Let’s outsmart cholesterol.
September is National Cholesterol Education Month.
OK, that may not sound as fun and exciting as, say, National Free Taco’s Month, but it’s a good time to learn about what you can do to help ensure that you’re fit, healthy and ready to go for National Bike Month in May.
We’re sure that you’re familiar with the word “cholesterol,” most likely from the myriad groceries that announce they contain none of it. But it’s important to know more about it, how it can affect your health, and what you can do to make sure you have a healthy amount of it in your body.
Simply put, cholesterol is a waxy substance that’s found in the fats in your blood. In the right amount, it’s a good thing — cholesterol is essential to building healthy cells. But when there’s too much of it in your blood, it can lead to heart attack and stroke.
You’ve also likely heard the terms “bad cholesterol” and “good cholesterol.” These refer to the types of proteins (lipoproteins) that carry cholesterol through the blood. LDL (low-density lipoprotein) makes up most of your body’s cholesterol and is the bad variety. Too much raises your risk of heart disease and stroke. HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is the good variety. High levels of LDL can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Here’s an easy way to remember which is which: you want a high amount of high and a low amount of low.
High bad/low good cholesterol can be caused by several factors, some that you have control of and some that you don’t:
• Heredity — Genetics can make it more difficult for cells to remove LDL (bad) cholesterol from your body, or cause your body to create too much.
• Diabetes — High blood sugar raises LDL and lowers HDL. It can also damage the lining of your arteries, which causes them to accumulate fatty deposits.
• Diet — Eating too much saturated fat, mostly found in meat (especially red meat) and full-fat dairy products.
• Obesity — A body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater.
• Large waist — A 40” or larger waist for men or 35” or larger for women increases your cholesterol risk
• Sedentary lifestyle — Exercise can boost HDL and make LDL less harmful by increasing the size of the particles that comprise it.
• Smoking — Cigarettes can lower HDL and, like high blood sugar, damage blood vessel walls.
Living a healthier lifestyle can help you lower your bad cholesterol, raise your good cholesterol, or prevent bad numbers in the first place:
• Reduce your salt and increase your fruits, vegetables and whole grains
• Limit animal fats by using reduced or non-fat dairy products and eating less red meat
• Lose excess weight and keep it off
• If you smoke, quit
• Get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day (or as many days as humanly possible)
• Drink alcohol in moderation
If your cholesterol issues are hereditary, or lifestyle changes have little or no effect on your levels, you may need to consider cholesterol-lowering medications. Your doctor will help you decide which option could be best for you.
Of course, the best way to kick off National Cholesterol Education Month is to learn what your numbers are. And at St. Clair Hospital, we will be glad to help. Visit our Physician Directory at stclair.org/physicians/directory to schedule an appointment for a simple blood test. And once you get your cholesterol under control, you can spend next September celebrating National Honey Month. (It’s a real thing — you can look it up!)