While cholesterol has earned a questionable reputation over the years, the truth is it’s not inherently a bad thing. Cholesterol is a natural, waxy substance that’s produced by our body. The liver produces all the cholesterol we need to be healthy. Unfortunately, we also ingest cholesterol when we eat animal meats and full dairy products.
Dietary choices often result in an abundance of cholesterol that can build up on artery walls, restricting blood flow and causing coronary issues. The plaque buildup can also break off and cause clotting, stroke and atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries.
There are two types of cholesterol – LDL (bad) cholesterol, and HDL (good) cholesterol. As cholesterol cannot be absorbed by blood, it’s transported through the circulatory system via lipoproteins, or fat proteins. Low density lipoproteins (LDL) contribute to plague and hardened arteries, which can cause a host of serious medical issues. High density lipoproteins (HDL) helps to remove the LDL from the arteries, picking it up and transporting it through the bloodstream, away from the arteries and back to the liver where it can be broken down.
A third consideration in overall cholesterol levels are triglycerides, fat cells that store excess energy, and are associated with obesity, smoking and lack of exercise. These three factors make up your total cholesterol score.
A blood test will determine your total cholesterol number, as well as the exact breakdown of “good” and “bad” levels. The higher the HDL level, the better – if this level is too low, you are at increased risk of heart disease. Low HDL levels can also indicate other health risks being present, such as type 2 diabetes, smoking, sedentary lifestyle or obesity. Conversely, low LDL numbers are an indicator of good heart health. As for triglyceride levels, a high level combined with low HDL – or high LDL – will put you at increased risk of the buildup of fatty deposits in artery walls. A medical professional will want to address that quickly in order to reduce risk for heart attack and stroke. An LDL count of 190 or higher is considered dangerous; the higher the HDL level, the better.
To treat a less than favorable cholesterol score, here are a few things you can do:
- Consult with a medical professional to determine risk and if you need medication.
- Make appropriate lifestyle changes – quit smoking and increase exercise.
- Learn which fats are “good” and “bad” for your diet; learn to cook heart healthy.
If you’re concerned about your cholesterol levels, visit one of Urgent Team’s Family of Urgent Care & Walk-in Centers for a checkup and blood test. Even if you have no real cause for concern, a cholesterol check is recommended every four to six years.