Cholesterol – maintaining a healthy balance
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is found in all cells of the body. It is not only found in the foods you eat – your body also makes it naturally. Some cholesterol is good for you. You need it in order for your body to make hormones, vitamin D and substances that help you digest foods. But, when there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it can lead to serious problems.
There are two kinds of cholesterol at work in your body, and it’s important to maintain healthy levels of each.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is sometimes called “good” cholesterol. It carries cholesterol from other parts of your body to your liver, which works to remove cholesterol from your body.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is sometimes called “bad” cholesterol. The more you have of LDL in your blood, the greater chance you have of developing heart disease.
Having a high amount of LDL in your blood doesn’t always cause symptoms, so without having your cholesterol level checked, you may not even be aware there is a problem. Cholesterol can slowly build up in the blood vessels that deliver oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. That build-up is called plaque, which can cause those blood vessels to narrow over time. It is called atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
When the arteries that lead into the heart are affected or blocked, you are said to have coronary heart disease (CAD). Large amounts of plaque build-up may prevent blood from returning to the heart, and may cause a heart attack, Once a heart attack begins, every minute that passes means more heart muscle damage. It is crucial for anyone who experiences heart attack symptoms to call 911 right away. Going to a hospital with a Chest Pain Center can significantly reduce the time it takes for a patient experiencing symptoms of a possible heart attack to see a doctor.
Lowering your cholesterol may slow down, reduce or even stop plaque from building up. You can achieve this by watching what you eat. Foods high in saturated fat or that contain trans fat raise your cholesterol levels. Check the food nutrition label if you are unsure about how much fat is in a certain food. Maintaining a healthy weight and staying active can also lower your LDL level.
Your doctor can check your cholesterol with a simple blood test during your physical. You will likely not be allowed to eat or drink anything for nine to 12 hours before the test. Cholesterol is measured in milligrams (mg) per deciliter (dL) of blood. Your total cholesterol number should be less than 200 mg/dL. Anything between 200 and 239 mg/dL is considered borderline high, and anything over 240 mg/dL is considered high.
Triglycerides are another form of fat in your blood and can also raise your risk for heart disease. High levels of triglycerides often occur along with high levels of cholesterol. If you have triglyceride levels that are borderline high (150–199 mg/dL) or high (200 mg/dL or more), you may need treatment. Things that can increase triglyceride levels include:
- Being overweight
- Physical inactivity
- Excessive alcohol use
- Very high carbohydrate diet
- Certain diseases and drugs
- Genetic disorders.
If your cholesterol or triglycerides are too high, talk with your doctor about lowering your risk of heart disease. The two main ways to lower your cholesterol are through lifestyle changes, including improving your diet and physical activity, and through the use of medications that help control cholesterol levels.
To find a doctor near you, call 877-904-4YOU or visit www.TheChristHospital.com.