Cholesterol is a fatty substance. It has both good and bad effects on the body. Your body needs small amounts of cholesterol to make hormones and to build and maintain cells. However, when your body has too much cholesterol, deposits of fat called plaque form inside the walls of your blood vessels (arteries). The blood vessel walls thicken and the vessels become narrower. This is a condition called atherosclerosis. These changes make it harder for blood to flow through the blood vessels, increasing your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. The plaque can also easily break off and cause a blockage. When the artery is blocked, no blood can flow through it. This prevents the heart muscle from getting oxygen and can cause a heart attack. If a piece of plaque breaks off and flows to the brain, it can cause a stroke.
Most of the cholesterol in your blood is made by your liver from the fats, carbohydrates, and proteins you eat. You also get cholesterol by eating animal products such as meat, eggs, and high-fat dairy products such as whole milk, cream, and real butter.
It is important to find out what your cholesterol numbers are because lowering cholesterol levels that are too high lessens your risk for developing heart disease. It reduces the chance of a heart attack or death from heart disease, even if you already have heart disease.
When you get your cholesterol checked, your healthcare provider will give you a number for your total cholesterol level. You can use the chart below to see if your total cholesterol is high.
Total Cholesterol Level (mg/dL) ---------------------------------------- less than 200 good 200 to 239 borderline high 240 or above high ----------------------------------------
When your total cholesterol is measured and found to be high, your healthcare provider may also check the amount of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein) in your blood. LDL and HDL carry cholesterol through your blood. LDL carries a lot of cholesterol, leaves behind fatty deposits on your artery walls, and contributes to heart disease. HDL does the opposite. HDL cleans the artery walls and removes extra cholesterol from the body, thus lowering the risk of heart disease. LDL cholesterol is called bad cholesterol. (You can think of "L" for "lousy" cholesterol.) HDL cholesterol is called good cholesterol (think of "H" for "healthy" cholesterol). It is good to have low levels of LDL and high levels of HDL.
Because HDL cholesterol protects against heart disease, higher numbers are better. HDL levels of 60 mg/dL or more help to lower your risk for heart disease. A level equal to or less than 40 mg/dL is low and is considered a major risk factor because it increases your risk for developing heart disease
The level of LDL cholesterol that is healthy for you depends on your risk of heart disease and heart attack. In general, the higher your LDL level and the more risk factors you have for heart disease, the greater your chances of developing heart disease or having a heart attack. These are the recommended goals for LDL, according to risk level:
Lowering cholesterol, especially the LDL, is connected or linked with:
This means the chance of having a heart attack is much less.
In addition to high levels of total cholesterol and LDL, major risks for heart disease include:
If you have diabetes, your risk of heart disease is high. If you do not have diabetes but you have 2 or more of the other risk factors in this list, your risk is moderate to high. Based on your personal and family history, your healthcare provider can help you calculate your risk level.
High cholesterol may run in families. Know your family history and discuss it with your healthcare provider.
You can often control cholesterol levels by
If you have a high risk for heart disease, your healthcare provider may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medicine as well as changes in lifestyle.
Follow these diet guidelines to help control your cholesterol:
To control the cholesterol and types and amounts of fat you eat:
Exercise goes hand-in-hand with a healthy diet for controlling cholesterol. Exercise helps because it:
A good exercise program includes aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise is any activity that keeps your heart rate up (such as swimming, jogging, walking, and bicycling). You should get at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise most days of the week. Moderate aerobic exercise is generally defined as requiring the energy it takes to walk 2 miles in 30 minutes. You may need to exercise 60 minutes a day to prevent weight gain and 90 minutes a day to lose weight.
If you haven't been exercising, ask your healthcare provider for an exercise prescription and start your new exercise program slowly.
Do not smoke. Smoking increases your risk of heart disease because it lowers HDL levels, increases your risk of blood clots, and decreases oxygen to the tissues.
Lose excess weight.
Extra weight increases your risk for heart and blood vessel disease. One way it does this is by causing your LDL ("bad") cholesterol to go up. Extra weight can also make you tired. It takes a lot of energy to carry all those pounds around. The result is that you are less active. This can mean that you don’t get enough exercise and gain even more weight.
Losing excess weight:
Your weight is primarily the result of 2 factors. One is the number of calories you consume. The other is the number of calories you "burn". If you eat more calories than you use, your body will store the extra calories as fat and your weight will go up. If your body uses more calories than you eat, you will lose weight.
Here are some things you can do to lose weight.
In summary, changes that you can make in your lifestyle to control your cholesterol level are: