September is National Cholesterol Awareness Month

Elevated cholesterol levels can put you at high risk for heart disease. Find out if you have high cholesterol and encourage your loved ones to do the same!

We’re all about awareness and prevention here at Cardio Partners and AED.com so in honor of National Cholesterol Awareness month, this week’s post is chock-full of facts about cholesterol and some helpful tips for keeping your cholesterol in line.

Facts About Cholesterol

Did you know that more than 95 million American adults over the age of 20 have total cholesterol levels at or above 200 mg/dL, and that more than 29 million of these people have levels of 240 mg/dL or higher (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)?

There’s no way around it: having high blood cholesterol puts you at risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, people with high cholesterol have nearly twice the risk of heart disease as people with lower levels.

In 2011-2012, the CDC reported that 78 million Americans (nearly 37% the population) have high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) — that’s what most of us call “bad” cholesterol — and just 43 million (55%) of the population who need cholesterol medication are currently taking it.

Although high cholesterol is more common among adults, 7% of children and adolescents ages six to 19 have high total cholesterol (CDC).

You may be surprised to discover that cholesterol levels vary by race, gender, and ethnicity. Women are more likely to have high total cholesterol than men and Hispanics are more likely to have higher total cholesterol than African Americans, whites, or Asians.

What is Cholesterol, Exactly?

First of all, it’s not all bad. Your body needs some cholesterol to function. The trouble comes when you have too much of a good thing and it begins to accumulate on your arteries.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that can be found in every cell in your body. It’s a critical component in building cell membranes. Cholesterol is also used to make vitamin D, hormones like estrogen and testosterone, and fat-dissolving bile acids. Because it’s so important to your body’s ability to function, your liver and intestines produce approximately 80% of the cholesterol your body needs to stay healthy (Harvard Health Publishing).

Which means only 20% comes from the foods you eat!

What You Can (and Cannot) Control About Your Cholesterol

In many instances, the amount of LDL in your bloodstream and how fast your body removes it is determined by your genes. If high cholesterol runs in your family, be sure to keep a close eye on your levels. Although you can’t control your genetics, age, or gender, there’s still plenty you can do to help lower your overall cholesterol.

Exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking all help prevent high cholesterol and reduce your total cholesterol count.

There are three nutrients known to increase those dreaded LDL levels: saturated fats (found mostly in foods that come from animal proteins), trans fats (found primarily in foods made from hydrogenated oils and fats such as margarine or crackers), and cholesterol found in animal products such as egg yolks, butter, and cream.

If you have high cholesterol or high cholesterol runs in your family, medical experts recommend a diet that’s full of LDL-lowering foods (fruits, vegetables, and whole grain) and goes easy on LDL-rich fatty foods (meat, eggs, butter).

Here are a few foods that have been proven to lower your LDL (Harvard Health Publishing) while giving your HDL (high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol) a boost:

  • Oats
  • Barley and other whole grains
  • Eggplant, okra, and other low-calorie vegetables high in soluble fiber
  • Vegetable oils (in place of butter, margarine, lard, or shortening)
  • Apples, grapes, strawberries, and citrus fruits
  • Soy
  • Fatty fish

Know Your Cholesterol Numbers

High cholesterol has no symptoms, so many people don’t even know that their cholesterol levels are elevated. Your doctor can do a simple fasting blood test to check your levels. The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that adults get their cholesterol checked every five years.

The CDC recommends total cholesterol levels remain less than 200 mg/DL. Your LDL should be less than 100 mg/DL and your HDL should be 60 mg/DL or higher. Triglycerides should remain under 150 mg/DL.

Lowering your cholesterol can reduce your risk of having a heart attack, suffering from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) brought on by a heart attack (learn more about the difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack), undergoing heart bypass surgery or angioplasty, or dying from heart disease. If you haven’t had your cholesterol checked recently, make an appointment today!

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