Most people know just enough about cholesterol to be able to do something about it should they choose. Still, seventy-one million American adults have abnormally high cholesterol, but only one-third of that total has the condition appropriately managed. In observance of National Cholesterol Education Month, consider getting your cholesterol screened. Why, you might ask? A high blood cholesterol level is one of the main risk factors for heart disease and stroke—two leading causes of death and two diseases that can strike without warning. If you’re serious about being healthy, you have to consider maintaining normal cholesterol levels. This Straight, No Chaser answers some frequently asked questions about cholesterol and tells you what you need to know, what you need to do and how that can make a difference in your lives.
Just what is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that your body needs to strengthen cell membranes and form steroids the body uses. Dietary cholesterol is mainly derived from animal fats.
How does cholesterol affect my health?
When you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it can build up on the walls of your arteries and form blockages.
- Blockage of arteries that supply the heart itself can lead to heart disease, including a heart attack.
- Blockage of arteries that supply the brain can cause a stroke.
- Blockage of arteries that supply the legs can cause peripheral artery disease.
Aren’t there different types of cholesterol? Is this important?
You will commonly hear of two types of cholesterol: LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and HDL (the “good” cholesterol).
- LDL cholesterol contributes to thick, hard substance known as plaque. Plaque can stiffen and clog arteries, resulting in reduced blood supply to the artery’s destination. This is called atherosclerosis and explains much of how hearts attack, strokes and peripheral artery disease develop.
- HDL cholesterol helps remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries and carries it to the liver for elimination from the body. As such, it is protective against heart attacks and strokes; low HDL levels have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease.
- It stands to reason that you want to maintain relatively higher HDL levels and lower LDL levels.
How do I lower the bad cholesterol?
It’s all about diet, exercise and better choices (or if you like A-B-C, try “Avoid tobacco, Be more active, Choose good nutrition.”
- Eating a healthy diet. If you remember to associate the word “saturated” with the word “fat”, remember this becomes easy. Saturated fats and trans fats tend to raise “bad” cholesterol levels (known as LDL), so avoid these. Polyunsaturated fats can actually lower blood cholesterol levels. Additionally, eating fiber also can help lower cholesterol (in addition to keeping your bowel movement more regular).
- Exercising regularly. The Surgeon General recommends that adults engage in moderate-intensity exercise for 2 hours and 30 minutes every week. Check this Straight, No Chaser for what moderate-intensity exercise is.
- Maintaining a healthy weight. Losing weight and keeping it off is likely to lower your cholesterol level. Being overweight or obese brings with it a strong probability that your cholesterol levels are elevated.
- Not smoking. If you smoke, quit as soon as possible.
If your physician deems it necessary, cholesterol-lowering medications can be prescribed, but this is not a reasonable first approach.
How do I increase the good cholesterol?
- Exercising regularly (see above) is the single best way to increase your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise (e.g. via five 30-minute sessions each week) can increase HDL 5-10%
- Lose weight: If you’re overweight or obese any amount of weight loss will help.
- Stop smoking: Your HDL levels will increase by up to 20% after you quit smoking.
- Eat healthy foods: Avoid trans fats and highly refined carbohydrates (e.g. white-flour products).
- Consider medications: Specifically, niacin is the most effective HDL-raising medication available. If you’re obtaining it over-the-counter, please consult your physician or SterlingMedicalAdvice.com expert consultant regarding appropriate usage.
Do I need to get checked?
It’s a great idea for you to know your baseline cholesterol level. Get it checked. You will likely be advised to have more frequent checks if you are discovered to have any of the following:
- Your total cholesterol is 200 mg/dL or higher.
- You are a man older than age 45 or a woman older than age 50 it’s a must, although The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that adults aged 20 years or older have their cholesterol checked every 5 years.
- Your HDL cholesterol is lower than 40 mg/dL.
- You have other risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Feel free to ask your SMA expert consultant any questions you may have on this topic.
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