September is National Cholesterol Education Month

September is National Cholesterol Education Month, so I thought an article about cholesterol would be a good choice. If you want to live a long healthy, you’ll probably want to educate yourself and learn basics cholesterol facts, as well as what you can do to prevent it and control it. So, let’s start with what you should know.

What Should You Know About Cholesterol?

You should know cholesterol is a fatty substance made by the body and found in all of your cells. It is used by the body to build and maintain cell membranes, metabolize fat soluble vitamins, make sex hormones, and help digest foods. Cholesterol travels inside lipoproteins, which are made from fat (lipid) and proteins, and it is carried throughout your body.

There are five other things you should know about cholesterol. They are

  • Types of cholesterol
  • How cholesterol plaque affects you
  • Reasons for high cholesterol
  • How to determine your cholesterol levels
  • Treatment options

Types of Cholesterol 

There are three types of cholesterol, but the two types you need to worry about are High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL). HDLs are often referred to as “good” cholesterol and LDLs are known as “bad” cholesterol. The higher your HDLs, the lower your chance of getting heart disease. The higher your LDLs, the greater your chance of heart disease.

When you have high blood cholesterol you have too much cholesterol. A person with too much cholesterol does not have symptoms. However, high blood cholesterol does increase your chance for heart disease because it builds up in your arteries. This buildup is known as plaque, and plaque can cause your arteries to narrow, which can slow down blood flow.

How Cholesterol Plaque Affects You

Plaque can cause several problems. When it affects the coronary arteries it is called coronary artery disease. It can also harden your arteries, which is called atherosclerosis, and the progression of atherosclerosis is demonstrated in the illustration below. Sometimes plaque’s thin covering can rupture and get into the bloodstream. When that happens blockages can occur and a person can suffer either a heart attack or chest pain, known as angina. 

Reasons for High Cholesterol

The factors related to high blood cholesterol are

  • Age and sex. As people age their LDLs automatically rise, and by age 55, women have higher LDL levels than men.
  • Genetics. High cholesterol is inherited and is a genetic condition.
  • Diet, Weight, and Exercise. These three factors can be controlled, whereas age, sex, and heredity cannot. So, three ways you can help control plaque and your cholesterol are
    1. Control what you eat. Saturated fat, trans fats, and certain foods with high cholesterol—cheese, eggs, and meat—raise your cholesterol levels.
    2. Control your weight. When you are overweight it increases your cholesterol level.
    3. Exercise. Exercise raises your HDL levels and decreases your LDL levels.

How to Determine Your Cholesterol Level

The way to determine your cholesterol level is to see your doctor and have a test. The best test to determine if you have high blood cholesterol is a lipoprotein profile because it provides information about your HDLs, LDLs, total cholesterol, and triglycerides, which are another form of blood fat and can increase your risk for heart disease.

After you have the test and get the results, your doctor will discuss them with you. He will also compare your results against results similar to the following table, which shows ratings for total cholesterol, HDLs, LDLs, and triglycerides.

 Cholesterol Ratings Chart
Total Cholesterol Level
Total Cholesterol Rating
 Less than 200 mg/dL  Desirable
 200-239 mg/dL  Borderline High
 240 mg/dL and over  High
   
HDL Cholesterol Level HDL Rating
 Less than 40 mg/DL  Major risk factor for heart disease
 40-59 mg/dL  The higher the better
 60-mg/dL and over  Protects against heart disease
   
LDL Cholesterol Level LDL Rating
 Less than 100 mg/dL  Optimal
 100-129 mg/dL  Near/above optimal
 130-159 mg/dL  Borderline high
 160-189 mg/dL  High
 190 mg/dL and over  Very high
   
Triglycerides Triglyceride Rating
 Less than 149 mg/dL  Desirable
 150-199 mg/dL  Borderline high
 200 and over  High

Treatments

Depending on where you score on the cholesterol test, your doctor will advise a course of action. Treatment options can include: 

  • Lifestyle changes. Cholesterol-lowering diet, exercise, and weight loss or weight management.
  • Drug treatment. Cholesterol-lowering drugs—either statins, fibrates, bile acid sequestrants, nicotinic, or ezetimibe—may be needed.

More Information

If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, the best thing to do is to become educated about the condition. There are many good resources on the web, and some of those resources are listed below.

  • For more information about cholesterol, visit the National Institutes of Health and type in “cholesterol” in the search box.
  • Read A Good Cholesterol Flush for more information about how to increase good HDLs.
  • To learn more about cholesterol and heart disease visit the Live Healthier, Live Longer website.
  • To manage high cholesterol, visit Medline Plus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. They offer an educational and informative tutorial on cholesterol.  
  • If you are interested in heart healthy dishes, recipes are offered by Stay Young at Heart
  • If you are interested in participating in cholesterol research studies the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute are looking for volunteers. Visit their site for more information.

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