Did you know that you need cholesterol to live? You do, and your liver produces it naturally. You need it for all sorts of bodily functions like making vitamin D, forming cell membranes, and more.
But, when there’s too much of the wrong type of cholesterol in your blood, your risk of numerous health complications gets much higher.
The physicians at Heart & Vascular Institute help patients understand their cholesterol numbers every day. We know it can be confusing, but learning how to maintain healthy cholesterol measurements is worth the effort. Keeping your cholesterol in the healthy range can protect you.
Good and bad cholesterol
A big part of understanding cholesterol is knowing the different types.
To move cholesterol through your blood, your liver makes lipoproteins, a combination of fat and proteins that carries cholesterol through your bloodstream. There are two major forms of lipoprotein: low-density (LDL) and high-density (HDL).
High-density lipoprotein is sometimes called “good cholesterol,” and low-density lipoprotein is called “bad cholesterol.” Too much LDL in your blood leads to a high cholesterol diagnosis and is associated with numerous health issues, including heart attack and stroke.
What happens to LDL in your body
LDL is a waxy, fat-like substance. When there’s too much of it in your blood, it can stick to the walls of your arteries. When it does, it’s called plaque.
Plaque in your arteries makes them less flexible and narrower so that less blood can flow through. This means less blood can get to your heart, brain, and other organs.
When blood can’t get to your heart, you may feel chest pain, or angina, or you may have a heart attack. When your brain doesn’t get adequate blood flow, your risk of stroke is high.
What you don’t know can hurt you
One of the things that’s most dangerous about having high cholesterol is that you’re unlikely to know it without a blood test. That means you could be living with an increased risk of heart attack or stroke and have no idea.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends having your cholesterol checked at least every five years. If your total cholesterol reaches over 200 mg/dL, your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes or more frequent screenings.
What you can do
Your genetic makeup can contribute to high cholesterol, and there’s nothing you can do about that.
However, there are some things you can do to lower your cholesterol. For example, if you smoke, you should stop. That’s often an important and helpful first step in lowering your cholesterol because smoke damages your blood vessels.
You can also work to improve your diet. There’s some disagreement about the role that diet plays in cholesterol, but overall, choosing a diet that’s rich in fiber and lean protein and low in processed foods, foods with a lot of saturated fat, and sugar is going to be healthier in general.
Aim to consume more vegetables, beans, and oatmeal and fewer desserts, steaks, and alcoholic beverages.
Getting active is another great way to improve your cholesterol levels. You don’t need to train for the Olympics, but a brisk walk several times a week or a few laps in the pool can help keep your blood moving. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week.
If lifestyle interventions don’t help, your doctor may recommend medications to help lower your cholesterol. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, or you have a chronic condition like Type 2 diabetes, you may need medication in addition to a healthy lifestyle.
If you have questions about cholesterol, or you’re overdue for a screening, schedule an appointment at one of our three convenient Heart & Vascular Institute locations in Dearborn, Detroit, or Southfield, Michigan.