Understanding Your Cholesterol
We hear a lot about the connection between health and cholesterol: good, bad, high, low—it can get confusing. It might be best to begin with a basic understanding of what cholesterol is and what it is not.
Cholesterol is actually made by our body and can be found in practically all of our cells. It’s a waxy, fat-like substance that is produced in the liver. The body needs it for the production of hormones, vitamin D and bile acids (important in breaking down fats into fatty acids). Cholesterol is also found in many of our foods (dairy products, eggs and meat), which can sometimes account for the imbalance in our cholesterol levels.
The different types of cholesterol
Generally when your doctor checks your cholesterol levels, s/he will check your LDL (low density lipoprotein) and HDL (high density lipoprotein) levels, as well as your triglycerides. You should know that in addition to LDL and HDL, the body also produces over 600 different types of lipids (fats) that are important to our health, but these two are the ones that are most often affiliated with cardiovascular disease and strokes. And since heart disease is still the #1 cause of death in the country, it is important to know what we can do to prevent it.
LDL is often referred to as the “bad” cholesterol, because high levels can increase the chances of heart disease and stroke. A good level LDL is less than 100mg/dL.
HDL is known as the “good” cholesterol because it cleanses the body of the “harmful stuff.” A good HDL level according to the most recent data by the Center for Disease Control, should be 40mg/dL or higher. High levels can reduce the potential of cardiovascular disease and stroke. However, recent reports from researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found that sometimes even the good cholesterol can become dysfunctional and turn against you, which might explain why, “all clinical trials of drugs designed to raise ‘good’ cholesterol levels have failed to show they improve heart health.” The culprit is a protein in HDL known as apoA1 that can oxidize and increase risk of heart disease. While it is not yet fully understood how this happens, there are tests in development to help identify levels of apoA1 in the bloodstream and assess health risks.
And while triglycerides are not cholesterol, they are a type of fat, so having good levels—less than 150mg/dL—improve the chances of good health.
What you can do to lower the risks of high cholesterol
Cholesterol only becomes a danger to the body when too much bad cholesterol in the blood stream begins to accumulate in arterial walls forming plaque and obstructing blood flow. HDL and LDL are like yin and yang, one is supposed to balance the other.
A number of factors can contribute to unhealthy levels of cholesterol: diet, weight and lack of physical activity—these you can do something about. However, there are factors that are not so easily controlled, like genetic predisposition, age and gender. Getting tested is the first line of defense. It is recommended that you begin having your cholesterol levels tested once you hit age 20.
If you are overweight, or have a genetic predisposition to high LDL, work with your health care professional/nutritionist on structuring a safe approach to diet and exercise that will help in reducing LDL levels. This could also mean taking some prescription medications.
Lowering your intake of foods high in saturated fats/trans fats, and increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables and fibers, including moderate use of alcohol, can go a long way toward keeping you on track to good health. A doctor may also recommend a vegetarian diet. Women post menopause should make sure to track LDL levels since they tend to increase around this time of your life, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
The most recent data indicates that more than 102 million Americans have high cholesterol levels and many are still too casual about the risks involved—often it goes unnoticed because there are generally no symptoms. Don’t wait to take action. Remember, the best offense in maintaining good health, is a good defense.
If you are on a prescribed medication for cholesterol management, or any other condition that makes you a high risk candidate for heart disease, and you need help affording your prescription, download a free Watertree Health Prescription Discount Card or request one be mailed to you. It provides significant discounts on almost all recommended medications (brand and generic). Most experts agree, taking your medicines as prescribed improves overall health and well-being and lowers cost of health care for everyone.
Instructions and Disclaimer: The content on this website is designed for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses. Always consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your health.
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