Cholesterol and Heart Disease
Cholesterol and Heart Disease

According to the CDC, one in every four deaths in the U.S. is attributed to heart disease. High cholesterol is one of the key risk factors of heart disease, so it’s important to know your numbers and take steps to keep them in balance.

To understand how cholesterol affects your heart, you should first know what cholesterol is and what it does. Cholesterol is a type of fat in your blood that is used for brain, skin and organ function. Although it is important for our bodies, too much is unhealthy. We’ve all heard about “bad” cholesterol, otherwise called LDLs, or low-density lipoproteins. LDLs are produced by our diet, our lifestyle, and in some cases, hormone levels. You want to keep LDL levels low. Foods containing trans fats or saturated fats, like red meat, butter, baked goods and fast food, all raise LDL levels in our blood. LDLs are also raised by excess weight, lack of exercise and smoking.

High-density lipoproteins, or HDLs, are produced by the liver and are the “good” cholesterol. You want lots of these. HDLs travel around your bloodstream collecting LDLs and taking them back to the liver where they’re flushed out of the body. HDLs are an essential fat and critical to blood vessel health, so the more the better. When you have too many LDLs and not enough HDLs, the fatty LDL deposits stick to artery walls, making it hard for blood to pass through and carry oxygen to your heart. Eventually, your arteries can become completely clogged with fat or a chunk can break off and enter your bloodstream, causing a heart attack or stroke.

Ideally, you want to have HDL levels greater than 60 (mg/dL). Anything less than 40 mg/dL is low, and should be addressed. LDL levels should be below 100 mg/dL, although higher levels aren’t necessarily a problem in an otherwise healthy person. It’s when you get to LDL levels of 130 and above that you need to make changes.

Because there are no symptoms, you probably wouldn’t even know if you have high cholesterol. The only way to find out is through a lipid panel, so get a blood test if you haven’t had one in a few years. If you need to get your numbers in balance, your doctor will prescribe a diet and exercise program and possibly even cholesterol-lowering medication.

Eating well, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight are all things that can help you avoid heart disease and have the added benefit of contributing to your overall well-being.