September is National Cholesterol Education Month
Cholesterol, a type of fat in the blood, is not totally bad for the bad for the body. Some is needed for building hormones and nerve cells for good health. However, too much can put you at risk. “Cholesterol is one of the major, but controllable, risk factors for heart disease, heart attack and stroke,” says Dr. Jonathan Wynn, Westmed cardiologist. If you have other risk factors (such as high blood pressure or diabetes) as well as high cholesterol, this risk escalates. The more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing coronary heart disease.
Building a cholesterol problem – a Series of “Ifs”
Why is staying vigilant about your cholesterol so important? If it builds up too much in the walls of your arteries into a thick, hard deposit, it can narrow the arteries and slow down or block blood flow to your heart. If enough blood and oxygen can’t reach your heart, you may suffer chest pain. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by blockage, a heart attack is the result.
The importance of knowing your numbers and some definitions
Many people go about their day not knowing that their cholesterol is too high. That’s why it’s important to see your doctor to find out what your cholesterol numbers are. Cholesterol has several parts: high-density lipoproteins (HDL), low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and triglycerides, and your doctor will report on all three when you get the results of your blood work.
- LDL (“bad” cholesterol) – the main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage of the arteries
- HDL (“good” cholesterol) – helps keep cholesterol from building up in the arteries
- Triglycerides – fatty acids in the blood that can raise heart disease risk
Although levels of LDL cholesterol are the primary focus of a cholesterol screening (which also measures total cholesterol, HDL and triglycerides), about half of all heart attacks occur in people with normal LDL levels,” says Dr. Wynn. So researchers have looked at other measurements that can help identify people at risk for cardiovascular disease. Among them is non-HDL cholesterol.
Prevention: What you can do about it
- Diet: Reduce the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet. Egg yolks and organ meats, such as liver, are the foods highest in cholesterol. (One egg yolk has 213 milligrams of cholesterol.) Limit total fat intake to less than 25–35 percent of your total calories each day. Limit saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of total daily calories.The remaining fat should come from sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as nuts, seeds, fish and vegetable oils.
- Weight Management: Losing weight can sometimes help you to manage your cholesterol levels. Consult the Westmed Weight Management team, and review your BMI (Body Mass Index).
- Physical Activity. Regular physical activity can help lower LDL cholesterol and raise good HDL cholesterol.
Medications as an Option
There are several types of drugs available for cholesterol lowering including statins, bile acid sequestrants, nicotinic acid, fibric acids and cholesterol absorption inhibitors. Your doctor can help decide which type of drug is best for you. Once you reach your LDL goal, your doctor may prescribe treatment for high triglycerides and/or a low HDL level, if present.
Making Wise Choices
Although you cannot change risks for heart disease such as your age, gender, or heredity, controlling your cholesterol is among steps you can take to protect your cardiovascular health.