With all of the advertisements in magazines and on television, you’ve probably seen at least one about cholesterol. Chances are you’ve seen several. Talk of LDL, HDL, cholesterol lowering medications, etc. You probably find yourself wondering what all this means. As confusing as it may seem, your cholesterol is something you need to understand.
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found with the fats in your blood and in your body’s cells. And like a lot of things, a certain amount provides benefits while too much can cause damage. For example, cholesterol is important because it helps form cell membranes, hormones and other functions. But if cholesterol levels become too high, it can become a risk factor for coronary heart disease. If your total cholesterol is less than 200 mg/dL, your heart attack risk is relatively low, unless you have other risk factors.
Since cholesterol and fats cannot be dissolved in the blood, they have to be transported from cell to cell by special carriers called lipoproteins. This is where all of the talk about LDL and HDL comes in. LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein and is the major transporter of cholesterol in the body. If too much LDL cholesterol is present (160mg/dL or higher) it can cause a build up of plaque in the arteries, which can then lead to a heart attack or stroke. This is why LDL cholesterol is sometimes called the “bad” cholesterol.
HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein. HDL is responsible for carrying one-third to one-fourth of blood cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is also called the “good” cholesterol. This is because it’s believed that it carries cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver, where the body can then get rid of it. It is also believed to slow down plaque formation.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that your daily cholesterol intake be less than 300mg. If you have heart disease, your intake should be no more than 200mg. One way of helping to limit cholesterol intake is by reducing foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol. These are foods that typically come from animals: butter, cream, egg yolks, processed or fatty meats and fried foods. Instead, your diet should be high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat free dairy products, lean meat and fish.
Another way to manage cholesterol is through exercise. Exercise may increase HDL cholesterol in some people. It also may help to control weight, diabetes and high blood pressure. Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for developing heart disease.
Quitting smoking and monitoring alcohol consumption are two more ways to help manage your cholesterol. According to the AHA, smoking helps to lower HDL cholesterol levels and is one of the major factors for heart disease that you can change.
If following the above recommendations, along with the help of a physician, still doesn’t lower your cholesterol enough, there are medications available that may help. Talk to your physician to see if this might be beneficial to you.
While there is a lot being said about cholesterol through advertisements, what you really need to know is how to keep your HDL levels high and your LDL levels low. Talk to your doctor or contact the AHA for more information on how to do this.