What is Cholesterol?

Fats found in the body are called lipids. Cholesterol is one type of lipid. It is an important part of the walls of every body cell and it is also involved in the making of hormones and energy in the body.
 
Even though the body is able to make cholesterol, additional cholesterol is absorbed from the foods we eat. Too much cholesterol can build up in the walls of the arteries. This buildup can cause “hardening of the arteries,” which restricts blood flow to the heart.
 

Understanding Cholesterol

LDL – Low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol)
This is the main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries. Lower numbers are better.
 
HDL – High-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol)
Helps keep cholesterol from building up in the arteries and provides protection against heart disease. Higher numbers are better.
 
Triglycerides
This is another form of fat in your blood. A high triglyceride level raises your risk of heart disease.
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Total cholesterol (mg/dL)
·         Less than 200 is desirable
·         200-239 is borderline high*
·         Greater than 240 is high*
 
LDL cholesterol (mg/dL)
·         Less than 100 is optimal
·         100-129 is desirable
·         130-159 is borderline high*
·         160-189 is high*
·         190 is very high*
 
HDL cholesterol (mg/dL)
·         40 is abnormal*
·         40-59 is normal range
·         60 is optimal
 
Triglycerides (mg/dL)
·         Less than 150 normal
·         150-199 is borderline high*
·         200 or over is high*
 
* Indicates risk for heart disease
 

What causes High Cholesterol?

Diet
Saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol in the food you eat can increase blood cholesterol. Decrease fat in your diet!!
 
Weight
Being overweight is a risk factor for heart disease. Losing weight can help lower LDL and total cholesterol.
 
Physical Inactivity
Inactivity is a risk factor for heart disease. Regular physical activity can help lower LDL (bad) and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
 
Age & Gender
Men 45 years and older and women 55 years and older are more at risk of heart disease.
 
Heredity
Genes partially determine how much cholesterol your body produces. High cholesterol can run in families.
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How can I lower my cholesterol?

Eat a Healthy Diet
A healthy diet can help keep blood cholesterol levels down. Avoid saturated fat, trans fats, and dietary cholesterol, which tend to raise cholesterol levels. Other types of fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, can actually lower blood cholesterol levels. Eating fiber can also help lower cholesterol.
 
For some people, eating too many carbohydrates can lower HDL (good cholesterol) and raise triglycerides. Drinking alcohol can also raise triglycerides. Too much alcohol can cause high blood pressure, which increases the risk for heart disease and stroke.
 
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight or obese can raise your bad cholesterol levels. Losing weight can help lower your cholesterol. To determine whether your weight is in a healthy range, doctors often calculate a number called the body mass index (BMI). Doctors sometimes also use waist and hip measurements to measure a person's excess body fat. If you know your weight and height, you can compute your BMI at CDC's Assessing Your Weight website.
 
Exercise Regularly
Physical activity can help maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol. The Surgeon General recommends that adults should engage in moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
 
Don't Smoke
Smoking injures blood vessels and speeds up the hardening of the arteries. Smoking greatly increases a person's risk for heart disease and stroke. Breathing secondhand smoke increases a person's risk for a heart attack and other heart conditions. If you don't smoke, don't start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. Your doctor can suggest programs to help you stop smoking 
 
Treat High Cholesterol
If you have high cholesterol, your doctor may prescribe medications in addition to lifestyle changes. Controlling LDL cholesterol is the primary focus of treatment. Your treatment plan will depend on your current LDL level and risk for heart disease and stroke. Your risk for heart disease and stroke depends on other risk factors including high blood pressure, smoking status, age, HDL level, and family history of early heart disease. In addition, people with existing cardiovascular disease or diabetes are at high risk.

 

Source: High Cholesterol: Understand Your Risks. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 

Retrieved August 14, 2012