High Cholesterol – What Can You Do?

What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance with a whitish yellow tinge. It builds up along the walls of arteries, blocking blood flow to the heart. This can cause blood flow to be inhibited or completely cut off. Optimally, a normal cholesterol level is good. Your body needs a certain amount of cholesterol to function correctly. Produced by the liver, cholesterol is used by the body to build cell walls. It also produces estrogen, testosterone, Vitamin D, and bile acids that help to digest fat. Cholesterol is also found in foods, such as eggs, milk, and cheese. Only when cholesterol levels are too high is the person in danger of heart disease. Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans. If your levels are too high it simply means that your body is not capable of eliminating or using excess cholesterol.

The Blood Test
If your physician deems it necessary, he will order a blood test to check your cholesterol level. The day of your test, you will want to refrain from eating or drinking for twelve hours. The test itself is relatively simple and consists of drawing a vial of blood for testing. Also, to prevent inaccuracies of the test, you may want to abstain from alcohol several days beforehand. If you’ve had an illness shortly before testing, be sure to inform your doctor as it can have an effect on your test.

Be Informed
Keeping abreast of your physical health is vital. You should ask your physician any questions you may have concerning your cholesterol levels. The following questions may help you prepare for a discussion with your health care professional:
What is my overall cholesterol level?
What are my LDL and HDL levels?
What levels should be my goal?
How often should I have my cholesterol checked?

LDL vs. HDL?
Everyone has two types of cholesterol, the good and the bad. LDL, or low-density lipoproteins, is generally known as bad cholesterol. This is the type of cholesterol that forms on artery walls. HDL, or high-density proteins, actually helps to eliminate the excess cholesterol from the body. These good proteins pick up the fatty material from the artery’s walls and take them to the liver for disposal. If LDL, the bad, is elevated, not only will cholesterol build up on the artery wall, it will also invade the artery wall, becoming a part of it. This can have dangerous consequences as with buildup it can cause the artery wall to rupture or cause a blood clot. The result is a heart attack.

Risk Factors
Are you at risk? The following are factors that increase your risk of having high cholesterol resulting in heart disease:
Do you have a close relative (parent or sibling) with heart disease?
Are you a female with peri-menopause who is not taking an HRT (hormone replacement therapy)?
Do you currently smoke cigarettes?
Do you have high blood pressure?
Do you have diabetes?
Are you overweight by more than 30%?
Do you live a sedentary lifestyle?
Is your HDL cholesterol level less than 40?

If you’ve already had a heart attack, it’s imperative to keep your cholesterol level monitored and in the normal range. A person who has already had a heart attack is at a high risk for having another.

What do the numbers mean?
Your cholesterol numbers are measured by a simple blood test. Cholesterol is determined in milligrams per deciliter of blood. Optimally, your overall cholesterol level should be below 200. Borderline high is 200-239, and high is 240 and above. However, it’s not enough to know your overall level. You should know your LDL and HDL levels. HDL levels should be 60 or above, while LDL levels should be 129 or below.

How can I lower my cholesterol?
Regular exercise of at least 30 minutes a day helps raise your HDL level, lowers your blood pressure, and keeps your heart muscle in shape. If you’re smoking, stop now. Within the first year of quitting, your risk of heart disease drops by 50%. If you’re overweight, lose a few pounds. A person who maintains an ideal weight lowers their risk of heart disease. Any weight loss program should include a healthy diet. Your main focus should be to eat less saturated and trans fats. Choose lean meats, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains rather than fast food. Fat is not your enemy; there are healthy fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Just make sure to read labels. As far as exercise goes, walking should be a part of your daily routine. As with any weight-loss program, consult your physician before you begin.
Some dietary suggestions are listed below:
Use low-fat or fat-free luncheon/deli meats. These are good in sandwiches and salads.
Use fat-free cheese.
Make tuna salad with fat-free mayonnaise and vegetables (onion, carrots, celery, green peppers). Be sure to use water-packed tuna.
Use natural peanut butter.
Opt for mustard in favor of mayonnaise.
Cut fruit in bite-sized chunks to have for snacks.
Slice carrots, cucumbers, and celery and dip in low-fat dressings or salsa.
Use cottage cheese.
Healthy snacks include ‘lite’ popcorn, rice cakes, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, almonds
For dessert, try jello, fat-free frozen yogurt, sherbet, sorbet, and juice bars.
Always use whole-grain breads
Make fish a part of your diet at least once a week.

If your physician finds that exercising and maintaining a healthy diet do not lower your cholesterol, he may prescribe medication to help.

Prescription medications
There are several cholesterol-lowering medications, or statins, on the market. Your physician will know what’s best for you. These should not be taken if you have chronic liver disease or if you are a heavy drinker. As with any medication, if you experience any side effects, consult your physician immediately. Also, it is recommended that you have periodic liver function tests while taking these medications. The most popular prescriptions are listed below with their generic names in parentheses:
Vytorin & Zocor (simvastatin)
Lipitor (atorvastatin)
Crestor (rosuvastatin)
Pravachol (pravastatin)

Statins work to reduce cholesterol by inhibiting an enzyme called HMG CoA reductase. This enzyme makes it possible for your cells to produce cholesterol.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle
While changing the way you eat, adding exercise and possibly medication may be difficult at first, the benefits are well worth it. These changes can help you have a longer, healthier life by reducing your cholesterol. While these steps will not ensure a life free of heart problems, maintaining a healthy lifestyle will greatly reduce your risk of becoming a victim of heart disease.

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