September Health Month: Cholesterol


OUR BODIES NEED CHOLESTEROL. BUT NOT TOO MUCH.

CHOLESTEROL ISN'T A FOUR-LETTER WORD.

Let's get one thing straight. Cholesterol by itself is not a bad word. It's a naturally occurring waxy substance that we all have and need. It's produced by your body - mainly your liver - and circulated through your blood.

Your body produces all the cholesterol you need, but cholesterol is also found in animal products and by-products such as meat, milk, cheese, and butter. When your diet is high in saturated and trans fats, this is added to the cholesterol that your liver is already making. This excess, over time, is what causes things to go wrong.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE NORMAL

As you may know, there are both good and bad types of cholesterol. Your body needs both, but too much of one (LDL or bad cholesterol) or not enough of the other (HDL or good cholesterol) can put you at risk for coronary heart disease, heart attack or stroke. If you're an adult age 20+, it's recommended to have a cholesterol screening every four to six years.

There are usually no symptoms of high cholesterol, so these routine checks help you understand your current levels of each cholesterol type. This way, you can know what kinds of adjustments to make to keep your total cholesterol number as "normal" as possible. According to the American Heart Association, a total cholesterol score of less than 180 mg/dL is optimal.

If your cholesterol levels are high, be sure to follow all prescription and lifestyle recommendations from your doctor to help manage your levels.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

  • LDL: This is the "bad" cholesterol. It contributes to plaque deposits that thicken the arteries, making them less flexible.
  • HDL: This is the "good" cholesterol. It removes LDL cholesterol from arteries and protects against heart attack and stroke.
  • Triglycerides: This is a type of fat that stores excess energy from your diet. It contributes to your total cholesterol number and can be elevated by obesity, physical inactivity, smoke and alcohol and carbohydrate-rich diets.

GET YOUR FATS STRAIGHT

Fats are essential to a healthy diet. But to keep your LDL numbers down, get better at reading labels and follow these daily guidelines:

  • Limit saturated fats to no more than 7 percent of your total calories
  • Get 25 - 35 percent of your total calories from fats in foods like fish, nuts and olive oils
  • Limit trans fats to less than 1 percent of your total daily calories
  • Consume fewer than 300 mg of cholesterol per day
  • Focus on eating monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as nuts, olive oil, avocados and fish

YOU'RE NEVER TOO YOUNG TO REDUCE RISK

Everyone should start getting their cholesterol tested at age 20. But here are some heart-healthy tips that'll keep you ahead of the curve:

  • Get 40 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 to 4 times per week*
  • Enjoy a low-cholesterol diet with fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Limit consumption of red meat and sugary foods and drinks
  • Avoid tobacco smoke and limit alcohol consumption
  • Ask your doctor about drug therapies if you're at a higher risk

* Please speak to your doctor before you begin an exercise program.

THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN'

New guidelines are changing the way doctors prescribe treatment for high cholesterol. The guidelines focus on cholesterol, lifestyle, obesity and risk assessment. Doctors then recommend treatment options based on an individual's current health and risk of a heart attack or stroke. Talk to your doctor about the new treatment guidelines for high cholesterol.

To learn more about Cholesterol go to www.heart.org or talk with your doctor during your next visit.

This material is provided for informational use only and should not be construed as medical advice or used in place of consulting a licensed professional. You should consult with an applicable licensed professional to determine what is right for you.

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