Understanding Cholesterol

Cholesterol: Your Heart’s Best Friend and Worst Enemy

Cholesterol, the fatty-like substance that circulates in your blood, is one of the major controllable risk factors for heart disease. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States.

Believe it or not, some cholesterol is actually good and necessary for a healthy cardiovascular system. About one-third to one-fourth of your blood cholesterol is HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or “good” cholesterol. A higher level of HDL cholesterol is important for a healthy heart.

On the other hand, a high level of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or “bad” cholesterol puts you at increased risk for heart disease. That’s because when too much LDL cholesterol circulates in your blood, it can build up in the walls of your arteries where it may eventually cause heart attack or stroke.

Balancing Act

You should have your cholesterol tested on a regular basis to be sure you have enough HDL or “good” cholesterol, and not too much LDL, or “bad” cholesterol in your blood.

The most common measurement of cholesterol is called Total Blood Cholesterol and it measures both HDL and LDL levels. Having a Total Blood Cholesterol level less than 200 is considered best for heart health. However, your health care provider will interpret your cholesterol numbers based on other factors, such as your age and family history.

Talk to your health care provider about having your cholesterol levels checked at your next visit.  If you don't have a health care provider, we can help you find one.

Controlling Cholesterol

Don’t let cholesterol control you--take action to keep your cholesterol numbers within a healthy range. There are multiple factors that affect your overall cholesterol level. You can help control your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease by:

• eating fruits and vegetables, every day.
• eating more omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and olive oils
• exercising on a regular basis; at least 30 minutes each day
• not smoking
• avoiding saturated fats and trans fats, found in fast food and pre-packaged foods

If, despite exercise and a healthy diet, your LDL or “bad” cholesterol level is still high, your health care provider may recommend a medicine to help lower your levels. Medicine may also be prescribed to help raise HDL or “good” cholesterol levels, if needed.

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