The good, the bad, and some hints to help you manage it
The risks of high cholesterol have been in the news for decades now. You might have read articles about it, or talked to your healthcare professionals about it during a routine exam. But what exactly is it? What does it do, and why do our bodies need it? What can be done to bring it back into a normal range?
September is Cholesterol Awareness Month, so what better way to celebrate it than to get informed? Here are some facts and helpful hints for keeping your cholesterol levels where they should be:
Did You Know?
- Starting at age 20, you should have your cholesterol levels checked every five years.
- There are no outward signs of high cholesterol, but a simple blood test can let you know if yours is too high.
- More than 100 million Americans are at increased risk for heart disease due to cholesterol levels at or above 200 mg/dL (one-third of those have levels at 240 mg/dL or higher).
- If you find out your levels are too high, there are steps you can take to lower them.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that helps your body create cells. Your liver and intestines make about 80% of the cholesterol your body needs (the rest comes from your diet), and it moves through the body in your blood.
What foods contain or lead to high cholesterol?
Certain foods (animal sources such as dairy, meat, and poultry; processed foods; and hydrogenated vegetable oils) also contain cholesterol. Foods that contain trans fats (including fried foods and many processed baked goods) can cause your liver to overproduce cholesterol and send too much of it into your system. Then problems can arise: Over time, the fatty build-up of bad cholesterol can narrow the arteries, impeding blood flow, which can lead to arterial disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Types of cholesterol
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is considered the “bad” kind of cholesterol. It contributes to build-up in the arteries. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is the “good” kind, because it helps whisk away the bad LDL, and in turn keep the arteries clear. Triglycerides are a common fat in the body, but a higher triglyceride level can add to unwanted build-up in the arteries when it’s paired with a low HDL level or a high LDL level.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, we should aim for the following ranges:
||Less than 170 mg/dL
||Less than 110 mg/dL
||35 mg/dL or higher
||Less than 150 mg/dL
What you can do to lower your cholesterol
Whether you've recently learned that your cholesterol is on the high side, or you want to maintain healthy levels, there steps you can take:
- Get moving. Commit to a regular exercise routine. Even a 30-minute walk three times a week will help.
- Eat a balanced, healthy diet. Foods that are naturally lower cholesterol, or will help you maintain good levels include lots of veggies and fruits; whole grains and oats; nuts, beans, garlic, and black tea; and even red wine and chocolate (in moderation).
- Maintain a healthy weight for your age and body type.
- Quit smoking—or better yet, don't ever start.
Sometimes, genetics can play a role in high cholesterol. If lifestyle changes aren’t achieving the results you need, your physician may prescribe you medications to lower your levels.
If you haven’t had your cholesterol checked in the last five years, September is the perfect time to schedule an appointment with your doctor. The knowledge you gain will help you map out a plan for a healthy lifestyle that can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
This article is part of the Harris Casel Institute’s weekly blog. We conveniently offer many career training programs at our campus in Melbourne, FL. Contact us online for more info!