The role of cholesterol
Cholesterol is one of those numbers we’ve all heard of, we all know it’s important, but we don’t always understand why
it’s so important or how it relates to blood pressure.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in six American adults has high cholesterol, but often people aren’t aware when they have it because there are no symptoms.
What is it?
Cholesterol is a naturally occurring substance that the liver makes; it’s a waxy, fatty substance needed to make hormones and digest fatty foods. Dietary cholesterol is also found in animal products such as cheese, butter, eggs and meat.
There are two types of cholesterol — low-density lipoprotein, LDL, which is generally considered bad cholesterol, and HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, known as good cholesterol. Too much LDL can build up along blood vessel walls; this is known as plaque and causes blood vessels to narrow, which can contribute to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. HDL absorbs LDL and takes it back to the liver, which then flushes it out of the body. High LDL lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke.
What are the Risk Factors?
A diet high in saturated and trans fats, insufficient exercise, using tobacco or drinking too much alcohol all can contribute to high cholesterol, as can certain health conditions such as diabetes or obesity. Family history can also be a factor, although doctors say that is likely both because of genetics and because families tend to have similar lifestyles.
High Cholesterol Treatment
Your doctor will do a blood test for your cholesterol levels when you go in for an annual physical. Often, blood pressure can be controlled through changes in lifestyle. A diet that is low in trans and saturated fats and low in animal products and added sugars while being high in high-fiber foods such as beans and whole grains; fruits and vegetables; lean meats like fish and unsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts and avocados.
Get regular exercise (if you have a sedentary lifestyle now, start with walking every day), keep your alcohol intake to a minimum and maintain a healthy weight.
If that is not enough, there are medications that can help keep your cholesterol in check.