Heart Disease Protection Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a substance that receives attention in almost any discussion of heart health and heart disease risk. Even so, many people first learn about cholesterol from their doctors after they’ve had heart disease symptoms.

The more we know about cholesterol, the better we can protect ourselves from heart disease risk and the damage that high cholesterol can inflict on our cardiovascular system.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance in the blood that can accumulate on the walls of the arteries. Over time, cholesterol residue stiffens the arteries and narrows the channels through which the blood passes. This is particularly dangerous when it occurs in the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the heart muscle. If oxygen-starved heart tissue becomes damaged, the heart may stop beating.

High Cholesterol Levels

High cholesterol alone does not produce any recognizable symptoms. The best way to determine your cholesterol levels and corresponding heart disease risk is through a blood test called a “lipoprotein profile.”

The lipoprotein profile reports specific levels of:

  • HDL, or high-density lipoprotein: Known as the “good cholesterol,” HDL can actually protect cardiovascular health and lower heart disease risk. Higher levels of HDLs are beneficial.
  • LDL, or low-density lipoproteins: LDL is known as the “bad cholesterol,” and high LDL numbers can be dangerous. This is the primary component of the waxy build-up that can block the passage of blood through the arteries.
  • Triglycerides: Triglycerides are a non-cholesterol form of fat in the blood.

Cholesterol is measured in mg/dL, or milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood. Total cholesterol should ideally be less than 200 mg/dL. Anything over 240 is considered high.

HDL (good) cholesterol should ideally be over 60 mg/dL. Any measurement lower than 40 is considered too low.

LDL (bad) cholesterol levels should optimally be lower than 100 mg/dL. A level of 140 is considered borderline high, and LDL levels above 190 are dangerously high.

Managing Cholesterol and Heart Health

Several factors affect cholesterol levels, including diet, age, heredity, weight and level of physical activity. High cholesterol and heart disease risk tend to increase with a diet high in saturated fat, advanced age, a family history of high cholesterol or inactivity. Smoking, high blood pressure and disease conditions like diabetes can raise the risk of high cholesterol and heart disease symptoms.

The best way to lower high cholesterol is to reduce risk factors through diet and exercise. An optimal diet is low in saturated fat and high in soluble fiber. For most people, an appropriate amount of exercise is 30 minutes a day of moderately intense activity.

High cholesterol can’t always be managed through lifestyle changes and may require medication in the form of statins, nicotinic acid or cholesterol absorption inhibitors. If you have concerns about cholesterol and heart health, a doctor can help you develop a treatment plan, after appropriate assessments. If you have high cholesterol and you experience heart disease symptoms, see a doctor right away.

Resources

American Heart Association. (2010). Good vs. bad cholesterol. Retrieved November 9, 2010, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/AboutCholesterol/Good-vs-Bad-Cholesterol_UCM_305561_Article.jsp

Health Central. (2010). Cholesterol’s effect on the heart. Retrieved November 9, 2010, from http://www.healthcentral.com/cholesterol/understanding-cholesterol-000023_2-145.html

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. (2005). High blood cholesterol: What you need to know. Retrieved November 9, 2010, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/chol/wyntk.htm