Doctors' Notes

Cholesterol Counts: Reducing Your Risk

Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our contribution from Urban Health correspondents (and husband and wife) physicians Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson.  The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health, as it relates to African Americans.  Please feel free to send them questions via digitalpitches@ebony.comWe promise to keep it anonymous. 


High cholesterol is one of the many risk factors for heart disease—the leading cause of death in our community. While studies show that close to 1/3 of blacks have elevated LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels, a recent survey indicated that 62% of us don’t even know our cholesterol levels.  Unfortunately, if we don’t know our cholesterol is putting us at high risk for heart disease, we don’t have a chance to prevent it.

In an effort to raise awareness about what we as a community need to do to stay heart healthy, we interviewed Dr. Ralph Vicari.  Dr. Vicari, a cardiologist and member of the Foundation of the National Lipid Association, shares why cholesterol is important and how you can reduce your risk.

JET: Why is there an especially high incidence of high cholesterol in the black community?

Dr. Vicari: There are many factors that contribute to high cholesterol in the black community including diet, obesity and chronic kidney disease. Also, the prevalence of high blood pressure in African Americans is among the highest in the world.

JET: Why is it so important to have cholesterol levels as close to normal as possible for heart health?

Dr. Vicari: 25% of patients with heart attacks in the U.S. have LDL levels that would be considered in the high range. A larger number of patients with heart attacks have LDL levels that are only moderately elevated.

JET: How much of high cholesterol issues is related to diet vs. genetics?

Dr. Vicari: In general about 25% of cholesterol in our bodies comes from diet. 75% is synthesized. Blacks are not more genetically predisposed to high cholesterol in general, but the high incidence of obesity and diabetes in the Black population is contributing to the incidence of heart attacks and strokes in the U.S.

JET: What’s the best way to get cholesterol under control?

Dr. Vicari: Patients should work with their doctor to get their high cholesterol into an optimal range. A doctor may prescribe lifestyle changes, and/or medications.

JET: What dietary and lifestyle changes can one make to decrease their risk of high cholesterol?

Dr. Vicari: Decreasing total daily calories and specifically saturated fat and carbohydrate intake can decrease total cholesterol and LDL levels significantly. Exercise also helps to normalize all cholesterol levels. You can learn more about ways to manage high LDL cholesterol on

JET: How often should the black community be getting screened for high cholesterol?

Dr. Vicari: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends testing of all races and color in the U.S. by age 9-11. In high risk children with cardiac risk factors or those with specific familial inheritance problems with cholesterol, screening may start even as young as 2 years of age. The National Lipid Association recommends that all adults greater than 20 years old be tested at least every 5 years.

Please check your knowledge about your cholesterol levels by logging in to Follow our progress in educating Americans about their cholesterol levels as they apply to heart attacks and strokes.

It’s a health thing…we’ve got to understand!

About the Doctors: Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall, a multimedia health and wellness resource, and also hosts of the Urban Housecall Radio Show.  For more from the doctors, visit their website at, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter @urbanhousecall!