Were you aware that September is National Cholesterol Education Month? What exactly does this mean? This means it is time to become familiar with your bad or LDL cholesterol (also referred to as the lousy cholesterol). Too much in the blood is one of the main risk factors for heart disease and stroke which are two leading causes of death in the U.S. One way to help prevent these diseases is to figure out your LDL cholesterol level and treat it if it is too high.
What exactly is cholesterol? It is a waxy, fat-like substance that your body actually does. Cholesterol is created in the liver but also consumed in foods we eat and helps in digesting foods, making hormones, bile acid, and vitamin D however when our bodies get too much, it can build up on the walls of arteries and form blockages which can lead to heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.
Cholesterol levels can be affected by several factors, some of which are controllable, some of which are not. Things such as age, gender, and family history unfortunately cannot be controlled however physical activity level, diet, and body weight can all be controlled. Smoking is also a controllable risk factor for high cholesterol and the Centers for Disease Control recommends that if you smoke, to quit as soon as possible.
Screening is key to detecting high cholesterol especially because it does not have any noticeable symptoms. The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that adults’ age 20 years or older have their cholesterol checked every 5 years. However, if your cholesterol is high or you have other risk factors for heart disease, it may need to be checked more frequently. The goal for total cholesterol is <200, for LDL it is <100.
What can you do to prevent or treat high cholesterol? Aim for a heart healthy diet including plenty of fruits/vegetables, fiber, and the healthy fats, mono- and polyunsaturated fat. Cholesterol is found naturally in organ meats, egg yolks, shrimp, whole milk dairy products, baked goods, and deep fried foods. It is also important to limit saturated and trans fats as these can also increase cholesterol. Exercising regularly including approximately two hours and thirty minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week is very important. And again, if you smoke, quit as soon as possible.
For more information check out the CDC’s website for information on the National Cholesterol Education Program and if it has been more than 5 years since having your cholesterol checked, contact your provider to schedule a screening.