Resource post for September: National Cholesterol Awareness Month



September is National Cholesterol Awareness Month (American Heart Association [AHA]) or National Cholesterol Education Month (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute [NHLBI]). It is therefore appropriate that our resource posts for this month will be on cholesterol.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance belonging to the sterol group. It is found in all animal tissues. When we eat meat, cholesterol is absorbed into our body and transported in the blood.

Cholesterols are classified depending on their molecular size. For our health, the important ones are the low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

Why is cholesterol important for our health?

The levels of cholesterol in the blood are strong risk factors for heart disease. The higher the LDL cholesterol concentration in your blood, the bigger is your risk to develop cardiovascular disease. HDL cholesterol on the other hand, is considered good for the heart

Heart disease is the primary cause of mortality, not only in the US but on a global scale. About a million heart attacks occur in the US each year and half of these cases result in death.

How does cholesterol damage the heart?

When too much cholesterol is in the blood, it will accumulate on the walls of the arteries, especially the coronary arteries – the main blood vessels supplying blood to the heart. Because of the fatty deposits on the arterial walls, the arteries become narrow, and the walls hardened and less flexible. This constriction of the coronary artery can interfere with the blood supply to the heart. Insufficient blood going to the heart can cause chest pains (angina pectoris). When the artery becomes blocked so that blood supply to the heart is completely cut off, a heart attack (myocardial infarction) occurs.

What does your cholesterol test tell you?

Experts recommend that everybody aged 20 and older should have a lipid profile test at least every 5 years to check their blood cholesterol. Cholesterol levels are measured as milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood, or mg/dL.

To give us an idea of what our cholesterol levels mean, check out the table below provided by NHLBI:

  

Total Cholesterol Level

Category

Less than 200 mg/dL

Desirable

200-239 mg/dL

Borderline high

240 mg/dL and above

High

LDL Cholesterol Level

LDL Cholesterol Category

Less than 100 mg/dL

Optimal

100-129 mg/dL

Near optimal/above optimal

130-159 mg/dL

Borderline high

160-189 mg/dL

High

190 mg/dL and above

Very high

HDL cholesterol protects us against heart disease so higher values of HDL are actually positive. An HDL level less than 40 mg/dL is low and increases our risk for developing heart disease. An HDL level of 60 mg/dL or more, on the other hand, can help to lower our risk for heart disease.

What are the things that influence our cholesterol levels?

Our cholesterol levels depend on the following:

  • Age. Our cholesterol levels tend to rise with age.
  • Gender. Premenopausal women generally have lower cholesterol levels than men of the same age. After menopause, women’s cholesterol levels have the tendency to increase.
  • Genetics. Your cholesterol levels might be partly due to your genes. Check out your family history of cholesterol levels.
  • Diet. You are what you eat. And food rich in cholesterol, trans fat and saturated fat are big threats to your cholesterol profile.
  • Weight. Being overweight is another thing that makes your cholesterol levels rise.
  • Physical Activity. A sedentary lifestyle will raise your LDL and lower your HDL.

The first three are things we cannot do anything to change. However, we have the power to change the last three things on the list in order to lower our cholesterol levels and our risk for heart disease

How do we control our cholesterol levels?

Experts at NHLBI recommend 2 main ways to control our cholesterol levels:

This resource post will concentrate on TLC. The topic of cholesterol-lowering drugs will be tackled in another post.

TLC can help us lower our risk for heart disease without drugs and the three things we have to work on are our diet, weight, and exercise as listed above.

Diet. We should lessen our intake of food rich in trans- and saturated fat – French fries, margarine, fried chicken, and other animal products. However, our body needs fat in order to work. What we need are unsaturated fats and they are to be found in vegetable oils, fish, nuts, and olives. If we have to use oil, olive oil is the best option.

Physical Activity. Exercise burns the calories you take in. It is good, not only for the heart, for the muscles, bones, and brains. For newbies to exercise, a slow start is necessary. Beginners’ activities can simple daily tasks like house cleaning and gardening. From there, physical activity can be built up to light-, moderate-, to high-intensity exercises such as walking, jogging, cycling, playing basketball or football.

Weight. Proper diet and exercise are the keys to weight loss and weight control. It’s all in one and the same package. The resources below will give you more detailed ways of lowering and controlling your cholesterol.

Reading resources

Here is some useful information you can download:

For basic information about cholesterol: High Blood Cholesterol – What You Need to Know

A very comprehensive guide with easy-to-follow lifestyle changes tips, heart-friendly recipes, and fun exercises: Your Guide to Lowering Cholesterol with Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC)

Cholesterol resources at the Heart Hub of the American Heart Organization

Sample recipes from Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol, Fourth Edition

 

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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