Cholesterol is a waxy substance in the blood that helps the body digest and absorb fat. Although it also plays a role in building healthy cells, it often has a negative reputation; too much cholesterol can lead to narrowing of blood vessels and can cause heart disease, a heart attack, and a stroke. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than seventy-one million American adults have high cholesterol.
Many people do not have any symptoms of high cholesterol, so it is important for adults to have screenings done every five years. When you get your cholesterol checked with a simple blood test, you will receive several values – total cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or “good” cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or “bad” cholesterol, and triglycerides.
Our cholesterol levels are based on a combination of our genetics (passed down from our parents) and our lifestyle. We can take action to prevent or treat high cholesterol by:
- Eating a healthy diet – Avoid foods high in saturated and trans fats, which can raise cholesterol levels. Instead choose heart healthy oils and increase the fiber in your diet with foods like whole grains, seeds, fruits, and vegetables.
- Exercising regularly – Get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week.
- Maintaining a healthy weight – Being overweight or obese can impact your cholesterol levels, and losing weight can improve your values.
- Quitting smoking – Smoking increases your risk for heart attack and stroke.
Your doctor may also prescribe medication to help you manage your cholesterol if your values are too high.