Change is never easy, especially when it comes to your health. A treatment plan from anyone can be difficult to follow, especially one coming from your doctor. Any lifestyle change requires you to consciously make an effort to adapt your current habits to improve your health.

When a doctor makes a diagnosis of “high cholesterol,” the first thing they’ll recommend is that the patient change their diet. Sometimes if the cholesterol is high enough, the doctor may even ask their patient to start medications with side effects.

Regardless of your treatment plan, here are five tips to sticking with it and why it’s so important to do so.

1. Know thyself

The first thing to do before starting any treatment plan is ask yourself if you’re ready and motivated to make changes for your health. Any lifestyle change will be challenging. So it’s important to remember your reasons for changing, especially early on when it might seem tough to move away from longstanding habits.

Consider making a list of what motivates you to improve your health and why your health is so important to you. Perhaps when thinking it over, you’ll discover that the reason you want to be healthy is so that you can be physically and mentally present for your family. Maybe having an active lifestyle and being able to travel or do sports at an older age is important to you.

Regardless of your reasons, there will likely come a time in your treatment plan when you find it difficult sticking with it. If that happens, it’s helpful to think of your reasons for motivation to gently bring you back toward your goals.

2. Say goodbye to sugar

It’s no surprise that changing your diet is essential to bring your cholesterol down. It’s best practice to eliminate sugar when trying to lower your cholesterol.

Sugar or carbohydrates, which your body eventually turns into sugar, will raise your cholesterol by causing a rise in a hormone called insulin. Insulin directly influences your cholesterol. Bring your sugar intake down, and your insulin levels will drop too. This is likely to cause a decrease in your cholesterol as well.

It may be very difficult to give up sugar — it is an addictive substance after all — and there are definitely people who go through the stages of grief when finally saying goodbye to sugar. But remember, if you can give up sugar, you’re one step closer to lowering your cholesterol and living a healthier life!

3. Don’t juice on a statin

If you’re taking a statin medication, which is one of the most widely prescribed medications for high cholesterol, it’s important to avoid specific foods that can interact with your statin and make it less effective.

For example, grapefruit juice directly inhibits the enzyme that’s needed to metabolize certain statins. This can increase the risk of toxicity with these medications, specifically atorvastatin (Lipitor), lovastatin, or simvastatin.

This doesn’t apply to all statin medications. For example, pitavastatin (Livalo) is minimally affected by grapefruit juice consumption, while pravastatin (Pravachol) isn’t affected at all.

Generally, you should avoid grapefruit juice anyway because of its high sugar content. But if you find that you can’t give up grapefruit juice, consider talking to your doctor about switching to pravastatin, which doesn’t interact with this fruit.

4. Know your meds

Statins also have a lot of drug interactions with many different types of drugs. The best thing you can do to make sure you don’t develop any side effects from these interactions is to know the name and dosages of all of your medications.

Consider making a list of your medications and carrying it with you at all times. You’ll especially want it on hand for doctor’s visits. You can also use an online drug interaction calculator to make sure nothing on your current medication list will result in negative interactions.

5. Communicate

If you begin to experience side effects as a result of your treatment plan, discuss this with your doctor.

For example, statin medications can come with a range of side effects — the most common being myalgia, or muscle pain. Risk of myalgia goes up under the following conditions:

  • You’re on several medications that may interact with the statin.
  • You abuse alcohol.
  • You have thyroid issues such as hypothyroidism.

It’s important to let you doctor know if you’re having side effects from your statin medication immediately. Depending on what the side effect is or its severity, your doctor may either adjust the dose of your medication or switch you to an entirely different cholesterol-lowering medication.

The takeaway

Making lifestyle changes is always challenging, especially when it comes to managing high cholesterol. These tips should help you move closer to meeting your health goals and sticking with them too!

Priyanka Wali, MD, is a board-certified internal medicine physician who can be found on twitter @WaliPriyanka