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Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in your blood and in all your body's cells. The American Heart Association (AHA) says you need a certain amount of cholesterol for good health. But too much cholesterol in your blood can lead to clogged arteries and contribute to atherosclerosis. (Read about "Arteriosclerosis & Atherosclerosis") Atherosclerosis is a major risk factor for heart disease. (Read about "Coronary Heart Disease")
Your total blood cholesterol level can help determine your relative risk of developing heart disease. (Read about "Heart Risks") The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) says that, in general, the following total cholesterol levels are considered acceptable for the average adult with no other known heart disease risk factors:
Normal - less than 200mg/100dL
Borderline - 200-239 mg/100dL
High - over 240 mg/dL
But those numbers don't tell the whole story, because not all cholesterol is bad. There are different blood fats:
High-density lipoprotein - AHA says that a high level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is believed to be beneficial. High-density lipoproteins (the so-called "good" cholesterol) remove cholesterol from the bloodstream. Under the latest guidelines from the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP), an HDL of less than 40 mg/dL is considered low for most adults, and indicates a potentially higher risk of heart disease. According to NCEP, HDL levels of 60 mg/dL or more help to lower your risk for heart disease.
Low-density lipoprotein - Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is the so-called "bad" cholesterol. This is the kind of cholesterol that can build up and block arteries. NCEP says that an LDL reading of less than 130 mg/dL is considered desirable. For high-risk patients, including diabetics, the overall goal is an LDL level of less than 100 mg/dL. But for people at very high risk, a group that is considered a "sub-set" of the high-risk category, it is suggested that a level of under 70 mg/dL should be the goal.NCEP defines high-risk patients as those who have coronary heart disease or disease of the blood vessels to the brain or extremities, or diabetes (Read about "Diabetes"), or multiple (2 or more) risk factors such as smoking and hypertension (Read about "Quit Smoking" and "Hypertension: High Blood Pressure") that give them a greater than 20 percent chance of having a heart attack (Read about "Heart Attack") within 10 years. Very high-risk patients are those who have cardiovascular disease together with either multiple risk factors (especially diabetes), or severe and poorly controlled risk factors (e.g., continued smoking), or metabolic syndrome. (Read about "Metabolic Syndrome") Patients hospitalized for acute coronary syndromes such as heart attack are also at very high risk.
Triglycerides - Triglycerides are another form of fat in the blood. Triglycerides can also raise heart disease risk. Levels that are borderline high (150-199 mg/dL) or high (200 mg/dL or more) may need treatment in some people, according to NHLBI.
Depending on your age and other heart disease risk factors, your doctor can help you determine how often you should be screened for total cholesterol, triglycerides, as well as LDL and HDL levels. Remember too that several screening tests are usually needed before your doctor can make a final determination of your condition.
The body produces its own cholesterol (about a thousand milligrams a day for most people.) Cholesterol also comes from the food we eat. The American Medical Association says two kinds of food can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood:
The AMA says cholesterol levels can also be affected by weight, physical inactivity, inherited health traits, age and gender.
According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), in general, cholesterol is NOT found in plant foods. Therefore, vegetables, fruits, grains and cereals are usually healthy choices - provided of course you don't load them up with high-fat sauces and dressings. When choosing animal protein foods, look for the ones that are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol such as the leanest cuts of meat, poultry without the skin, most fish, skim milk, and low- and non-fat dairy products. (Read about "Dietary Guidelines")
The way you cook your food can affect how much cholesterol you get too. (Read about "Low Fat Food Tips") When cooking meats, ADA suggests you always trim all visible fat before cooking. Since egg yolks contain cholesterol, try substituting two egg whites for one whole egg when cooking. Use vegetable broth to stir-fry foods instead of butter or other fats.
Many processed foods advertise that they contain little or no cholesterol. Remember that if these foods came from plant sources (potato chips for example) they never had cholesterol in their natural form in the first place. With processed foods, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says the important thing to watch out for is fat and saturated fat. Read the nutrition label carefully when choosing processed foods to ensure that no more than a third of your daily calories are coming from fat.
Talk with your doctor about cholesterol and your diet. Particularly if you have a severe problem with cholesterol, you may need to restrict your cholesterol intake even more.
If you have a high level of cholesterol that can't be brought down by diet or exercise your doctor might prescribe drugs. There are different types of cholesterol lowering drugs:
As with all treatments, it is important that you talk with your doctor. Trying to treat yourself or self-medicate could have disastrous side effects. (Read about Medicine Safety)
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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