Comedian and TV host Howie Mandel shares his personal high cholesterol journey, hoping to raise awareness about a condition that affects more than 100 million Americans.
From his stand-up comedy career to television stardom on shows like “St. Elsewhere,” “Deal or No Deal,” and “America’s Got Talent,” Howie Mandel has been entertaining us for decades.
However, beyond his quick wit and good-natured humor, Mandel, 62, has also been willing to have frank, serious conversations about health issues other stars might shy away from.
The TV host with the gift for gab has been vocal about his struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and he’s now opening up an honest dialogue around his struggles with high cholesterol.
Mandel told Healthline that 30 years ago, he was surprised to be diagnosed with high cholesterol, a condition that the says affects more than 100 million American adults.
He was at the height of his acting and comedy career — fit and healthy and not suspecting he had any serious health issues at all.
“When I was first diagnosed with high cholesterol, it was not so much a shock as it was a piece of information that, frankly, didn’t mean much to me. I didn’t feel there was anything wrong with me. I was fit and healthy. I didn’t do anything about it,” Mandel said.
Mandel was prescribed a statin medication, a drug that lowers your blood cholesterol levels by shutting out the enzyme that creates cholesterol in your liver.
He admits he didn’t want to take the medication because he was worried about potential side effects.
When he went back for a routine checkup, his cholesterol levels were even higher than they were before. Mandel said this was a major “wake-up call” for him.
“My doctor informed me that this is dangerous. It’s really prevalent in our society how people who don’t necessarily look unhealthy from the outside — who don’t look like they suffer from anything —- are walking around with these ticking time bombs inside them,” he said.
Since May, Mandel has been a spokesperson for “Take Cholesterol to Heart,” an awareness campaign from Kowa Pharmaceuticals America and the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation.
In addition to Mandel, fellow TV icon Regis Philbin has also previously partnered with the campaign. Both are using their star power to raise awareness about a condition that is more common than many realize.
The defines cholesterol as a necessary, waxy, fat-like substance in the body. While it’s certainly important for the body to function, problems arise when too much cholesterol appears in the blood and starts to stack up in the walls of arteries.
If this prevents blood from pumping to the heart, it can be a serious cause of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Cholesterol levels are analyzed by a blood test and are measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL).
A healthy cholesterol reading is less than 200 mg/dL total cholesterol, 40 mg/dL or higher for high-density lipoprotein (HDL) — the “good” kind of cholesterol — and less than 100 mg/dL for low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or the “bad” kind of cholesterol.
How common is it for people like Mandel to outwardly appear healthy, but manage to have high cholesterol readings?
Dr. Luke Laffin, a preventive cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic, told Healthline that it has become “increasingly common.”
“The vast majority of people are asymptomatic and, unlike a risk factor for cardiovascular disease such as blood pressure, which can be brought to an individual’s attention if they check it on their own — for example, at a grocery store, drug store, or at home — cholesterol testing needs to be initiated by a healthcare provider,” Laffin stressed. “Oftentimes, younger patients diagnosed with cholesterol disorders have a familial or genetic predisposition.”
He added, “However, lifestyle factors including rising rates of obesity and diabetes, as well as more sedentary lifestyles, can also play a significant role.”
Dr. Eliot Brinton, the president of the Utah Lipid Center and a fellow of the American Heart Association and the National Lipid Association, told Healthline that high cholesterol “doesn’t really correlate with body weight” or “physical activity.” It’s really a “silent” condition.
While the standard guideline for children to be tested for high cholesterol is 9 to 11 years old, Brinton suggests that parents consider getting their kids tested “anytime they think about it.”
“Every person in the U.S. really, truly should have a cholesterol test. Children, adults, everyone,” he said.
Mandel said that he doesn’t like to announce publicly exactly what statin medication he is on or what his health regimen is because he doesn’t want to set a false standard that “if Howie does it, so should I.”
He explained that everyone is different, and the proper course of treatment for high cholesterol should be decided between a person and their doctor.
However, he will say that rejecting the statin medication that was originally prescribed to him was a mistake and that “50 percent of people prescribed a statin end up self-medicating.”
“People try to take themselves off of it without trying to speak with a doctor — that’s what I did. The whole point of this campaign is about opening up a dialogue and speaking with your doctor. Don’t get off of your medication without consulting your doctor!” Mandel cautioned. “Talk to your doctor. High cholesterol is a silent killer.”
Laffin said it’s very common for people to do what Mandel did and stop their medications without seeking medical advice.
“Patients with side effects are even more likely to stop taking statins, especially if they interfere with their daily life,” he said. “For example, if statins are causing muscle discomfort — myalgia. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation available on the Internet that expounds upon the downsides of statins, that doesn’t reflect true clinical practice or outcomes.”
He added, “It is important to understand that, after smoking cessation, statins are the other major factor behind the decreased incidence of cardiovascular disease in the United States over the past 30 years.”
Brinton added that there are many statins out there, and if one doesn’t work for you, consult your doctor about other medication options.
“90 percent of people who stop statins because of side effects will be successful next time,” Brinton said. “Don’t give up if the first time you tried a statin, it doesn’t work.”
“There are a lot of people who do what I did and say ‘this isn’t the answer for me,'” Mandel said. “It’s important that you look into the many other options out there. Go to your doctor if you aren’t happy with your statin. Say ‘This didn’t work out, what else do you recommend?'”
Family history of high cholesterol can be a risk factor for people, and Mandel said that his mother — who is in her 80s — has it as well. She has also been working to maintain “a healthy and active life.”
Mandel said he feels it’s crucial that we open up a “conversation and communication” about high cholesterol for ourselves and our loved ones. He plans on using his star power to propel that conversation even further.
For the consummate comedian with a national spotlight on him, talking about cholesterol is no laughing matter.
“I’ve always been really vocal about health issues. Aside from talking about work and talking about entertainment, I’m pretty vocal about this and thrilled that I have a platform to talk about this issue,” Mandel said.
“If one person goes here and hears what I had to say and finds a second statin because the first one didn’t work, if that improves their health, then, for me, that is almost more important than anything else.”