So let’s do a little educating, and we’ll keep it simple.
Think of cholesterol as fat in your blood. (It really isn’t, but the image is helpful—to me, anyway.) Your body needs it, but too much is bad as it builds up on the walls of your blood vessels and causes blockages which can cause heart disease and strokes.
Good vs. evil
HDL (high density lipoprotein) is the “good” cholesterol. You want to keep the “high” one high (over 40 mg/dL*).
LDL (low density-lipoprotein) is the “bad” cholesterol. You want to keep the “low” one low (under 100 mg/dL*).
When we talk about high cholesterol, we’re talking about LDL. Too much causes clogs in the plumbing.
How’s that for simple?
For a more complete, “dummified” version, see here.
According to the CDC seventy-one million (~30%) American adults have high cholesterol, but only one-third of those have the condition under control. If my math is correct, that means 20% of the American population has a cholesterol problem that is not being addressed.
Symptoms of high cholesterol
How do I know I have it?
A very simple blood test (aka “lipid panel”) can tell you. The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that adults aged 20 years or older have their cholesterol checked every 5 years. You should test more often if:
- Your total cholesterol is 200 mg/dL or higher.
- You are a man older than age 45 or a woman older than age 50.
- Your HDL is lower than 40 mg/dL.
- You have other risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Can you prevent or treat high cholesterol?
You can definitely influence it, though some may have inherited cholesterol issues. In general:
- Eat a healthy diet. Avoid saturated fats and trans fats. Other types of fats, such as polyunsaturated fats, can actually lower blood cholesterol levels. Eating fiber also can help lower cholesterol.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity can help raise HDL cholesterol and lower LDL. The Surgeon General recommends that adults engage in moderate-intensity exercise for 2 hours and 30 minutes every week. More is better.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can raise your cholesterol levels. Losing weight can help lower your cholesterol. By weight, that means fat.
- Don’t smoke. If you smoke, quit as soon as possible.
It all sounds easy, but we all know it’s not. You have to make the choice. If you don’t, you risk dying earlier than you plan to. You want to move that check-out date as far down the road as you can. At least I do.
In the meantime, take a simple blood test to see if you’re at risk. If you are, your doctor can prescribe meds that will bring your numbers down until you can make the life changes needed. And be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions and stay on your medications, if prescribed, to control your cholesterol.
*Your doctor may have different guidelines for you based on other health factors.