The Good, The Bad, The Whaaaaat?!
Did you know that American people overall have the highest cholesterol in the world...Pretty sobering when you look at it that way isn't it? Most people know that high cholesterol is a dangerous problem but many are not sure of the why's and the how's or what the heck is an LDL or HDL and what all of those numbers mean. In addition, there are a lot of myths out there about the causes, symptoms, and prevention of high cholesterol. The first step to fighting high cholesterol is to sift them and search out the medical facts on both high and low cholesterol in order to make the best determination about what is good for you and subsequently good for your health!
Cholesterol Myth #1
You will experience high cholesterol symptoms if there's a problem.
Cholesterol Fact: Most people can't tell when their cholesterol is dangerously high.
About 20 percent of Americans have high cholesterol and don't know it. There are no real medical symptoms associated with high cholesterol. In fact, most won't find out their high cholesterol status until after they suffer a medical event like a heart attack or stroke.
If you would prefer to find out whether or not you have high cholesterol before such an event, you should begin having your high-risk cholesterol checked in your 20s and then once every five years. Your risk for high cholesterol rises with age, so men over the age of 45 and women who are 55 and over should be tested more often. Those who struggle with high cholesterol or have numbers close to the danger line should be tested more often, as well.
Cholesterol Myth #2
A prescription is the only way to lower dangerously high cholesterol.
Cholesterol Fact: Medication is one way to lower cholesterol, but you can do it without a high cholesterol prescription through dietary changes and exercise.
It is in fact recommended-as long as your cholesterol numbers are not too high-that you start fighting the dangers of high cholesterol issues by making changes to your diet and beginning to exercise regularly. If your cholesterol numbers are borderline, you may be able to avoid medication altogether. If your high cholesterol is already in a danger zone, then you may be able to stop taking your high cholesterol medication after some months of regular exercise and a healthy diet. Here a few goals that diet and exercise can help you attain:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise, even if gently, for about 30 minutes a day 5 to 6 days per week
- Cut out trans fat from your diet (hydrogenated oil)
- Reduce your saturated fats to under 7 percent of your calories
- Reduce your cholesterol intake to 200 mg per day or less
- Increase your soluble fiber intake to at least 10 gram per day
- Increase your fish intake or take omega-3 supplements each day
Cholesterol Myth #3
All cholesterol is bad cholesterol.
Cholesterol Fact: There are different kinds of cholesterol and some are not only not bad for you, but necessary for your body to function properly.
There are three different kinds of cholesterol: high-density lipoproteins (HDL), low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL). HDL is good because it serves the purpose of helping your body transport waste to the liver, maintain a healthy cardiovascular system, clear extra cholesterol from the bloodstream where it otherwise would collect, and block your arteries.
LDL is also responsible for carrying cholesterol from the liver to where it needs to go in the body, but it is much lighter and breaks more easily. This means that they hover in the bloodstream, often attaching to the blood vessel itself, collecting and causing a blockage that often results in a heart attack. VLDLs are even lighter than LDLs and affect the cardiovascular and circulatory systems just as negatively.
Cholesterol Myth #4
High cholesterol is only a problem for men.
Cholesterol Fact: High cholesterol is a problem for both men and women.
Estrogen is a hormone that helps monitor and maintain healthy levels of cholesterol, so women who are experiencing a regular menstrual cycle are less likely candidates for high cholesterol than are men of the same age. However, after menopause when a woman's estrogen level plummets, her chances of suffering a heart attack or stroke due to high cholesterol significantly increase. It's important that women maintain low levels of cholesterol throughout their lives to prepare for the loss of estrogen later.
Cholesterol Myth #5
You should get your first cholesterol test after the age of 45.
Cholesterol Fact: You should start getting tested for high cholesterol in your 20s.
HDL - 60+ mg/dL Getting tested for high cholesterol is easy: a blood test done after fasting called a fasting lipid profile. You can have it done in conjunction with a batch of other blood tests to simply the process. The test will show your cholesterol levels in terms of HDL, LDL, triglycerides, and total cholesterol. If you have any questions about how to get a test or your test results, ask your doctor. In general, your goals should be:
- LDL - 100 mg/dL or less
- Triglycerides - 150 mg/dL or less
- Total cholesterol - 200 mg/dL or less
Don't Know Your Numbers?
If you live in Northern VA in the Chantilly area, you are in luck! We are hosting a women's wellness event on August 12 which is open to the public where cholesterol screenings will be offered. Our screening will feature a simple "finger stick" test that will give you the results in minutes! If you are interested in learning where you are and what you can do to lower or even prevent high cholesterol in the future, get more details on our upcoming event.