emergencies? A note from a reader in the UK inspired me to address these questions in this blog. She wrote:

When I started eating the Esselstyn way after seeing the Clinton clip, I was doing it to lower my cholesterol.  I was already in very good health before I started and had been surprised to find my cholesterol quite high.  So I gave up the oil first then, after the China Study had convinced me, I gave up the eggs, fish and yogurt that I had been eating, switched my milk to soy, and simply ate more of the whole grains, pulses and vegetables that I was already eating.  I found it easy to go whole foods, plant-based because I was already eating many whole foods.

In terms of my cholesterol just stopping; the oil had a dramatic effect and I also lost a few pounds. But my point is that I have enjoyed vibrant health all along.  Having raised cholesterol is not something we notice unless we go for a test.

Point taken. Here’s the way I see it. As you may know, I quit going to the doctor on a regular basis about ten years ago. But being curious about cholesterol, I have found ways to learn my score without going to the doctor. The first way is through the American Red Cross, to which  I have donated blood about once a year. If you ask them for your total cholesterol score, they will send it to you in the mail. It takes about a week—for free. They also check your blood pressure and pulse, which you get on the day they draw the blood.

This is the “FirstCheck” kit that we used to measure our total cholesterol.  (Jason calls me Bud and, as you can see, his TC is lower than mine, 120 to 160)

The second way is a home test kit. Recently, my son and I bought one at the drug store and checked our own total cholesterol at his kitchen table. You can read about that test in a blog that I posted a few days after Christmas. In the quest for “vibrant health,” weight-loss is just a bonus. There is also a similar home test kit for checking your diabetes numbers. Both are included in the referenced blog in this paragraph.

So what about going to the doctor? Now that I have found convenient ways to check things like cholesterol and blood pressure, I see no reason to go to the doctor except for emergencies, like when I ruptured my Achilles tendon playing tennis on a grass court for the first time.

Not only am I not going to the doctor anymore, I have also quit checking my cholesterol, my weight or anything else. My diet is consistently at the 4Leaf level so there’s no reason to keep checking things that always remain fairly constant. Another one is my weight.

The “4Leaf level” means getting over 80% of my total calories from whole plants. Visit for more information.

What about the routine colonoscopy for people over fifty? No thanks. My bottom line is this. Over the past decade of eating a near-optimal diet, I have taken charge of my health and I trust my body to tell me when something is wrong. Besides, even if I was tested and knew that I had cancer, I would never let them do the “slash, burn and poison” thing on me.

Disclaimer. Please understand that I am not making any recommendations in this blog on this topic. I am simply sharing my story and my opinion. As stated inside the cover of our book:

The author of this blog or the “Healthy Eating – Healthy World” book is not rendering professional advice or services to the individual reader. The ideas, suggestions and procedures on this blog are not intended as a substitute for consulting with a physician. All matters of health require medical supervision. The author will not be responsible for any loss or damage allegedly arising from any information or suggestion on this blog.

Handy 4-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from

Want to find out how healthy your family is eating? Take our free 4Leaf Diagnostic Survey. It takes less than five minutes and you can score it yourself. After taking the survey, please give me your feedback as it will be helpful in the development of our future 4Leaf app for smartphones. Send feedback to

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J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

For help in your own quest to take charge of your health, you might find some useful information at our 4Leaf page or some great recipes at Lisa’s 4Leaf Kitchen.

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Blogging daily at…from the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.

—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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7 Responses to How important is checking your cholesterol levels?


    Everyone using HTML in E-Mail and templates would help us beautify America.
    Unless I err, HTML HOT LINKS are not accepted in “Leave a Reply” template.
    So I apologize for resorting to rather UGLY plain text in citing an internet URL.

    But visit below:
    McDougall FEB 2008 Newsletter:”. Die Sooner with Good Looking Numbers.”

    In a good-humored way he points out a problem with drug-induced numbers.


  2. Salvatore Liggieri says:


    After attending McDougall’s 10 day program in Santa Rosa, California, his parting words to me:
    ” If you want to live a long, healthy life, stay away from doctors.” “Just keep eating plant foods and do some exercise.”

    Which I am doing and I’ve lost 15% of my starting weight.

    Sal Liggieri

  3. Leo S. says:

    Blood Cholesterol Levels May Be Deceptively Low When Consuming Dairy Products.
    A blood cholesterol of 185 mg/dl did not prevent cholesterol from closing a person’s arteries. He was perhaps unaware that eating dairy products can keep total cholesterol low while still allowing cholesterol deposits in the artery walls to form boils that eventually prevent blood from reaching part of the heart muscle. Studies suggest that a factor in milk lowers blood cholesterol levels (Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 27: 464-69).

    While there is a positive correlation between the amount of cholesterol in the blood and the incidence of cardiovascular disease, low cholesterol levels influenced by the consumption of dairy products are misleading and cannot guarantee freedom from disease now or in the future.

  4. Mr. Kleinbauer’s citation of HAPPY HEALTHY LIBRARIAN” WEBSITE needs repeating.
    One good link leads to another. Among zillions of other valuable resources I suggest
    checking out the VSH ( Vegetarian Society of Hawaii ) FREE on line lecture videos.

    Stories with “before” and “after” data in progress toward optimal health are always of interest.

    Remember Dr. Joseph Crowe (total blood cholesterol of 156) having a heart attack at age 44 ?
    Diet alone brought his number down to only 89 ! As I recall it, he rejected any drug treatment.

    See P 6-7 in Esselstyn’s Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease (ISBN-13 978-1-58333-272-6).
    This little bit won’t hurt? Dr. Esselstyn repeatedly addressed this common popular concept.
    Apparently Dr: Crowe’s data being only 6 points over 150 was not “good enough” for him.
    For statin skeptics Google or Bing John McDougall, “Dying early with better numbers.

    Without intruding upon his privacy, it would be nice to have an update on Dr. Crow.
    What happened after November 1996? What shape is Dr. Crow 16 years later?

    Suggest that J. Morris Hicks, use his skills to run a feature story on above.

  5. LEARN MORE ON DR. ESSELSTYN’S HEART ATTACK PREVENTION & REVERSAL TEACHINGS/APPLICATION FROM “THE HAPPY HEALTHY LIBRARIAN” WEBSITE! She is the Librarian at the Cleveland Clinic, where Dr. Esselstyn practices. At her website, I Googled “Esselstyn – Session” to find her posts on her participating in his program and the on-going results for her.

    Got this:

    You can read more of the articles given in this search.
    That led to the article that I was searching for:

    Here is Dr. E’s summary re statins to lower cholesterol:
    “10. Why not just take a statin instead of following a strict diet?
    Most lipid-lowering studies show a slower progression of cardiovascular disease—slower PROGRESSION is still PROGRESSION
    Most lipid-lowering studies show 30% fewer new heart attacks. What about the other 70%?
    Most lipid-lowering studies show 30% fewer heart attack deaths. What about the other 70%?
    Most lipid-lowering studies show 30% fewer surgical interventions will be needed. What about the other 70%?
    And don’t forget that statins increase the risk of developing diabetes by 9%.
    There are documented cognitive problems when statins are used in high-doses.
    As age & dose increases muscle pain & weakness increases in statin users. 70% of statins users who do not have muscle pain are shown to have microscopic inflammation in their muscle cells.

    Read more about the side effects in: What The Experts Say About The Side Effects Of Statins. What Are They? What Causes Them? Who Is Most At Risk? How Are They Treated?

    Statins inhibit the HMG-coA Reductase, the enzyme in our body that makes cholesterol in our liver. Our bodies need a certain amount of cholesterol to properly function–and to inhibit an enzyme can produce serious side effects. Why take a stain, when a plant-based diet can lower cholesterol & inflammation without needing to inhibit HMG-coA reductase?”
    Then I found this recent post by the Happy Librarian:
    “Heart Disease Prevention

    July 07, 2012
    “Two Cardiologists & One Cardiac Surgeon Who Follow an Esselstyn-Style Plant-Based Diet. What’s Their Story and What Health Benefits Have They Seen?”

    You can read the whole article, plus peruse her many excellent health education articles!

    • Frances says:

      I am also a fan of the Healthy Librarian’s blog. I have been following her since January 2011.

  6. Mimi MgGee says:

    Thanks for the info on a home cholesterol kit. My husband and I are not into doctor’s visits either and after several years no oil, plant based, we are just curious about our cholesterol. Last check had my HDL at almost 100 and my LDL around 70 so my total score was just under 170. I would like to know all of the lipids including triglycerides but I’ll go with the total to avoid a doctor’s visit.

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