Cholesterol is a fat-like substance which we all carry in our blood. It is essential to normal digestion. However, excess cholesterol is a critical risk factor for developing heart disease.
WHAT IS CHOLESTEROL?
Cholesterol is a fatty or lipid substance carried in the bloodstream. Various types of cholesterol are carried in the blood as part of molecules called lipoproteins. HDL (high-density lipoprotein) appears to carry little cholesterol. LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein) carry most of the cholesterol and appear to promote its adherence to blood vessel walls.
HOW DOES CHOLESTEROL CAUSE HEALTH PROBLEMS?
As we age, cholesterol and other materials transported in our blood tend to deposit on the walls of our arteries in a process called atherosclerosis. This plaque builds up and narrows the channel through which blood flows, decreasing the flow of nutrients (especially oxygen) to vital organs, such as the heart and brain. If this plaque breaks off from the wall of the artery, it stimulates the formation of a clot, which may totally obstruct the artery. This may result in a heart attack or stroke, depending on the location of the vessel.
IS ATHEROSCLEROSIS INEVITABLE?
Scientists used to think that high levels of any cholesterol signaled potential trouble. Now we know that the ratio of HDL levels to LDL levels is an important indicator. An excess of LDL seems to speed up the atherosclerotic process. High levels of HDL reduce your risk for atherosclerosis. Triglycerides are another fat in the blood, and can accelerate the atherosclerosis process. Therefore, it is important to know your total cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels.
WHAT IS A NORMAL CHOLESTEROL LEVEL?
Cholesterol levels tend to rise with age, reaching an average of 210 to 225 by the middle 40s in most Americans. However, the latest research recommends the total cholesterol below 200, triglyceride levels below 200 and HDL levels above 35 in men and 45 in women (American Heart Association Guidelines).
HOW CAN YOU LOWER CHOLESTEROL?
There are several lifestyle changes that you should implement when trying to manage your cholesterol levels.
- Adopt a healthy diet. This is your first line of defense in the battle against both high cholesterol levels and heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your cholesterol intake to 200mg per day. In addition, no more than 30% of your daily caloric intake should be from fats, and no more than 10% of that should be from saturated fats. Every 1% drop in overall cholesterol reduces your chances of dying from cardiovascular disease by 2%.
- If you drink, do so in moderation. Although moderate use of alcohol may increase your HDL levels, the damage that alcohol does to the liver could compromise the LDL receptors’ ability to detect and filter out bad cholesterol. Recommendation per day: No more than one glass for women and two glasses for men.
- Quit smoking! Smoking does great damage to your cardiovascular system. Smoking also forces the body to become susceptible to developingatherosclerosis. Cigarettes can also cause your LDL levels to increase and your HDL levels to decrease. Smokers will reduce their risk of heart disease if they quit.
- Get moving! One of the best ways of lowering cholesterol is to get up and exercise your body. Even a brisk walk around the park for a half – hour a few times a week can be very beneficial. The more you do the better you will feel, and the healthier your cardiovascular system will be.