The American Heart Association defines cholesterol as a type of fat that your body needs in order to make cells, build vitamins, and produce hormones. Cholesterol is required for the body, but too much in your system is a bad thing. Too much cholesterol may increase your risk for conditions like heart disease, stroke, and metabolic syndrome.
Q: Where does cholesterol come from?
A: Cholesterol comes from two sources: from your body and from the food that you eat. All the cholesterol your body needs is made by your liver. Excess cholesterol comes from the foods you eat such as poultry, red meat, and dairy).
Q: What are the different types of cholesterol? Is there a good and bad type?
A: Cholesterol moves throughout the body by particles called lipoproteins, these include:
- Low-density lipoproteins (LDL): Commonly known as “bad cholesterol”. High levels of LDLs may raise your risk for heart disease and stroke. If your body has too much LDL, the LDL can build up on the walls of your blood vessels, leading to plaques which can lead narrowing of the blood vessels. Narrowing of blood vessels can block or decrease blood flow to and from your organs, including your heart.
- High-density lipoproteins (HDL): Commonly known as “good cholesterol.” HDL removes the bad cholesterol from the body and lowers your risk of heart disease.
- Very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL): These are particles that carry triglycerides, a type of fat.
Q: How do I get my cholesterol levels checked?
A: The American Heart Association recommends cholesterol checks for all adults 20 years of age and older and repeat monitoring every 4–6 years, or more often based on your individual risk factors. The goal of lipid screening is to identify people with increased risk for heart disease.
To find out if you need to have your cholesterol levels checked, speak with your healthcare provider about your risk factors including:
- Age: the risk increases with age
- Gender: cardiovascular disease is more common in men than women
- Family history,
- Activity levels,
- Smoking status
- Other medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure
Q: What are ways to decrease my bad cholesterol?
A: Below is a list of things you can do to help decrease the bad cholesterol in your body and improve your overall health—these tactics align well with Medcor’s guiding health principles.
- Eat REAL food. Limit processed and deep-fried foods. Eat more fruits and vegetables and increase dietary omega-3s. The following foods would be a healthy addition to your diet:
- Wild caught salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, trout (avoid frying fish; steaming, broiling, backing, or stewing are the healthiest ways to prepare).
- Whole grains like oats and barley
- Extra virgin olive oil
- MOVE your body. Physical activity INCREASES your good cholesterol (HDL) and DECREASES your bad cholesterol (LDL). Exercise reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease.
- MIND your happiness. Stress reduction may lead to increasing your HDL and decreasing the LDL. Additionally, smoking decreases levels of good cholesterol; so, smoking cessation is an additional way to help control cholesterol.
Q: If my cholesterol levels do not respond to lifestyle modifications, what kinds of treatments are there?
A: It is best to speak with your healthcare provider. If lifestyle modifications do not work for you, your healthcare provider may discuss other treatment options, including the use of medications.
Q: What if I still have questions about my cholesterol?
A: Always talk with your healthcare provider—open discussions about concerns, lifestyle habits, and testing are helpful when wanting to improve your overall health. They are willing and ready to get you healthy!
Further educate yourself on this topic by reviewing the American Heart Association’s guide about cholesterol, found here. It’s free and informative! To debunk common myths regarding cholesterol, check out the American Heart Association’s Myths vs. Facts handout.
American Heart Association, “Cholesterol: Myths vs. Facts,” https://www.heart.org/-/media/files/health-topics/cholesterol/cholesterol-myths-vs-facts-english.pdf?la=en
American Heart Association, “What is Cholesterol?,” November 6, 2020, https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/about-cholesterol
Cleveland Clinic, “Cholesterol Numbers: What Do They Mean,” July 31, 2020, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11920-cholesterol-numbers-what-do-they-mean
MedlinePlus, “Cholesterol Levels: What You Need to Know,” October 2, 2020, https://medlineplus.gov/cholesterollevelswhatyouneedtoknow.html
Michael Pignone, “Management of elevated low density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C) in primary prevention of cardiovascular disease,” UpToDate, January 15, 2021. Sandeep Vijan, “Screening for lipid disorders in adults,” UpToDate, February 28, 2020.