Cholesterol. It’s a word that inspires fear and confusion for many people — the sheer amount of information out there and the fact that there are multiple kinds of cholesterol can be overwhelming. But it’s important to know about cholesterol and how it can affect your health. Here are some fundamentals.
1. Your body needs cholesterol. In fact, your body makes cholesterol on its own. How much cholesterol your body makes is genetic, and for some people, the body simply makes too much. There is also cholesterol in animal products — meats, milk, cheese, eggs, etc. It’s important to keep tabs on how much cholesterol you’re consuming in your food because when there’s too much cholesterol in your body, it can clog your arteries and increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke.
2. There are several different kinds of cholesterol. The kinds that people talk about the most are HDL (“good” cholesterol) and LDL (“bad” cholesterol). HDL keeps LDL from getting stuck to your artery walls, and healthy levels can protect against heart attack and stroke. An easy way to remember the two types is that your HDL number should be higher (“H” for higher) and your LDL number should be lower (“L” for lower).
There are also triglycerides, a type of fat made by your body. Having high triglycerides is often a signal for other health problems, including high LDL and low HDL cholesterol. You may also have heard of Lp(a) cholesterol, which is a genetic variation of LDL.
3. You have control over your cholesterol levels. If you need to raise your HDL, you can try things like increasing your physical activity, avoiding trans fats, eating a more balanced diet, and quitting smoking. Lowering your LDL can be achieved by changing your diet to reduce the number of saturated fats, trans fats, and dietary cholesterol. For some people, medications may also be required.
It’s recommended for adults over 20 that you get your cholesterol checked once every five years. It may need to be checked more often than every five years if you have high total cholesterol, if you’re over 45, if your HDL is low, or you have other risk factors for heart disease and stroke. So if you can’t remember when your last cholesterol check was, it’s time to call your doctor and get it checked.
Need to find a primary care doctor to get your cholesterol tested? Find a Bon Secours doctor near you.