Cholesterol: Get the Facts
Our goal is to help our customers become more educated about living a healthy lifestyle so they live longer. This week we’ll focus on cholesterol. We all hear this word and our immediate thought is that it’s all bad and something to avoid. However, there are two kinds of cholesterol and it’s not all bad for you.
So, what exactly is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all cells of the body.
We need cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest food. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs; however, cholesterol also is found in some of the foods you eat. Cholesterol travels through your bloodstream in small packages called lipoproteins. These packages are made of fat on the inside and proteins on the outside.
Two kinds of lipoproteins carry cholesterol throughout your body: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Having healthy levels of both types of lipoproteins is important:
LDL cholesterol sometimes is called “bad” cholesterol. A high LDL level leads to a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries, which are blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to your body. The higher the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood, the greater your chance is of getting heart disease.
HDL cholesterol sometimes is called “good” cholesterol. This is because it carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver. In turn, your liver removes the cholesterol from your body. The higher the level of HDL cholesterol in your blood, the LOWER your chance is of getting heart disease.
By itself, high cholesterol usually has no signs or symptoms, so most people don’t know that their cholesterol levels are too high.
High cholesterol is caused by several factors and there are a few things that you can do to help control your cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is found in foods that come from animal sources, such as egg yolks, meat, and cheese. Some foods have fats that raise your cholesterol level. For example, saturated fat raises your LDL cholesterol level more than anything else in your diet. Saturated fat is found in some meats, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods, and deep-fried and processed foods.
Trans fatty acids (trans fats) raise your LDL cholesterol and lower your HDL cholesterol which is the exact opposite of what you want. Trans fats are made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to harden it.Trans fats are found in some fried and processed foods.
Limiting foods with cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fats can help you control your cholesterol levels.
There is such a thing as good fat, though. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that are found in olive, peanut and canola oils can help improve HDL’s anti-inflammatory abilities. Nuts,fish and other foods containing omega-3 fatty acids are other good choices for improving your LDL cholesterol to HDL cholesterol ratio.
Your weight and physical activity can hurt or help your cholesterol levels. The lack of physical activity can lead to weight gain which tends to raise your LDL level, lower your HDL level, and increase your total cholesterol level. With routine physical activity you can lose weight and lower your LDL cholesterol. Being physically active also can help you raise your HDL cholesterol level.
Somethings that you cannot control, like heredity, and your sex and age, play a critical part of your cholesterol level. A condition called familial hypercholesterolemia causes very high LDL. Because this condition begins at birth, it may cause a heart attack at an early age due to plaque build-up in your arteries.
Starting at puberty, men often have lower levels of HDL cholesterol than women. As women and men age, their LDL cholesterol levels often rise. Before age 55, women usually have lower LDL cholesterol levels than men. However, after age 55, women can have higher LDL levels than men. This is one reason why heart disease is the number one killer of women, and because there are usually no symptoms of high cholesterol, it’s important to see your doctor on a regular basis and have your levels checked.
There are several risk factors that affect your LDL cholesterol goal:
- Cigarette smoking
- High blood pressure (140/90 mmHg or higher), or you’re on medicine to treat high blood pressure
- Low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (less than 40 mg/dL)
- Family history of early heart disease (heart disease in father or brother before age 55; heart disease in mother or sister before age 65)
- Age (men 45 years or older; women 55 years or older)
|If You Have||You Are in Category||Your LDL Goal Is|
|Heart disease, diabetes, or a risk score higher than 20%||I. High risk*||Less than 100 mg/dL|
|Two or more risk factors and a risk score of 10–20%||II. Moderately high risk||Less than 130 mg/dL|
|Two or more risk factors and a risk score lower than 10%||III. Moderate risk||Less than 130 mg/dL|
|One or no risk factors||IV. Low to moderate risk||Less than 160 mg/dL|
If you are currently taking prescription medications for high cholesterol, be sure to continue taking your medication as directed by your doctor. If you have any questions about the medicines that you are taking, be sure to talk to one or our pharmacists. They will be able to address any concerns you may have.
Sources: NIH and WebMD