We’re once again reminded that it’s not only knowing the facts about cholesterol but it’s living a healthy lifestyle that keeps you and your heart going strong.
It’s important to understand that cholesterol itself is not a horrible thing. In fact, its purpose is to keep us healthy. A soft, fat-like, waxy substance, cholesterol is found throughout our bloodstreams and cells, and it is used to create cell membranes and certain hormones while also helping with other major body functions.
Our bodies create about 75 percent of the cholesterol in our blood, but the remaining 25 percent comes from the foods we eat. Since cholesterol cannot be dissolved into our blood, it must be carried to the cells by lipoproteins. This is where the two types of proteins, “good” and “bad”, come into play.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol is dangerous, because if too much of it builds up on artery walls, it forms a thick, hard deposit and makes them less flexible. As a result, a condition called atherosclerosis (the thickening of arteries) occurs and blood clotting can lead to heart attacks or strokes. Though LDL is produced naturally, the amount which we produce is inherited. In addition, the amount of saturated, trans fats and dietary cholesterol in the foods we eat affects the amount of LDL that we have. As for the “good” stuff, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) is carries one-fourth to one-third of our bodies’ blood cholesterol and in high levels, can protect against heart attacks.
How do you know where you stand? Get tested. The American Heart Association suggests all people follow the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) guidelines, which recognize high cholesterol. By being tested every five years after the age of 20, with a fasting "lipoprotein profile," your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides can be determined.
Along with scheduling a screening to have your cholesterol levels tested, it is also wise to maintain a diet low in cholesterol and saturated fat. In addition to eating right, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight are also essential.
Though no one said it would be easy, controlling your cholesterol is certainly worth the effort. The lower your LDL, the lower your risk is of experiencing a heart attack or stroke. When it comes to making food choices, especially in restaurants, don’t be embarrassed to ask for special requests. Opt for the heart-healthy choices and remember that portion sizes are also important.
Visit www.americanheart.org for more information about cholesterol and you’ll be on the road to a healthy heart.