According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), heart disease is one of the leading causes of death. Almost 1 in 3 American adults is living with high cholesterol levels, which is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Knowing our cholesterol levels can help us make better lifestyle choices to protect our heart health.
What is cholesterol? Cholesterol is an important waxy substance found in all parts of the body. The body needs cholesterol to build healthy cells, hormones, and Vitamin D. The liver makes most of the cholesterol the body needs to function, but it is also in foods such as dairy, meat, poultry, and seafood.
There are several types of cholesterol in the body:
LDL cholesterol: is considered the “bad” cholesterol, because it can contribute to fatty buildup in the arteries (atherosclerosis) – a condition that causes narrowing of the arteries. An elevated LDL level over time is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
HDL cholesterol: is the “good” cholesterol. In the case of HDL cholesterol, the higher the levels the better. HDL cholesterol helps to removed cholesterol from the blood. A healthy HDL cholesterol level may help protect against heart attack and stroke.
Triglycerides: are the most common type of fat in the body and is used for energy. Elevated levels combined with high LDL (bad) cholesterol or low HDL (good) cholesterol also increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. Interestingly, elevated triglyceride levels not only come from foods that contain saturated and trans fats but can also be a result of certain health conditions such as hypothyroidism, kidney or liver disease, and diabetes.
High cholesterol levels have no symptoms and a blood test is the only way to know. 9Health is making an impact by providing low-cost blood chemistry screenings that measure cholesterol levels and other important levels such as thyroid, kidney, and liver functions and many more! At our Spring 9Health Fairs, 32,600 people had their cholesterol levels checked and of those, 66% had elevated LDL levels and 23% had elevated triglyceride levels.
Who is at risk for high cholesterol?
- Those with a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease
- Eating a diet high in saturated fat found in some processed foods, high-fat meats or dairy
- Being overweight or obese
- Not exercising enough
- Increased age
- Having diabetes
Heart-healthy lifestyle changes that lower your cholesterol can help prevent high cholesterol in the first place. To help prevent high cholesterol, you can:
- Eat a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Limit the number of animal fats and use good fats in moderation
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Don’t smoke
- Stay active – try to get at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all
- Manage stress
9Health is a 501c-3 community non-profit empowering people to put health in their own hands by providing tools such as preventive health screenings, evidence-based, objective health education and eTools and resources for every day in your health journey. To support our work, go to www.9healthfair.org/sponsors/support/