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What You Need to Know About Cholesterol

September is National Cholesterol Education Month, and it is estimated more than 35 million Americans suffer from high cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in your body and many foods. Your body needs cholesterol to function normally, but too much cholesterol can build up in your arteries. After a while, these deposits narrow your arteries, putting you at risk for heart disease and stroke.

Have You Checked Your Cholesterol Recently?

High cholesterol usually doesn't have any symptoms. As a result, many people do not know that their cholesterol levels are too high. However, a simple blood test can be done to check your cholesterol levels. High cholesterol can be controlled through lifestyle changes or if it is not enough, through medications. High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. If you think you may be at risk for high cholesterol, talk to your doctor or our team.

What Do My Cholesterol Numbers Mean?

After having your cholesterol checked, you should be given a document that lists your results. There are four basic values provided to all patients, which are Total Cholesterol (TC), Triglycerides (TG), High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL), and Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL). Interestingly, all these numbers are related by a simple equation:

TC = HDL + LDL + (TG/5)

Total Cholesterol involves all elements of your body’s cholesterol and gives you an overall idea of where you are at. The goal for TC is <200mg/dl. HDL, also known as the good cholesterol, should be >40mg/dl in men and >50mg/dl in women. LDL, or the bad cholesterol, should be <100mg/dl. Finally, the goal for TGs is <150mg/dl. (all goals according to the National Institutes of Health)

The value that is elevated will determine your treatment recommendations. LDL is the primary number that physicians look at to determine the need for drug therapy. Make sure to discuss your results with your physician is any of the values is elevated.

What Can I Do to Improve My Cholesterol Levels

Many things may put you at risk for high cholesterol. You cannot control some of these risks such as your age, gender, or family history. Fortunately, the list of things you can control is longer: It includes your weight, diet, exercise, blood sugar, and smoking.

Let’s take a look at what this might mean for you.

Maybe you have put on a few (or more than a few) pounds in the last couple of years. Or maybe the New Year’s Resolution to exercise more didn’t pan out quite like you hoped. Don’t scold yourself. Just start over.

The good news is some changes may give you a “twofer.” For example, eating healthy foods can reduce the amount of cholesterol you are taking into your body. It can also help you lose weight, which lowers LDL.

Try eating:

  • More fresh fruits, vegetables, and other foods high in fiber such as whole grains and beans

  • Fewer foods that contain cholesterol, trans fats, or saturated fats such as fatty meats and whole milk, cream, butter, cheese, and ice cream

Increasing your exercise not only lowers your LDL. It also raises levels of HDL (good cholesterol), which carries bad cholesterol away. Take steps to enhance your chance of success, especially if exercise is a bit foreign to you. Gradually increase the intensity and length of your exercise routines, or find an exercise partner to help you stay motivated.

Sometimes lifestyle changes are simply not enough to get your cholesterol into a safe range. In these cases, your doctor may prescribe a special medicine like statins to lower your cholesterol. The medication does not give you a free pass to smoke, overeat, and be a couch potato. Instead, lifestyle changes can work together with medicine to improve your cholesterol levels even more. And, as you already know, these changes can really improve your overall quality of life.

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