A focus on Cholesterol; What you need to know
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found in your bloodstream and in all your body’s cells. Cholesterol has an important role, such as forming cell membranes and some hormones.
But too much cholesterol can lead to artery blockages, which may result in heart attacks and strokes. Elevated cholesterol levels can run in families (genetic).
Cholesterol cannot dissolve in your blood. It has to be carried to and from your cells by special movers called lipoproteins. Two of these are very important:
Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL)
- Known as “bad cholesterol”
- High levels lead to:
- Atherosclerosis, or clogging of the arteries
- Heart attack and stroke
- Your ideal LDL level should be under 100 mg/dL
- Under 70 mg/dL if you already have heart disease
High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL)
- Known as “good cholesterol”
- Carries cholesterol to the liver to be passed from your body
- Removes excess cholesterol from plaque
- Low levels lead to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke
- Your ideal HDL level should be greater than 60 mg/dL
You can improve your LDL and HDL levels by:
- Limiting your daily intake of:
- Saturated fats (butter, bacon, animal fat, etc.)
- Refined carbohydrates
- Increasing your intake of:
- Whole grains
- Increasing your amount of physical activity
- Stopping smoking
- Drinking alcohol in moderation
- Taking medication (consult your physician)
What can you do? Tips to keep you safe
Have your cholesterol checked:
There are usually no signs or symptoms of high blood cholesterol, so it is important to have your blood cholesterol checked. A simple blood test can be done by your doctor to check your blood cholesterol level. A lipoprotein profile can be done to measure several different kinds of cholesterol as well as triglycerides (another kind of fat found in the blood).
Maintain a healthy diet:
An overall healthy diet can help to maintain normal blood cholesterol levels. Saturated fat, trans fats, and dietary cholesterol tend to raise blood cholesterol levels. Other types of fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can help to lower blood cholesterol levels. Getting enough soluble fiber in the diet can also help to lower cholesterol. For some people, a diet that has too many carbohydrates can lower HDL (the good cholesterol) and raise triglycerides. Alcohol can also raise triglycerides, and excessive alcohol use can lead to high blood pressure, another risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
Maintain a healthy weight:
Being overweight or obese can raise your bad cholesterol levels. Losing weight can help you lower your blood cholesterol levels. Healthy weight status in adults is usually assessed by using weight and height to compute a number called the “body mass index” (BMI). BMI is used because it relates to the amount of body fat for most people. An adult who has a BMI of 30 or higher is considered to be obese. Overweight is a BMI between 25 and 29.9. Normal weight is a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9. Other measures of excess body fat may include waist measurements or waist and hip measurements.
Physical activity can help to maintain a healthy weight and lower blood cholesterol levels. The Surgeon General recommends that adults should engage in moderate–level physical activities for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
Smoking injures blood vessels and speeds up the process of hardening of the arteries. Further, smoking is a major risk for heart disease and stroke. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. Quitting smoking lowers one’s risk of heart attack and stroke. Your doctor can suggest programs to help you quit smoking.
Healthy levels for adults* are in general:
- Total cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/dL.
- Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol): Less than 100 mg/dL.
- High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (“good” cholesterol): 60 mg/dL or higher.
- Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dL.
- The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that healthy adults have their cholesterol levels checked once every 5 years.
- * Persons with heart disease, diabetes, or other chronic conditions should consult their physicians.
- Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol): LDL carries throughout the bloodstream as LDL-C, also known as “bad” cholesterol. If you have too much LDL-C in your bloodstream, it can become a danger to your health and can lead to potentially serious conditions.
- High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (“good” cholesterol): HDL carries cholesterol throughout the bloodstream as HDL-C, also known as “good” cholesterol because it helps return cholesterol to the liver, where it can be eliminated from the body.
- Triglycerides: Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood. They are a major source of energy and the most common type of fat in your body. When you eat, your body uses the calories it needs for quick energy. Extra calories, regardless of the type of food eaten, are turned into triglycerides and stored in fat cells to be used later. If you regularly eat more calories than you burn, you may have high triglycerides.
For more information about cholesterol, contact your health care provider, your UCA provider, or you can visit the American Heart Association’s Web site at: