You’ve probably heard the word “cholesterol,” and you may even know what your blood cholesterol levels are, but do you know what exactly cholesterol is, and what those numbers mean? If not, this article is for you.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is one of the primary building blocks that your body’s cells need to create structural integrity and fluidity. It is a waxy substance that is naturally produced by your liver to meet your body’s needs, but it can be overproduced if you consume a diet that is too high in cholesterol that comes from meat, poultry, and full-fat dairy products. It’s this overproduction that you need to be concerned about and manage, because if you have high levels of blood cholesterol you are twice as likely to have a heart attack as people with lower cholesterol levels.
You may have heard the terms “good cholesterol” and “bad cholesterol.” These refer to the two forms in which cholesterol occurs in your bloodstream. Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is the “bad” one, because if you have too much of it, it can lead to atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), and thus heart disease. High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is more beneficial, because it actually helps your body to collect excessive amounts of LDL cholesterol and route them back to your liver. When your Palm Beach heart doctors give you a blood test to determine your cholesterol levels, the results are reported in 3 categories, with their amounts in milligrams per decaliter:
- LDL – ideal levels should be below 100 mg/dL.
- HDL– ideal levels should be above 60 mg/dL.
- Total Cholesterol – ideal levels should be below 200 mg/dL.
Managing your cholesterol – when do you have to take steps to lower it?
The recommendations above for “ideal” levels are for healthy individuals; for those with existing heart disease or those who are at high risk of developing it, different levels may be optimal. If your Delray Beach cardiologists find that you have total cholesterol levels that are too high and either too much LDL cholesterol or too little HDL cholesterol, they may recommend that you take steps to reduce these levels.
To help you manage these high cholesterol levels, your Palm Beach cardiologist may start by recommending that you work on eliminating or lowering your risk factors for heart disease. This means losing weight if you are obese or overweight, taking steps to lower your blood pressure, stopping smoking, and getting your diabetes under control if you have it. The next step for most patients is to use diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes to lower their cholesterol levels. Your doctor may advise you, for example, to limit your intake of total fats to less than 30% of your daily calorie intake, and to limit your intake of saturated fats even more – to 10% or less of your daily calories. He may also advise you to limit your consumption of sodium (salt) and to increase the amount of exercise you get. These measures often work to bring cholesterol levels down to more acceptable levels. If they do not, your doctor may prescribe medications called statins.
Your first step, however, should be to have your cholesterol levels tested
You can’t start managing your blood cholesterol levels unless you know what they are. A blood test to find this out takes only a few minutes. If you are over 20, the American Heart Association recommends that you get such a test every 4-6 years, and if you are over 50, more often. So pick up your phone and make an appointment with some of the best cardiologists in Palm Beach by calling 561-515-0080 today. It could be your first step towards a more heart-healthy lifestyle.