Monday, September 9, 2013

Life-Saving News on Cholesterol Management

Odds are, you are more likely to die as a result of heart disease or stroke than just about any other cause. Heart disease and stroke are two of the leading causes of death in the United States.  Would you like to rise above this statistic?  You can;  we now know that the main way to prevent these two killer diseases is to detect high cholesterol and treat it promptly. 

High cholesterol in your blood is one of the main risk factors for both heart disease and for stroke.  Getting the word out about the importance of lowering cholesterol to reduce your risk of dying from heart disease or stroke is fundamentally the reason for September’s National Cholesterol Education Month initiative.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), sponsoring National Cholesterol Education Month, launched the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) 23 years ago with the goal of reducing illness and death from coronary heart disease by reducing the percent of Americans with high blood cholesterol.  The efforts of the NCEP are making a difference; our intake of saturated fat and total fat is on the decline. And it’s no coincidence that illness and death from coronary heart disease mortality has continued to decline as well.  That said,  heart disease and stroke remain leading causes of death in the U.S.

Cholesterol 101

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in your blood.  And it’s not all bad; your body actually needs cholesterol.  The problem is entirely about too much cholesterol of the wrong kind.  When you have too much, the cholesterol starts building up on the walls of your arteries, which blocks the blood flow.  These blockages can bring on the big and ugly three: heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

So then, how much is enough cholesterol, and how much is too much?  The trick is to understand that there are two kinds of cholesterol: HDLs and LDLs. One is good and one is bad.  The HDL’s (high-density lipoproteins) are the good ones and LDL (low-density lipoproteins) are the bad ones.  Thus, you want a higher HDL level, and you want to have a lower LDL level.  An easy way to keep them straight; use their first initials as a mnemonic; be Low on LDL and High on HDL.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 71 million American adults have high LDL’s – the bad cholesterol. While that’s alarming enough, the CDC also states that just one-third of them have the condition under control.  If you are one of these 71 million who need to get your cholesterol under control, why not start now, during National Cholesterol Education Month?

Heart shaped plate

The lowdown on lowering cholesterol levels

Now that you’ve got the basics down, you know that lowering cholesterol levels is really about lowering bad cholesterol. Might you be at risk? You can get a general sense of your risk by using the  10-Year Heart Attack Risk Calculator, available from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  But to be certain of your risk…
Get screened!
Doctors agree that a screening for cholesterol levels is the key to detecting if you have a high cholesterol problem. High cholesterol can be a silent killer because there are usually no outward symptoms; most of those who have high cholesterol do not know. 

The good news is that the test is simple, and can usually be performed by your doctor in his office. If you’re an adult, 20 over over, NCEP recommends getting screened every five years, or more often if:
  • You are older than 45 and male or older than 50 and female.
  • Your total cholesterol is 200 mg/dL or higher.
  • Your HDL (good) cholesterol is lower than 40 mg/dL.
  • You have other heart disease and stroke risk factors, which your doctor can tell you.
Change your lifestyle
Even before you get tested, you can make changes to your way of life that can lower your bad cholesterol levels:
  • Exercise regularly.  By adding about 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity into your weekly routine, you can lower your bad cholesterol.
  • Eat right.  The average American diet is high in saturated fats and trans fats, either of which may raise LDLs. Do include healthy fats in your diet though, as they can actually lower LDL cholesterol levels, as can having enough fiber in your diet.
  • Manage your weight. Obesity usually raises your cholesterol levels. Conversely, losing weight can help lower cholesterol.
  • Don’t smoke. Just one more reason to quit; smoking can elevate your LDLs.
With these lifestyle changes, you may always come home from your cholesterol screening with a smile on your face.  But if you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol and given doctor's instructions or prescription medications for cholesterol, follow their guidance.

People exercising at the gym

Learn more about blood cholesterol

If you have dangerous levels of cholesterol or are at risk of developing high cholesterol, you’ll benefit from the guidance and education of these resources:
Make this September your personal kickoff event to improving your health by getting screened for cholesterol and making lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

1 comment:

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