DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I need to know if you believe that lowering cholesterol is always important. High cholesterol runs in my family, but heart attacks and strokes seem not to happen until the late 70s to mid-90s. One of my brothers had cholesterol of 495 (12.8). I’ve gone from 200 (5.18) to 285 (7.38) in the past 10 years. Right now, I am at 265 (6.86). I am almost 44 but look 30ish, and am 6 feet 1 inch tall and weigh 185 pounds. I eat well and exercise regularly.

I don’t have faith in everything that doctors and pharmaceutical companies tell people. I know that 100 years from now, we’ll be disgusted by what we’re doing, just as we are when we look back 100 years. My doctor wants me on cholesterol-lowering medicine. Is there any advice you can give me? – P.S.

Cholesterol is only one player in the heart-attack story, but it gets so much attention because it’s one of the things we can control. People with low cholesterol have heart attacks, and people with high cholesterol don’t. However, you and I cannot ignore facts. In many, many studies of different populations, it’s repeatedly been shown that high cholesterol is a definite risk factor for clogging arteries and for having a heart attack. These studies were not supported by drug companies. It was because of such studies that drug companies looked for ways to produce cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL (5.18 mmol/L). You are making a bet with the grim reaper that your family history negates the effect of cholesterol on your arteries. This isn’t a wise bet. You are doing all the healthy things to keep your heart arteries free of buildup, and I would love to be in as good shape as you are. Nevertheless, your cholesterol is too high. Why go to the trouble of exercising and watching your diet while ignoring your cholesterol? You’ve done all the nonmedicine things you can do to get it down, but it’s still high. I have to side with your doctor. If you want better odds for living a long life, take the suggested medicine.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My doctor advised me that my blood test showed a blood calcium reading of 10.5. He recommends that I have a PTH test.

My medicines include HCTZ and a multivitamin. I had been taking a calcium supplement, but I have been told not to take it or the vitamin.

What is a PTH test? Should I be concerned at this point? – G.J.

A normal blood calcium lies between 9 and 10.5 mg/dL (2.2 to 2.6 mmol/L). Your reading is within normal limits.

Perhaps your doctor is concerned because there has been a steady rise in your calcium. Your current value, however, is not a source of concern.

PTH is parathyroid hormone. One cause of high blood calcium is an excess of that hormone. It’s made by four small glands in the lower part of the neck. The glands lie behind (para) the thyroid gland. The PTH test shows if the glands are overproducing their hormone.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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