Do all the "ups-and-downs" of the cholesterol controversy have your head spinning? If you're stressed out about which lipid is good, which is bad, and what each one's role is when it comes to heart disease and stroke, you're not alone. Here are some quick facts to help answer your cholesterol questions:
- Cholesterol is a substance that your body needs in order to make hormones and vitamin D, and that helps your body process the fats you eat. It is known chemically as a lipid. [Journal of the American Medical Association: 1999]
- The American Dietetic Association defines cholesterol as a fatlike substance produced in your liver and found in everyone's bloodstream. As part of every body cell, it's essential to human health and cell-building. There's no Recommended Dietary Allowance for consuming enough cholesterol because your body makes it, too.
- The AMA joins an army of medical and health organizations that report when there is too much "bad" cholesterol in the blood, the excess can build up on the walls of the arteries and cause a number of health problems including an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
- The total cholesterol level in the blood is often measured along with two of the three main types of cholesterol: high density lipoprotein (HDL), which is considered "good" cholesterol; low density lipoprotein (LDL) or very low density lipoprotein (VLDL), which are considered "bad" cholesterol.
- Suggested adult levels are overall cholesterol less than 200 mg/dL; HDL levels of 60 mg/dL or higher (try remembering that the "H" means you want this high); and LDL levels less than 100 mg/dL (associate "L" with wanting this level low).
- Raising levels of HDL cholesterol alone may be sufficient to reduce the risk of heart disease and improve cardiovascular health, according to several studies presented at an American College of Cardiology meeting.
- When it comes to LDL cholesterol, lower is better for persons with high risk for heart attack, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Family history and lifestyle are two of many factors that can put you at a higher risk. There are other factors such as prescription drugs you may be taking. Postmenopausal women who take anti-depressants have an increased risk of mortality, according to a study in the Dec. 14/28, 2009, Archives of Internal Medicine. And, for those women using selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, the chance of stroke, particularly hemorrhagic stroke, also rises.
How to Improve Your Levels
To improve your cholesterol levels, the AMA recommends:
- Eat foods low in saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol.
- Saturated fats, cholesterol, and trans fatty acids are unhealthy and are associated with an increase in cardiac events and should be avoided. They are found in fatty meat; within the skin of poultry; in whole or higher fat dairy products such as butter, cream, milk, or cheese; and hard vegetable oils such as stick margarine or partially hydrogenated products.
- Good fats include mono-unsaturated fats and poly-unsaturated fats, and are essential for health. Find these in products made from olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, nuts, seeds, fish, canola oil, flaxseeds and oils like flaxseed, corn, safflower and cottonseed.
- Consume foods high in starch and fiber (fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads, cereals, grains, pasta, dry peas, beans).
- Exercise regularly and often.
- If you are overweight, lose weight.
- If you smoke, stop.
- See your doctor.
Other Risk Indicators and Levels to Watch
Levels of C-reactive protein may be a stronger predictor of potential heart attack or stroke than cholesterol, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study, which involved more than 27,000 people, echoes what experts have suspected and smaller studies have been implying for years: Cholesterol is not the be-all and end-all in predicting cardiovascular health. But it is one factor.
Along with cholesterol levels, the American Heart Association recommends monitoring triglyceride levels. Also a form of fat, people with high triglycerides often have a high total cholesterol level, including high LDL (bad) cholesterol and low HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Normal triglyceride levels should be less than 150 mg/dL.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun