Cholesterol 101

Let's learn about cholesterol! September is National Cholesterol Education Month, and we believe everyone could benefit from a refresher on what cholesterol is and why it is so important.


So, let's dig in!



What is Cholesterol?


Cholesterol is a natural component in everyone’s blood that supports functions within the body. It is a fat-like, waxy substance that your body needs to build up cells and create vitamins and other hormones. While cholesterol itself is not inherently harmful, too much of it can cause a problem. Cholesterol comes from two sources; your liver, which makes all the cholesterol your body needs to function, and animal products that you consume such as meat, poultry, and dairy products. Those same foods are high in saturated and trans fats and those fats can cause your liver to produce more cholesterol than it otherwise would. For some people, this added production means they go from a normal cholesterol level to one that’s unhealthy. Some tropical oils such as palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil contain saturated fat that can increase harmful cholesterol. (CDC, 2020)





Why Cholesterol Matters


Cholesterol circulates in the blood. As the amount of cholesterol in your blood increases, so does the risk to your health. High cholesterol contributes to a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease and stroke. That’s why it’s important to have your cholesterol levels regularly tested by your physician.




Types of Cholesterol


The two types of cholesterol are: Low-density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is bad, and (High-density Lipoprotein) HDL, which is good. Too much of the bad kind, or not enough of the good kind, increases the risk of cholesterol slowly building up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain. This build up can cause major damage to both of these vital organs.


Signs and Symptoms of High Cholesterol

High cholesterol rarely shows visible signs and symptoms. There are cases in which there may be physical signs, such as around the eyes and/or over the tendons, but those cases are remarkably rare. Normally, high cholesterol must be screened for and detected via a blood test.




Preventing High Cholesterol


  • Eating a well-balanced diet

  • Limiting salt intake

  • Daily physical activity

  • Maintaining a recommended height-to-weight ratio

  • Quit smoking

  • Limit alcohol consumption

  • Regular exercise



How often Should Cholesterol be Checked?


The general recommendation is to get your cholesterol checked every 4 to 6 years. Some people may need to get their cholesterol checked more frequently depending on their risk of heart disease. For example, high cholesterol can run in families. If someone in your family has high cholesterol or takes medicine to control cholesterol, you might need to get tested more often. Talk to your doctor about what’s best for you. (HealthFinder.Gov, 2018)


When it comes to cholesterol, remember to check, change and control.

  • Check your cholesterol levels. It’s key to know your numbers and assess your risk.

  • Change your diet and lifestyle to help improve your levels.

  • Control your cholesterol, with help from your doctor if needed.



References:


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, September 8). Cholesterol information. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/index.htm.

Cholesterol - healthy eating tips. Cholesterol - healthy eating tips - Better Health Channel. (n.d.). https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/cholesterol-healthy-eating-tips#bhc-content


HealthFinder.gov. Get Your Cholesterol Checkedexternal icon. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018.

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