What is cholesterol?
We have all heard of the word cholesterol, but how does it affect you? First, let’s learn what cholesterol is. Cholesterol is found in your blood and is a waxy substance. You actually need some cholesterol in your body for cell building and other body functions, but too much can increase the risk of heart disease. Low-density lipoprotein, also known as LDL, and high-density lipoprotein, also known as HDL, are two main types of cholesterol. LDL is known for being the “bad” cholesterol, while HDL is “good” cholesterol. Too much LDL could potentially put you at risk for heart disease or other medical conditions. If you have high cholesterol, you may not experience any symptoms, so it is important to monitor levels with your healthcare provider.
Checking your cholesterol
Now that we know what cholesterol is, how can we check our cholesterol levels? Checking your cholesterol involves a simple test where you will have a small blood sample taken. This test is typically done in the morning, and your healthcare provider may have you refrain from eating or drinking for a certain amount of time before the test. The test will include levels such as:
– Total cholesterol- includes HDL and LDL.
– Triglycerides- a type of fat found in the blood
Generally, total cholesterol should be less than 200mg/dL, LDL less than 100mg/dL, and HDL 60 mg/DL or higher.
There are many risk factors that can lead to unhealthy cholesterol levels. If you have high cholesterol in your family history, you are more likely to have high cholesterol.
While children can have unhealthy amounts of cholesterol, it is more common in adults over the age of 40. Lack of exercise and obesity with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more puts you at risk of higher cholesterol. Smoking and drinking too much alcohol can also raise levels. A big contributor of unhealthy cholesterol is a poor diet. Eating too much trans or saturated fats in foods such as fatty cuts of meat, full-fat dairy products, packaged snacks, and desserts is also a risk factor.
Managing Cholesterol Levels
Since high cholesterol can lead to medical issues such as heart attacks and strokes, it is important to manage levels. You can help prevent higher levels by:
– Eating a healthy diet. Limit or avoid foods that are high in saturated fats and cholesterol. While you should incorporate foods with good fats into your diet, these foods should still be only eaten in moderation. Try to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
– Losing weight. Being overweight can increase cholesterol levels.
– Staying active. Getting plenty of exercise is good for general health and may help lower LDL levels. It could also lead to weight loss which may also help. Most people should exercise at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
– Quitting smoking.
– Limiting alcohol.
Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting a new diet or exercise regimen.
Janessa Williamson, RN, is the Health Educator and WIC Breastfeeding Coordinator at Fayette County Public Health. Fayette County Public Health offers cholesterol checks on the first Tuesday of every month. Checks are done by appointment only. If you schedule an appointment for a cholesterol check, you will need to fast beginning at midnight on the night prior to your appointment. This service is free to Fayette County residents. Call 335-5910 to schedule.