If the risk
of heart disease isn't enough to convince you to check your cholesterol
levels, here's another incentive:
Cholesterol Awareness Month, so now's the time to learn your cholesterol
100 million Americans, roughly one-third of the population, have
a combined cholesterol count over 200, which is considered a borderline-high
risk marker for heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
In that group, 41 million people are at high risk for heart disease
because their cholesterol is over 240.
cholesterol is a major risk for atherosclerosis and stroke,"
says Dr. Roger Blumenthal, a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins School
of Medicine. "But you can significantly reduce cholesterol
by a combination of improving your lifestyle and appropriate use
is not always a bad thing. A waxy substance produced by the liver,
it insulates the nerves, makes cell membranes and produces certain
hormones. However, the body produces enough for its own needs. If,
through a combination of poor diet or a genetic predisposition,
you produce more cholesterol than needed, the excess stays in the
blood, forming plaque that lines the arteries. Eventually, the arteries
harden and put you at risk for heart disease.
So, you should
first find out what your cholesterol levels are through a blood
test at a doctor's office. There are two types: LDL cholesterol
and HDL cholesterol.
LDL is often
called the "bad" cholesterol because it stays in the blood,
forming the plaque that lines the arteries. Eventually it hardens
the artery walls, making them thicker and less flexible so that
blood flow to the heart is restricted, which can cause heart attacks.
your LDL level should be less than 100 milligrams per deciliter
of blood," Blumenthal says.
HDL is known
as the "good" cholesterol because high levels are associated
with less heart attack risk, and Blumenthal says a count above 40
milligrams per deciliter is considered healthy.
two counts should be under 200, Blumenthal says, which is considered
is your level of triglycerides, which are fats present in the blood
that are associated with the risk of heart disease. Blumenthal says
they should not be higher than a count of 150 milligrams per deciliter
If your cholesterol
counts are over 200 and/or your triglyceride count is over 150,
the first thing to look at is changing your lifestyle.
at food and physical activity," says Connie Diekman, a nutritionist
and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association who works
with people at risk for heart disease.
a food history to get a snapshot of the whole diet, and then give
a person feedback on basic nutrition and how to relate it to their
goals of reducing their heart attack risk. Sometimes simple diet
changes will naturally pull the cholesterol in line," Diekman
The most common
problem with people's diets is that they are not eating enough servings
of fruits and vegetables, which should be at least five a day.
many people try to avoid fat in their foods, and wind up omitting
healthier fats from their diets.
oil, canola oil, fatty fish and peanuts, for instance, are good
fats that reduce cholesterol," Diekman says.
improving your diet isn't easy: "We're very much creatures
of habit and it takes some work." However, if you motivate
people in the right way, it can be done, she adds.
for instance, only works for about six months as a motivator,"
she says. "It's better to look at changing a diet as an opportunity
to enjoy new things."
working within your own dietary routines to find places to add good
foods, rather than focusing on taking away foods. Adding fruit to
your morning cereal, cooking vegetables along with the chicken you
roast, sticking sliced tomatoes or red pepper strips into your sandwich
are all ways to add nutrition without much strain.
you can shift the fat in your diet where you want it," she
says. "If someone has a treat they really don't want to give
up, I say, 'That's fine. We can work that in, but we have to shift
something else to make room for it.' "
equally important in reducing cholesterol, and Diekman recommends
her clients try for 30 to 40 minutes of aerobic exercise most days
of the week -- "walking, jogging, biking, dancing, whatever
they like to do."
it takes about six to eight weeks to see any decline in cholesterol
after making changes. Even then, the most you can expect from improvements
in your diet and increased exercise is a 5 percent to 10 percent
drop in cholesterol.
If your cholesterol
is still too high after lifestyle changes, then it's time to look
at medications, Blumenthal says.
and exercise are the cornerstones of cholesterol management, but
medication can be helpful," he says.
with high cholesterol who have never had a heart attack, doctors
can decide whether drugs are appropriate using a score that assesses
heart attack risk. Factoring in a person's age, total cholesterol
count, HDL level, smoking history and blood pressure, doctors can
predict the risk level for a heart attack within a decade. If the
risk is more than 20 percent, they can prescribe a cholesterol-lowering
A group of
drugs called statins, which decrease the production of cholesterol
in the liver, are the most common treatment for high cholesterol,
Blumenthal says. They reduce the risk of subsequent heart attacks
in people who have already had one, and are equally helpful for
people who have never had a heart attack but who are at risk for
one, he adds.
of what cholesterol is and what it does can be found at the
American Heart Association, which also offers a
cholesterol test so you can see how much you know about cholesterol.
Reference Source 101