Understanding and improving cholesterol is important for men and women of all ages. Too much cholesterol contributes to a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, such as heart disease and stroke.
Below are common risk factors for developing heart disease.
It may surprise you to know that cholesterol itself isn’t bad. It is a soft, fat-like substance that your body produces naturally. Cholesterol is in the bloodstream and in your body’s cells. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs and uses it to keep you healthy. It helps make new cells, some hormones and substances that help digest foods.
Cholesterol is part of a healthy body. But having too much of it in your blood can be a problem. In addition to what your body makes, you also get cholesterol from some foods you eat. The main source of cholesterol in foods comes from animal products such as meat, cheese and butter.
Your healthcare provider will do a blood test called a “fasting lipoprotein profile” to measure your cholesterol levels. It assesses several types of fat in the blood. It is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). The test gives you four results: total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fats).
The ideal total cholesterol is less than 180 mg/dL.
New prevention guidelines have concluded that an approach that goes beyond cholesterol levels alone and considers overall risk assessment and reduction is better. It’s still important to know your numbers.
Cholesterol moves through your bloodstream to your body’s cells in special carriers. These are called lipoproteins. These are several kinds of lipoproteins. The two most important are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
LDL cholesterol is known as “bad” cholesterol. The body’s tissues use some of this cholesterol to build cells. But when you have too much of it, LDL can build up inside your arteries. Together with other substances, it can form plaque (a thick, hard, fatty deposit). Plaque narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow. This is called atherosclerosis.
Plaque may partially or totally block the blood’s flow through an artery, if your heart’s arteries become so narrow that your heart can’t get enough blood, it can lead to chest pain called angina. Even worse, if the plaque splits open, causing a blood clot to form, blood flow to part of the heart muscle can be blocked. This causes a heart attack. And if a clot blocks blood flow to part of the brain, a stroke results.
Your doctors may recommend lifestyle changes or medication to lower your LDL if your risk factors show you have an increased risk for heart disease or stroke.
HDL cholesterol is called “good” cholesterol. Having a high level of HDL can lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. HDL takes cholesterol away from your arteries and back to the liver. There, it’s processed so that excess can be passed from your body. HDL may also remove cholesterol from plaque in the arteries
Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body. They’re also a major energy source. They come from food and your body also makes them.
Certain factors increase your levels of triglycerides and speed up atherosclerosis. As people get older or gain excess weight (or both), their triglyceride and cholesterol levels tend to rise. Being physically inactive, smoking, drinking too much alcohol and eating too many carbohydrates can also increase triglycerides.
Knowing your numbers is important!
The American Heart Association recommends that you be aware of four key numbers: Total cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index (BMI).
These numbers are important because they will allow you and your healthcare provider to determine your risk for developing cardiovascular disease caused by artherosclerosis. This includes conditions such as angina (chest pain), heart attack, stroke (caused by blood clots) and peripheral artery disease (PAD).
Ideal numbers for most adults are:
|Total Cholesterol||Less than 180 mg/dL|
|Blood pressure||Less than 120/80 mmHg|
|Fasting blood sugar||Less than 100 mg/dL|
|Body mass index (BMI)||Less than 25 kg/m2|
Making healthy lifestyle changes is the first step in reducing your risk. However, sometimes thses changes alone won’t reduce your risk enough.
The American Heart Association recommends that you and your healthcare provider discuss the pros and cons of medical treatment(s) if you are at high risk.
People at high risk include the four major groups below.
It is important to talk to your healthcare provider about your 10-year risk. He or she will assess your risk factors to determine your level of risk and work with you to choose the best treatment approach.
The food you eat affects your cholesterol, as well as your blood pressure, blood sugar and weight. Your healthcare provider can help you develop a healthy eating plan.
Saturated fats are the main dietary cause of high blood cholesterol. They are found naturally in many foods. They mostly come from animal and dairy sources, such as meat, poultry with skin, cream, butter, cheese and other dairy products made from whole or reduced fat (2%) milk.
The American Heart Association recommends that adukts who would benefit from lowering LDL cholesterol limit their saturated fat intake to 5 to 6 percent of total calories each day. For a person who needs 2,000 calories a day, this in about 11 to 13 grams of saturated fat.
Trans fats unsaturatef, but they can raise total and LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (good) cholesterol. Trans fats occur when hydrogen is added to vegetable oils. This process is known hydrogenation. It converts oils to solids, which improves a food’s shelf life.
Sources of trans fats include commercially baked goods, fried foods and snack foods. They’re also found in foods made with partially hydrogentaed vegetables oils, vegetable shortening or stick margarine.
Everyone can benefit by limiting trans fats. Reducing your trans fat intake is especially important if your doctor has said you should lower your LDL cholesterol.
Not all fats are bad for your cholesterol levels. Both Polyunsaturatef and monounsaturated fats may help lower LDL cholesterol level.
To improve your cholesterol, choose foods low in saturated and trans fats. These fats are usually found in meat, dairy foods and products that are commercially baked or fried. Cutting back on these foods can reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease by lowering your LDL cholesterol level. Try these tips to cut down on saturated fat and trans fat.
Eating a healthy diet, including foods with low levels of saturated and trans fats, can help your improve your cholesterol, and reach and maintain a healthy weight and a normal blood pressure. This can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as other chronic health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, arthirtis and some forms of cancer.
The following tips, based on a daily intake of 2,000 calories, can help you get started.
Make reading food labels at the store a habit. They’ll you choose foods more wisely. Many foods have saturated and trans fats that can raise your cholesterol. Watch for these key terms: