When Jay Leno performs this month at Treasure Island Resort & Casino, statistics show that around one in 10 people in the room will have a cholesterol problem. And he’s one of them.
The 69-year-old comedian and former Tonight Show host said his doctor would caution him about his cholesterol levels at yearly physicals, but a lack of symptoms made it easy to ignore.
“I was lucky I didn’t have a heart attack,” Leno said in a phone interview, “but I realized I was certainly a candidate.”
One of his latest gigs is spokesman for Cholesterol911, a campaign by biotechnology company Amgen to highlight the link between high cholesterol and an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.
In conjunction with National Cholesterol Education Month in September, Leno is getting the word out about the importance of talking to a doctor about cholesterol and taking steps to get it under control.
“When I compare it to cars, guys get the analogy,” Leno said. “If every time you change the oil you have huge globs of some kind of lard-like substance, you go, ‘Uh oh, what’s wrong with my car?’ Well, that’s what’s in your heart, and you need to get that corrected.”
Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol is also referred to as “bad” cholesterol. Too much of it can lead to a buildup of plaque in arteries, which reduces blood flow and raises the risk for heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found 12.4% of adults had high total cholesterol in 2015 and 2016, and about 18% had low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol.
In addition to medication, the CDC offers the following lifestyle changes for adults to lower bad cholesterol:
Eat low-fat, high-fiber foods such as whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Get at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate exercise weekly or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous physical activity.
Quit smoking or don’t start.
Leno said his cholesterol is under control thanks to his doctor and taking small steps such as watching calories, using the stairs and swimming a couple times a week.
But he’s quick to say that he’s not an expert.
“People always say laughter is the best medicine. No it’s not. It’s terrible medicine,” Leno said. “So don’t ask your comedian, ask your doctor.”
A guide for talking to a doctor about cholesterol and heart health can be downloaded from www.cholesterol911.com.