Americans are told very often to watch and to lower their cholesterol. Various foods even promise to help lower your cholesterol and improve your heart health. But why is this so important?
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol itself is not a bad thing, which is why it’s important to understand what the substance is, what it does, and how it’s created.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, “Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all cells of the body. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods.”
Not only is cholesterol made naturally in your body, but it is also found in the foods you eat. This is why we are able to “lower” our cholesterol in the foods we eat, in order to prevent future health issues.
There are also “good” and “bad” types of cholesterol. According to the American Heart Association, “Cholesterol can’t dissolve in the blood. It must be transported through your bloodstream by carriers called lipoproteins, which got their name because they’re made of fat (lipid) and proteins.”
The two types of cholesterol are called LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein). LDL’s are “Bad” because “it contributes to plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries and make them less flexible” (American Heart Association). HDL’s are “Good” because “it helps remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries” (American Heart Association).
What Does “Bad” Cholesterol Do?
Too much of the LDL can lead to heart attacks or stroke from the clogging of your arteries. According to an article from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Seventy-one million American adults have high cholesterol, but only one-third of them have the condition under control.” High cholesterol is very common, but can be prevented with various lifestyle changes.
September has been named National Cholesterol Education Month in order to raise awareness for cholesterol screening tests and lifestyle changes. As high cholesterol has no symptoms, it’s important to take the steps to understand if you have it. In addition to various lifestyle changes, your doctor may prescribe medication to help keep your levels in check.
How Can You Prevent High Cholesterol?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer 4 ways to treat high cholesterol in order to prevent heart disease or stroke:
- “Eating a healthy diet. Avoid saturated fats and trans fats, which tend to raise cholesterol levels. Other types of fats, such as polyunsaturated fats, can actually lower blood cholesterol levels. Eating fiber also can help lower cholesterol.”
- “Exercising regularly. Physical activity can help lower cholesterol. The Surgeon General recommends that adults engage in moderate-intensity exercise for 2 hours and 30 minutes every week.”
- “Maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can raise your cholesterol levels. Losing weight can help lower your cholesterol.”
- “Not smoking. If you smoke, quit as soon as possible.”
In addition to living out a healthy lifestyle, even if you think you may not have high cholesterol, it’s important to your health that you take a screening test. Mayo Clinic recommends getting your cholesterol checked starting at age 18, every 5 years. Those with a higher risk of heart disease may require more frequent testing so make sure to talk to your doctor.
Heart Disease is a major issue in our country and should be prevented as much as possible. Take steps to prevent high cholesterol this September in your life and spread the news to friends and family. Awareness is the first step towards change – take that first step today!
–Emily Sanville, Digital Communications Coordinator