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Why You Should Pay Attention to Cholesterol
By Ariana Samani, MD
When on the quest for better health, you may be staying on top of your weight, how much you’re exercising, and how much you eat. You may even be attuned to saturated fats. But are you paying attention to cholesterol?
It may seem that adding ways to manage cholesterol to your many daily decisions about maintaining a healthy lifestyle is simply going too far. But here’s why it matters.
The type of cholesterol that most people worry about, LDL (low-density lipoproteins), can cause a fatty build-up in your arteries, called atherosclerosis. With atherosclerosis, your arteries become narrowed, which makes heart events like heart attack and stroke more likely. On the other hand, you also have HDL (high-density lipoproteins) in your blood, and this is a good type of cholesterol responsible for clearing HDL out of your arteries to be broken down by your liver. But are your LDL and HDL in the right balance?
Paying attention to risk
In some cases, elevated cholesterol is inherited or comes with age, but many risk factors can be controlled and include:
- A diet high in saturated fat
- Being overweight or obese
- Poorly controlled diabetes or high blood pressure
- A lack of exercise
Even people who may never suspect themselves to have high cholesterol — or an unhealthy ratio of HDL to LDL — can have it. This is because it remains hidden, sometimes until it is too late. Even a slender patient may eat a diet that seems relatively low in saturated fats, but without exercise to help raise HDL, the patient’s LDL cholesterol levels may become disproportionately elevated.
Make cholesterol awareness a part of your healthy lifestyle, starting with having your cholesterol checked regularly, usually once every five years. This involves a simple blood test or can be done as part of a blood donation. Your cholesterol results will include numbers for your LDL, HDL, and triglycerides, which is a common fat that stores energy. They’re given as numbers that represent a ratio of milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood.
Most patients should aim for results within the following guidelines:
- HDL: 60 or higher
- LDL: Below 100
- Total: Below 200
However, for patients with some chronic conditions, such as coronary artery disease, striving for even lower LDL is best. Your physician will be able to review your test results and help you create goals based on your overall health.
Living to manage cholesterol
Fortunately, managing cholesterol comes naturally with a healthy lifestyle. Reducing fatty meats is a great start. Replace them with foods that help lower LDL:
- Lean meats like fish and skinless poultry
- Oats, barley, and other whole grains and other sources of fiber
- Beans, nuts, and soy
- Fruits and like apples, grapes, strawberries, and oranges
- Vegetables like eggplant, yams, spinach, bell peppers, broccoli, and okra
In some cases, adjusting your diet with these foods, incorporating more exercise into your routine, and taking steps to address your controllable risk factors may be enough to lower high cholesterol. In other cases, your physician can prescribe medications like statins to lower your cholesterol to a healthy range, which can reduce risk associated with the fatty build-up of cholesterol in your arteries.
You’ll find that once you incorporate these simple changes into your daily routine, you actually won’t have to pay so much attention to cholesterol. Managing it will become part of your lifestyle. If you haven’t had your cholesterol checked in five or more years, schedule an appointment for a simple blood test and work with your physician on creating a plan that pays attention to your unique health needs.