Cholesterol isn’t just a topic for those over the age of 50. While the build-up of plaque within the arteries is a fairly common indication of the aging process, these consequences can be prevented earlier on in life therefore reducing the risk for heart disease, which causes 1 in 4 deaths in the United States each year.
What is cholesterol?
Prior to preventive planning, it is imperative to understand what cholesterol is, how it accumulates within your body, and how to know if your levels are too high.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is present in all of the body’s cells. The cell walls, specifically (membranes), require a limited amount of cholesterol to produce vitamin D, hormones, and bile acids to aid your body’s digestion of fat.
Should your body produce an excessive amount of cholesterol, the thick, hard substance circulates through the blood stream and begins to build-up in the arteries, causing hardening and narrowing. The process can be compared to the clogging of a drain over time. Excessive deposits of glycerin found in many soap products eventually catch on the walls of the drain, causing blockages and the inability for water to travel fluidly from point A to point B. In the human body, the water represents your body, circulation, and added stress to your heart.
Good Cholesterol (HDL) Versus Bad Cholesterol (LDL)
Now that we understand cholesterol is necessary for proper bodily function and harmful in excess, it is important to also understand that there are two types of cholesterol – good and bad.
Cholesterol travels through the blood attached to a protein; the pairing is referred to as a lipoprotein. The protein content in relation to fat is what determines good or bad cholesterol. ‘Bad cholesterol’, known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL), contributes to the hardening of plaque on the walls of the arteries, causing potential clogging. ‘Good cholesterol’, known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL), works to remove LDL from the arteries by carrying it to the liver where it is then broken down and eliminated.
Very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) are also considered to be harmful cholesterol as they contain a high percentage of fat and very little protein.
What is a normal level of cholesterol?
According to Premier Medical Group’s Dr. Davide M. DeBellis, the average American should aim to keep LDL levels under 100 mg/dl. For individuals with a family history of heart disease, or personal history of heart attack, stroke, smoking, hypertension or diabetes, Dr. DeBellis advises keeping LDL levels around 70 mg/dl.
While statins are available – a class of drugs that lowers cholesterol levels – for patients who present extremely high test numbers and/or suffer from cardiovascular disease, it is encouraged to lower your LDL with a change in diet and exercise regimes prior to medication. “I have found that a person who really wants to make the effort can, with some attention to diet and exercise, lower his LDL by 20 points,” says Dr. DeBellis.
How and when do I check my cholesterol?
By the age of 25, it is recommended that at least a baseline fasting lipid profile be performed. This fasting test will measure your LDL, HDL, total cholesterol, and will also measure triglycerides. Levels should be checked thereafter at least every five years.
Between the ages of 36 and 50, testing is recommended annually as the accumulation of plaque in the arteries has likely begun. An annual test provides the rate which cholesterol is rising to better plan for the future.
How can I lower my cholesterol and risk of heart disease?
Once you are aware of your cholesterol levels, both good and bad, and have identified the rate at which your cholesterol is rising, your physician will be able to provide a preventative, if necessary.
- Quit Smoking! – Smoking lowers HDL cholesterol. Without HDL or ‘good cholesterol’, LDL or ‘bad cholesterol’ has the ability to increase.
- A Heart-Healthy Diet – A diet low in saturated fat entails restricting your average daily cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams. For those with heart disease, it is recommended to limit your daily intake to less than 200 milligrams. Avoid types of fats that are found in meats, full-fat dairy products, margarines, and store-bought crackers and cakes. Here are some foods you should consider including in your diet to aid in heart-health:
- High-fiber foods like oatmeal, kidney beans, apples and pears
- Fish (grilled or baked) and omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, albacore tuna, and halibut
- Almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, and other nuts
- Olive oil
- Foods with added plant sterols and stanols like orange juice and yogurt drinks
- Heart-Healthy Exercise – Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, provides many health benefits, some of which include reducing the risk of heart disease and lowering cholesterol. Your physician will first assess your current physical condition and fitness level before providing you with a tailored plan. Recommended weekly exercise regimes may include the following:
- Stretching increases range of motion and flexibility. Dynamic stretching, which involves a degree of movement and low-impact exercises in preferred.
- Cardiovascular or aerobic exercises, including walking, jogging, jumping rope, bicycling, swimming and more strengthen both the heart and lungs while helping to decrease your heart rate and blood pressure over time.
- Strength training such as weight-lifting, pushups, pull-ups, jump squats, lunges and mountain climbing also offer considerable health benefits, including the prevention of diseases like arthritis through improving bone density, and type 2 diabetes by improving glucose control.
For more information on how Premier Medical Group can help you assess your cholesterol or provide a preventative plan and maintenance, give us a call at # 845.790.6100 to schedule an appointment.