AUSTIN (KXAN) — High cholesterol is one of the major controllable risk factors for coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke. If you have other risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure or diabetes, your risk increases even more.
And, when it comes to cholesterol awareness, this is what to remember: Check, Change and Control.
Check your cholesterol levels. It’s key to know your numbers.
Change your diet and lifestyle to help improve your levels.
Control your cholesterol, with help from your doctor if needed.
The American Heart Association recommends that all adults 20 and older have their cholesterol (and other risk factors) checked every four to six years. Work with your doctor to determine your risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke.
So, what is cholesterol? What does it do?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance. It’s not inherently “bad.” In fact, your body needs it to build cells. But too much cholesterol can pose a problem.
Cholesterol comes from two sources. Your liver makes all the cholesterol you need. The remainder of the cholesterol in your body comes from foods derived from animals. For example, meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products all contain cholesterol, called dietary cholesterol.
Those same foods are high in saturated and trans fats. Those fats cause your liver to make 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 – can also trigger your liver to make more cholesterol. These oils are often found in baked goods.
View an animation of cholesterol here:
Why cholesterol matters
Cholesterol circulates in the blood. As the amount of cholesterol in your blood increases, so does the risk to your health. That’s why it’s important to have your cholesterol tested, so you can know your levels.
There are two types of cholesterol: LDL cholesterol, which is bad, and HDL, which is good. Too much of the bad kind, or not enough of the good kind, increases the risk that cholesterol will slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain.
Cholesterol can join with other substances to form a thick, hard deposit on the inside of the arteries. This can narrow the arteries and make them less flexible – a condition known as atherosclerosis. If a blood clot forms and blocks one of these narrowed arteries, a heart attack or stroke can result.
Did you know?
- High cholesterol can be inherited. This is referred to as familial hypercholesterolemia. In the United States alone, an estimated 1.3 million people live with Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH). Yet only 10 percent of them are diagnosed. Nearly 2 million people in the US might have FH and not even know it.
- FH runs in families. If one parent has FH, each child has a 50 percent chance of having FH. (2)
- If left untreated, men have a 50 percent rise of having a heart attack by age 50. Untreated women have a 30 percent risk by age 60. (3)
- FH is treatable. If FH is found early, serious problems of the heart and blood vessels may be prevented or dramatically delayed by taking steps to protect yourself. These include:
- Not smoking.
- Exercising regularly.
- Eating a healthy diet low in saturated and trans fats.
- Taking medications.
You can download a free cholesterol guide here.
This content brought to you in partnership with the American Heart Association and KXAN.