Everyone has cholesterol in their body. In fact, your body needs cholesterol to function properly. However, some people have a problem where their body makes too much cholesterol and that is when doctors must be concerned. Too much cholesterol in your system can put you at a high risk for a heart attack, stroke or cardiovascular disease.
Cholesterol is made in the liver. High cholesterol levels can be caused from diets that are high in saturated fats and cholesterol. It can also be caused from genetic factors. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, you should watch your cholesterol levels carefully, since levels may creep up at any time.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty like substance in the blood that is made by our liver. It has many important functions including the manufacture of hormones! Fat is absorbed in your intestine and travels to the liver. Cholesterol and fat leave the liver and travel together as “lipoproteins” throughout the body. When there is too much cholesterol, it can get stuck on the inside of your blood vessels where it starts a process of narrowing.
As this waxy substance known as “plaque” builds up inside the blood vessels (a condition called atherosclerosis), it can cause your arteries to narrow blocking the vital flow of blood to your body. This blockage causes your heart to work harder to pump blood. When this blockage occurs in the arteries that nourish the heart, your heart is deprived of oxygen and you may experience chest pain (angina) or a heart attack.
Know Your Numbers!
The first step to heart-healthy living is to have your blood tested to determine its cholesterol values. This can be done by drawing blood and sending it to a lab or by a simple finger-stick test that gives an instant result. Once you know you have a problem with cholesterol, you can take active steps to reduce it. Remember, knowledge is power!
CHOLESTEROL LEVELS DEFINED:
Desirable* Borderline High
Total < 200 200-239 > 239
LDL (Lethal) < 130 130-159 > 159
HDL (Healthy) > 59 40-59 < 40
* These levels are for normal individuals. Those with risk factors should consult a physician for their proper level.
Cholesterol Ratio (Total / HDL) < 4.1
Fasting Triglycerides < 150
Values other than ratio are mg/dL.
The Different Types of Cholesterol:
Your total blood cholesterol is made up of “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol:
- LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is the “lethal” or “bad” cholesterol because it sticks easily to the sides of the walls of an artery and causes the reactions that progress to atherosclerosis.
- HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is the “healthy” or “good” cholesterol because it seeks out and removes the cholesterol stuck to the vessel walls and returns it to the liver for processing.
Managing High Cholesterol
Living a healthy lifestyle is the first step to reducing your cholesterol:
- Eat a heart-healthy diet that is low in salt but high in fiber. Avoid food high in saturated fat such as milk products, red meats, spreads. Total sodium intake should be under 2,400 mg a day. Cook your foods without salt and use olive oil rather than butter. Eat protein- rich legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Avoid foods with a high glycemic index such as refined sugars, cakes and candies.
- Stop smoking by identifying when you most like to smoke and then changing your daily habits to avoid those times. Smoking constricts your blood vessels, which leads to high blood pressure. It also reduces the HDL, the good cholesterol that your body needs!
- Exercise and maintain a healthy weight to lower your cholesterol and your blood pressure. Exercising helps to increase your HDL, the “healthy” cholesterol, and reduce your total cholesterol. A good rule of thumb is to strive for 30 minutes of exercise a day, and, for those who are able to, at least 6 minutes of cardiac exercise a day. Whenever possible, take the stairs rather than the elevator, and walk rather than drive.
- Consider supplements. Talk to your doctor about vitamin supplements that may help to raise your HDL. Be your own advocate— knowledge is power!
When changes to your lifestyle still don’t lower your cholesterol, your doctor may prescribe medication to lower it. When this happens it is extremely important that you take the medication exactly as the doctor ordered. You should not try to reduce the amount of medication without your doctor’s supervision. The key to managing cholesterol is to catch the problem before it causes damage to your body! Prevention = LIFE!