Cholesterol Management

A lot has been written about the dangers of elevated blood cholesterol. But when was the last time you had your cholesterol level checked? If you are over 20 years old and have to hesitate, or can't remember, why not do something good for your health and have it checked? What many people don't realize is that there are no symptoms associated with high cholesterol. Because it is one of the risk factors for heart disease that can be controlled, it's very important to keep your cholesterol level from rising to unhealthy levels.

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in the blood. It builds up in the walls of your arteries, narrowing them and slowing down or blocking the flow of blood to the heart. Blood carries oxygen to the heart and if not enough reaches a portion of the heart, chest pain or heart attack result. High cholesterol is also a risk factor for stroke.

Not all cholesterol is bad. High density cholesterol (HDL) actually helps to protect against heart disease by transporting cholesterol away from cells and back to the liver for processing or removal. For this reason it is often referred to as "good" cholesterol. Low density cholesterol (LDL), however, is responsible for the fatty deposits on artery walls and is known as "bad" cholesterol. In general, your total cholesterol lever should be no more that 200mg/dL. An HDL (good) level of less than 40mg/dL is considered a major risk factor for heart disease and should optimally be at 60mg/dL or more.

Heredity is in part a determinant of how much cholesterol your body produces. Therefore, if it runs in your family, there is all the more reason to keep it in check. In general, as people age, their cholesterol levels increase. Women tend to have lower cholesterol levels than men until after menopause when LDL (bad) levels rise.

If you have high cholesterol, a variety of things can be done to get it under control. One important way is through a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol. This includes limiting your intake of such foods as red meat, eggs, butter and other dietary products. Steaming or baking food instead of frying is also helpful. If added assistance is needed in lowering LDL (bad) levels, the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends its TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) diet, which includes such things as substituting soy-based foods for red meat and dairy products.

If you are overweight, losing pounds can help lower LDL (bad) levels. Regular physical activity (30 minutes a day) is recommended for everyone because it helps raise HDL (good) and lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol. A recent study has shown that the amount of time exercising may be more important than the intensity of exercise. Therefore, even a simple walking program can help you get your cholesterol under control.

Finally, your doctor may also prescribe a cholesterol lowering medication to be taken in conjunction with lifestyle changes. Given the options at your disposal, start today by making arrangements to have your cholesterol checked as soon as possible! What are you waiting for?