En español | Car-crazy comedian Jay Leno has something else on his mind these days: his heart. And yours, too. “It’s like a car,” Leno says as he's out promoting a new informational website, Cholesterol911.com, sponsored by Amgen, about the dangers of high cholesterol. “It might run another 100 years or a wheel could come off tomorrow. So make sure everything is running properly” by checking in with your doctor.
The former Tonight Show host, now 68 and host of Jay Leno’s Garage on CNBC, has known about his own high cholesterol for some 20 years. He was informed enough to jump to help his friend Rodney Dangerfield in 2001 when Dangerfield was a guest on the show. Leno said the comedian seemed “a little off” — enough so that Leno called for an ambulance. “It turns out he’d had a stroke, and the paramedic said, ‘You know you might have saved his life.’ ”
Cholesterol is the fatty substance in the blood that can build up in the arteries and cause heart attack and stroke. The more harmful, "bad" kind is called LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and the "good" kind is called HDL (high-density lipoprotein). Current guidelines recommend a total cholesterol level (a combination of LDL and HDL) below 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood. Your LDL reading should be less than 70.
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But the highest-risk patients, those who have already had heart attacks and strokes, "need to have even lower LDLs than someone who doesn’t have heart disease,” says James Underberg, clinical assistant professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine. They have a 1-in-3 chance of having another incident, he notes.
The Cholesterol911 site, which wants you to “see the emergency in cholesterol,” includes a guide for talking about cholesterol with your doctor as well as informational videos starring Leno that were filmed in his garage, home to his beloved car collection.
Leno says he’s worked to control his own high cholesterol with medication and a healthy-ish lifestyle: “Let’s say I try. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. No drugs — ever. None of that. Maybe one or two sodas a week. But I do like a good steak. I like Italian food.” He says he uses a heart-monitoring device that he hooks up to his iPhone. “I’m still a little high on the bad side,” he admits, referring to his LDL cholesterol levels.
One thing that may help his heart: He has a low-stress personality and says he doesn't worry much — “almost to the point of idiocy. When I go to bed, I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow.”
Lifestyle factors such as exercise, not smoking and healthy eating can be crucial factors in reducing the risk of heart attack, according to the American Heart Association.
But Leno’s campaign emphasizes that lifestyle or personality can not completely protect you from the effects of high cholesterol. He says he was surprised when a friend of his, a runner and “one of those guys who eats the kale salad and does all that,” had a stroke. “Meanwhile, I’m eating pizza, watching cartoons and not running at all. Why didn’t I have a stroke? Well, because it doesn’t work like that. There’s no way to tell if you’re at risk other than to call your doctor.”