Lower cholesterol to improve health

Too much cholesterol in the blood is one of the main risk factors for heart disease and stroke — two leading causes of death in the United States. One way to prevent these diseases is to detect high cholesterol and treat it when it is found.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that bodies need. But when there is too much in the blood, it can build up on the walls of arteries and form blockages. This can lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

Photos.com High cholesterol may increase the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis, which are both risk factors for stroke.
High cholesterol may increase the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis, which are both risk factors for stroke.

There are two kinds of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL is also called “good” cholesterol. LDL is called “bad” cholesterol. When we talk about high cholesterol, we are talking about “bad” LDL cholesterol.

Seventy-one million American adults have high cholesterol, but only one-third of them have the condition under control. September is National Cholesterol Education Month — a good time for everyone to resolve to get their cholesterol screened.

What role does screening play?

Screening is the key to detecting high cholesterol. Because high cholesterol does not have symptoms, many people do not know that their cholesterol is too high. A simple blood test is all that is needed to check cholesterol levels.

The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that adults over 20 have their cholesterol checked every five years.

Some people may need to have their cholesterol checked more often if any of the following statements applies:

• Total cholesterol is 200 mg/dL or higher.

• You are a man older than age 45 or a woman older than age 50.

• HDL cholesterol is lower than 40 mg/dL.

• There are other risk factors for heart
disease and stroke.

Although the number of people who said they were screened for cholesterol within the previous five years increased from 73 percent to 76 percent from 2005-2009, only a handful of states have met the 82 percent Healthy People 2020 objective, and disparities in
getting screened persist.

How can you prevent or treat high cholesterol?

Make therapeutic lifestyle changes by:

Eating a healthy diet. Avoid saturated fats and trans fats, which tend to raise cholesterol levels. Other types of fats, such as polyunsaturated fats, can actually lower blood cholesterol levels. Eating fiber also can help lower cholesterol.

Exercising regularly. Physical activity can help lower cholesterol. The Surgeon General recommends that adults engage in moderate-intensity exercise for two hours and 30 minutes every week.

Maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can raise your cholesterol levels. Losing weight can help lower cholesterol.

Not smoking. Smokers need to quit as soon as possible.

Be sure to follow doctor’s instructions and stay on medications, if prescribed, to  control cholesterol.

For more information about cholesterol and how to prevent high cholesterol or keep it in check, see “Your Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol with TLC” from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s website at