The Skinny on Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a white, waxy fat found naturally in every body. Cholesterol is used by your body to build cell walls and make certain Hormones, Vitamin D and digestive juices.

However, too much cholesterol can clog your arteries and eventually choke off the supply of blood to the heart. That is why high cholesterol is a leading risk factor for heart disease. Since heart disease is the leading cause of death among adults in America, high cholesterol must be taken seriously and treated aggressively.

How can you tell if your cholesterol level is high?

A simple blood test conducted by a physician, nurse or qualified medical technician will indicate the amount and kinds of cholesterol in your blood. These test results should be shown to and discussed with your physician if he/she did not conduct the test.

Cholesterol levels are generally categorized as high (above 239), borderline (200 - 239), or desirable (below 200). However, these ranges are extremely general and do not address the HDL (high density lipoproteins) versus LDL (low density lipoproteins) levels, the presence or absence of existing heart disease, nor account for other risk factors.

HDL, often referred to as "good cholesterol, cleanses the arteries actually carrying cholesterol away from the blood vessels and tissues toward the liver for excretion. LDL, often referred to as "bad cholesterol", builds up and clogs arteries, working in reverse of the IIDL.

Borderline cholesterol levels combined with two or more other risk factors put patients at high risk for heart disease. The other risk factors include: a sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, smoking, family history heart disease, being male, diabetes, and obesity.

Your physician will consider many variables when determining your acceptable cholesterol levels. The number of other existing risk factors and whether heart disease is already present change the "acceptable" range of cholesterol levels for individual patients and may signal your physician to become more aggressive in treatment and care planning. Cholesterol levels in relation to other factors should be discussed with your physician to establish your acceptable cholesterol levels.

How you can combat undesirable cholesterol?

Diet and exercise are the initial ways to combat undesirable cholesterol. However, genetic makeup will create vast variations in individual cholesterol levels independently of diet and exercise.

Nonetheless, a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet can usually reduce your blood cholesterol by about 10 to 15 %, lowering your risk of heart disease by 20 to 30 %.

Reduce saturated fats, which raise the level of harmful LDL cholesterol. Limit butter, whole milk products, red meat, meat fat, tropical oils and hydrogenated vegetable oils. Eat unsaturated fats. Polyunsaturates lower both HDL and LDL levels and include corn, safflower and sunflower seed oils. Monosaturates lower LDL but leave HDL intact, and include olive and canola oils.

Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise three or four times a week may be all you need to raise the level of beneficial HDL in your bloodstream. Suggested exercises include:

brisk walking, swimming, cycling, dancing, skating, jumping rope, jogging and aerobics. Please consult your physician prior to starting an exercise program.

Several excellent prescription medications are also available for patients who cannot control cholesterol through diet and exercise alone. These medications must be administered and patient conditions monitored under the care of a physician.


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