News About Cholesterol

High cholesterol is one of the most prevalent health conditions in the U.S. and your chances of having it increase with age.

Here are some facts:

  • In their thirties, 38 percent of people have it.
  • In their forties, 50 percent of people have it.
  • In their fifties, 62 percent of people have it.
  • People with it are at twice the risk of heart disease as people with lower levels.

According to Dr. Alan Slater, a cardiologist with NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital in Cortlandt Manor: ““Cholesterol is a type of fat (lipid) that is present in blood and body tissues. Produced by the liver, it is essential to many life-sustaining functions, helping the body make hormones and vitamin D.  Cholesterol in varying amounts is found in most all food groups and is absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract. It plays a very important role in strengthening cell membranes; it’s also involved in the digestive process as well as in steroid hormone production.”

There are two main categories of cholesterol in the blood: Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), considered the “bad” form of cholesterol, which causes plaque build up and hardening on the walls of blood vessels. Says Dr. Slater, “When this happens in the coronary arteries, it reduces the heart’s supply of oxygen-rich blood and can lead to atherosclerosis, a serious condition that can cause heart attacks, strokes, peripheral arterial disease, and even death.” Conversely, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) is the “good” cholesterol. Its primary function is to transport LDL to the liver for elimination from the body.

Know your risks…and your numbers

Cholesterol levels are influenced by multiple factors, chief among them, diet. Behaviors that contribute to obesity — such as lack of physical exercise, over consumption of foods rich in saturated fats and refined sugars — frequently lead to elevated levels of LDL. Other risk factors include family history, age, kidney disease, diabetes, tobacco use, hypertension and liver disease. Certain medications for blood pressure, heart, hormones and steroids can also increase risk.

“Maintaining a healthy blood cholesterol level is very important to the prevention of heart disease,” explains Dr. Slater. “These levels are checked by a doctor using a lipid panel blood test, where total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides — another form of blood fat similar to cholesterol — are measured. The LDL cholesterol is typically calculated rather than directly measured. While a total cholesterol level of less than 200 mg/dl is considered to be within the normal range, the entire lipid profile must be evaluated in order to accurately assess a person’s cardiovascular risk.”

Know how to help yourself

A healthy lifestyle is the first protection against high LDL cholesterol, and here are some simple ways to keep your levels in check:

  • Eat a healthy diet. This includes fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Mediterranean or DASH (low-fat dairy products) diets are also recommended.
  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity has two effects on cholesterol: It raises levels of the body’s HDL cholesterol, and it also increases the size of LDL particles, which makes them less likely to form plaque on coronary artery walls. Aim for 30-40 minutes at least three to four times a week.
  • Lose excess weight. Research shows that a body mass index (BMI) of greater than 30 leads to a higher cholesterol risk.
  • Watch your waistline. Abdominal fat that expands your waist measurement can increase your risk: for men, that’s a waist measurement of 40 inches or more; for women, 35 inches or more.
  • Don’t smoke. Tobacco smoke causes damage to the walls of the blood vessels, making it easier for plaque to accumulate. Smoking also lowers HDL levels.
  • Control blood sugar. High blood sugar levels can weaken the lining of the arteries, raise LDL cholesterol, and lower HDL cholesterol.

“While exercise and diet should enable patients to reach and maintain ideal body weight, there are times when even people who follow a very healthy lifestyle can struggle with high cholesterol,” says Dr. Slater. “If that’s the case, cholesterol-lowering medications are usually prescribed.”


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