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.
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?
The lowdown on lowering cholesterol levels
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 lifestyleEven 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.
Learn more about blood cholesterol
- The National Cholesterol Education Month site gives you a host of resources and information on lowering cholesterol.
- At-A-Glance: What You Need To Know About High Blood Cholesterol from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides a solid foundation on cholesterol risks and management.
- The CDC reports on cholesterol in the U.S. in this study: Vital signs: prevalence, treatment, and control of high levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol—United States, 1999–2002 and 2005–2008.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers an actionable resource, Your Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol with Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes
- If you are a female, check out the NIH publication The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women