September is National Cholesterol Awareness Month and it is important for everyone to be aware of what cholesterol is, how it works in your body, and what foods to avoid and what foods to eat to keep the bad cholesterol away and the good cholesterol here to stay!
Too much cholesterol in the blood is one of the main risk factors for heart disease and stroke and is the leading cause of death in the United States. One way to prevent these diseases is to detect cholesterol and treat it when it is found. And yet, most adults with high cholesterol don’t have their condition under control. Two out of 3 adults have high cholesterol—or high LDL “bad” cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a fatty chemical which is an important part of the outer lining (membrane) of cells in the body. Cholesterol is found mainly in foods that come from animals. LDL lipoprotein is the major carrier of cholesterol in the blood. LDL cholesterol is called “bad” cholesterol, because elevated LDL cholesterol is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. LDL lipoprotein deposits cholesterol on the artery walls, causing the formation of a hard, thick substance called cholesterol plaque. Over time, cholesterol plaque causes thickening of the artery walls and narrowing of the arteries, a process called atherosclerosis.
Your blood cholesterol level is affected not only by what you eat but also by how quickly your body makes LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and disposes of it. In fact, your body makes all the cholesterol it needs, and it is not necessary to take in any additional cholesterol from the foods you eat.
Only 25% of blood cholesterol is actually ingested as dietary cholesterol. The other 75% is produced in the liver and, once linked with carrier proteins known as lipoproteins, flows throughout the body in the bloodstream along with dietary cholesterol.
Many factors help determine whether your LDL-cholesterol level is high or low. The following factors are the most important:
Before the age of menopause, women usually have total cholesterol levels that are lower than those of men the same age. As women and men get older, their blood cholesterol levels rise until about 60 to 65 years of age. After the age of about 50, women often have higher total cholesterol levels than men of the same age.
Screening is the key to detecting high cholesterol. High cholesterol does not have symptoms. As a result, many people do not know that their cholesterol is too high. Doctors can do a simple blood test to check patients’ levels.
The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) recommends that adults aged 20 years or older have their cholesterol checked every 5 years.
Some of the above information has been provided with the kind permission of the National Institutes of Health (www.nih.gov)
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