The truth? You can’t handle the truth! Here’s some information you need to know:
Any total cholesterol level above 200 milligrams per deciliter of blood (written mg/dL) is considered borderline high. Extremely high total cholesterol is any reading above 240 mg/dL and one that puts you at risk for heart disease, liver failure, and other health problems. And here is why Americans are at serious risk:
- 107 million, or 1 in 5 adults, has cholesterol levels above 200 mg/dL.
- Almost 38 million more have levels above 240 mg/dL.
- More women over age 45 have high cholesterol than men.
- Almost 30 million prescriptions are written each year for cholesterol lowering drugs, accounting for $20 billion in annual sales for the pharmaceutical industry.
- Americans spend $10 billion per year on the statin drug, Lipitor alone
- In 2001, the statin drug, Baycol used to lower cholesterol was taken off the market due to toxic side effects.
- Most drugs prescribed today to lower cholesterol are statin drugs.
- Asians on average have an LDL cholesterol level of less than 95 because of their low fat diet. Anything under 100 for LDL cholesterol is considered good.
- Diet and lifestyle changes, without the use of drugs, have been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol in one year’s time by 40 percent on average (from 144 down to 87 mg/dL.)
Q: What is cholesterol?
A: Cholesterol is a fatty substance present in most meaty foods and some vegetables. In normal amounts it is an important building block of bile acids, which help digestion, and steroid hormones. In the blood, cholesterol is found in particles containing both lipids (fats) and proteins; hence they are referred to as lipoproteins.
Q: Who should be tested for high cholesterol?
A: Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is important for everyone: young, middle-aged, and older adults; women and men; and people with or without heart disease. Adults 20 years and older should have their cholesterol measured at least once every 5 years. Those found to have elevated cholesterol requiring changes in diet or drug therapy, or who have been diagnosed with heart disease will require more frequent lipid profile testing, at least annually.
Q: Why should I test my cholesterol level?
A: As one of the major risk factors for developing heart disease, your blood cholesterol level affects your chances of having a heart attack. It is important to find out what your cholesterol levels are because lowering cholesterol levels that are too high lessens the chance of having a heart attack or dying from heart disease, even if you already have it.
Q: Besides cholesterol, what are other risk factors for heart disease?
A: Cholesterol is only one risk factor that may lead to heart disease. The other major risk factors are listed below. Your doctor can help you to understand your risk for heart disease by taking into account these other factors along with your cholesterol.
- Cigarette smoking
- High blood pressure
- Early heart disease in a close relative (before age 55 in men & 65 in women)
- Age more than 45 for men or 55 for women
- LDL and HDL cholesterols
- Life habit risk factors (obesity, physical inactivity and fatty diet)
Q: What is LDL?
A: Often called “bad cholesterol,” LDL is the main source of cholesterol build-up and blockage in the arteries.
Q: What is HDL?
A: Often called “good cholesterol,” HDL helps keep cholesterol from building up in the arteries.
How does cholesterol cause heart disease? When there is too much cholesterol (a fat-like substance) in your blood, it builds up in the walls of your arteries. Over time, this buildup causes “hardening of the arteries” so that arteries become narrowed and blood flow to the heart is slowed down or blocked. The blood carries oxygen to the heart, and if enough blood and oxygen cannot reach your heart, you may suffer chest pain. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by a blockage, the result is a heart attack.
High blood cholesterol itself does not cause symptoms; so many people are unaware that their cholesterol level is too high. It is important to find out what your cholesterol numbers are because lowering cholesterol levels that are too high lessens the risk for developing heart disease and reduces the chance of a heart attack or dying of heart disease, even I you already have it. Cholesterol lowering is important for everyone-younger, middle age, and older adults; women and men; and people with or without heart disease.
Everyone age 20 and older should have their cholesterol measured at least once every 5 years. It is best to have a blood test called a “lipoprotein profile” to find out your cholesterol numbers. This blood test is done after a 9 to 12 hour fast and gives information about your:
- Total cholesterol
- LDL (bad) cholesterol
- The main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries
- HDL (good) cholesterol
- Helps keep cholesterol from building up in the arteries
- Another from of fat in your blood
Saturated Fat & Cholesterol – an evil combination
If you are trying to control you blood cholesterol level, you must limit not only the amount of cholesterol you consume, but also the amount of saturated fat, which appears to stimulate the body’s production of cholesterol.
Although they’re often mentioned together, cholesterol and fat is not the same thing. Cholesterol is found only in animal products – meats, poultry, dairy products, and eggs.
Steps you can take to keep your cholesterol level down:
Substitute unsaturated fats for saturated fats
Polyunsaturated fats (such as safflower and corn oil) and monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil) help to lower blood cholesterol levels.
But this doesn’t mean you should add any of these fats to your diet – you should still keep your total fat intake at or below 30 percent of your daily calories. Replace butter in cooking with olive or corn oil. Substitute fish for some of the red meat and poultry in your diet.
Lose weight, if necessary
Not only does excess body fat raise your total blood cholesterol and LDL levels, but it also is an independent risk factor for heart disease. On average, each two pounds of excess body fat contributes one mg//dL of total cholesterol.
A program of regular aerobic exercise may help lower total cholesterol and raise HDL. To get this benefit, as well as the other benefits exercise offers, you should exercise at least three times per week for thirty minutes a session.
Increase your consumption of food high in soluble fiber
Oat bran is certainly the most familiar of these food along with legumes and other vegetables, such as black-eyed peas, kidney beans, sweet potatoes, zucchini, and broccoli. In the fruit category, bananas, apples, pears, and oranges have some soluble fiber.
Smoking increases total cholesterol and reduces HDL, and is an independent risk factor for heart disease as well.