Starting September 1, it is National Cholesterol Education Month. It is a time to raise awareness about cholesterol and its dangers, especially its connection to heart disease. By itself, high cholesterol presents no symptoms and can only be detected through a blood test. It is a potentially dangerous condition that not many look out for, affecting nearly 94 million American adults. National Cholesterol Education Month is an excellent time to check your levels. It is also an important time to check your lifestyle habits that may lead to high cholesterol, such as poor diet, being overweight, and smoking.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance in your blood that your body uses to make healthy cells, vitamin D, hormones, and other substances. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs. Foods that contain saturated and trans fats such as egg yolks, meat, full-fat dairy products, and oils such as palm and coconut oil.
Cholesterol is carried around your body on two lipoproteins: low-density lipoprotein (LPL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL is often called 'good cholesterol since it takes cholesterol from different body parts to the liver for removal from the body. On the other hand, LPL causes plaque buildup in the arteries, making them hard and narrower.
High levels of cholesterol can be caused by certain inherited genes, as well as:
- Being overweight
- Lack of activity
- Diets high in saturated and trans fats
Your cholesterol levels also naturally increase as you age.
Dangers of high cholesterol
High cholesterol causes fatty deposits to develop in your arteries. As these deposits accumulate, they restrict blood flow. This causes complications such as:
- Heart attacks. Sometimes, these cholesterol deposits break off, forming a blood clot at the site. It may also break free and flow down the artery, blocking it further downstream. If the artery supplying blood to the heart is blocked, a heart attack results.
- Stroke. Similarly to the heart, if the artery supplies blood to the brain, it might lead to a stroke.
How can I control my cholesterol levels?
You can lower your cholesterol levels by making several lifestyle changes. Exercising, taking foods with less saturated and trans fats, as well as not smoking are all lifestyle improvements that reduce your cholesterol levels. If your levels are very high, there are several types of cholesterol-lowering medications, such as statins (atorvastatin, lovastatin, pravastatin, rosuvastatin and simvastatin) that can help.
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