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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Dr. Edward Miner, Cardiologist, at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Murray on Thursday, July 12, 2012.

SALT LAKE CITY — One of the most important numbers to remember when dealing with a person's heart is the low-density lipoprotein cholesterol level, or LDL.

Dr. Edward Miner, an interventional cardiologist at Intermountain Medical Center's Heart Institute, said cholesterol recommendations keep getting lower and lower, although, for some, maintaining the recommended score of 70 or less is almost impossible.

"If all you ate was sticks and berries, you might be able to keep it there, but food is much more available these days," he said.

Miner, and Dr. Brian Crandall, an electrophysiologist, or heart rhythm specialist at the Heart Institute, took questions from a couple dozen callers during Saturday's Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline.

Among the questions were many pertaining to atrial fibrillation, which is one of the most common heart health problems and it becomes more common as a person ages, Crandall said.

Other than "taking care of yourself," he said there isn't much that can be done to prevent the condition, which is an abnormal heart beat. It will cause some to faint or lose consciousness, which is how it is sometimes discovered, and a sometimes simple ablation surgery is all it takes to get back to normal.

"The heart has a complicated electrical system," Miner said, adding that it can "short-circuit" at times. Fortunately, when caught and treated at a young age, patients don't tend to have additional problems.

The heart, one of the body's most vital organs, can be protected with a healthy diet and regular exercise, or what professionals refer to collectively as a healthy lifestyle, said Crandall. He said a healthy lifestyle is the only proven way to prevent heart disease.

Fish oil pills can help to raise high-density lipoprotein — the good cholesterol, but won't necessary stave off the bad LDLs, Miner said. A drug class called statins, which include Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor and others, are what doctors use to help patients maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

The statins, as well as baby aspirin in some patients, can help to prevent heart disease and stroke, which can be debilitating or even deadly.

A lower LDL level is more important for patients already diagnosed with heart disease, as those without it can get by with much higher levels, up to 130, without complications. High LDL and heart disease can lead to heart attack and stroke in some patients, Miner said.

The National Institute of Health's Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommend the DASH diet, which promotes heart healthy eating as an approach to lower blood pressure. It involves a low salt intake, a variety of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy and whole grains. On more than one occasion, Miner recommended the DASH diet to callers.

The health hotline is offered to readers through a partnership between Intermountain Healthcare and the Deseret News. It covers a different health topic the second Saturday of each month.