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Importance of Cholesterol

cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat like substance that is found in your body’s cells. Your body needs some cholesterol to help make hormones, vitamin D, and helps digest foods. However, when there is too much cholesterol it can build up on your arteries increasing your risk for heart disease and stroke. Our liver makes all the cholesterol it needs. We get additional cholesterol from the foods we eat; specifically from meat, dairy, and other animal sources. Cholesterol travels through our blood in lipoproteins, which are made up of fat and proteins. There are two types of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol from our blood into our body’s cells. Low density lipoproteins (LDL) is also referred to as “bad cholesterol.” This is because it contributes to fatty buildup on our arteries. High density lipoproteins (HDL) are also referred to as “good cholesterol.” This type of cholesterol helps to carry LDL (bad cholesterol) away from our arteries. Triglycerides are the most common form of fat in our body. This comes from excess energy from your diet and having elevated triglycerides can also lead to heart disease or stroke. It is important to have healthy levels of LDL, HDL, total cholesterol, and triglycerides.


An elevated cholesterol and/or triglyceride level has no symptoms. Most people do not know their cholesterol is elevated until it is diagnosed through a blood test. Be sure to ask your doctor about having your cholesterol and triglyceride levels checked. These can be checked with a simple blood test ordered by your doctor. Typically adults should have their cholesterol checked every 5 years. A total cholesterol level of <200, and LDL level of <100, an HDL level of >40, and triglyceride level <150 are considered healthy levels.


Elevated cholesterol levels can run in families and also tend to rise as we age. There are some things we can do to try and prevent elevated cholesterol and triglycerides. Eating a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol can help keep these at a healthy level. Regular physical activity can help to lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and raise HDL (good cholesterol) levels. Being overweight can cause our cholesterol levels to rise. Losing weight can help to lower LDL and total cholesterol levels while helping to raise our HDL levels. Also smoking can contribute to heart disease and stroke so it is always recommended to quit smoking.
If you are diagnosed with elevated cholesterol and/or triglycerides, your doctor will most likely recommend eating a low fat, low cholesterol diet, maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise (at least 150 minutes per week), quitting smoking, and possibly taking a medication.

 

 

References & Resources
American Heart Association- http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/Cholesterol_UCM_001089_SubHomePage.jsp
Center for Disease Control- https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/materials_for_patients.htm
National Cholesterol Education Program-National Institute of Health- https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/wyntk.pdf
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute- https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc/
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