Keeping Cholesterol in Check

Shot of a happy senior couple cooking a meal together at home.

Since it’s National Cholesterol Education Month, let’s find out how much you know about cholesterol.

True or False: All cholesterol is bad for you.

True or False: You can feel it when you have high cholesterol.

True or False: Eating food with a lot of cholesterol will automatically make your cholesterol levels go up.

True or False: You can’t do anything to change your cholesterol levels.

If you said all the above are false, congratulations! Whatever your score, read on to learn the facts about cholesterol, including how to manage it.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance which your body uses for a variety of functions, from digestion to hormone production and cell creation. It’s made by your liver, although you can also get it from foods like meat, poultry, and certain dairy products. Your liver naturally produces enough cholesterol.

To travel through the bloodstream, cholesterol uses lipoproteins. There are two types of lipoproteins: high-density lipoproteins (HDL) or “good” cholesterol and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol.

How is cholesterol measured?

Your total cholesterol level is measured by examining your HDL and LDL levels along with your triglycerides. Triglicerides are the most common type of fat in your body; high-fat foods, like butter and oil, as well as unused calories are converted into this type of fat. High cholesterol is having a total cholesterol above 200 mg/dL.

HDLs are referred to as the “good” cholesterol because they remove excess cholesterol from your blood, preventing build-up in the arteries. High HDL numbers can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Ideally, men want an HDL reading of at least 40 mg/dL and women want at least 50 mg/dL .

LDLs are called “bad” cholesterol because they can cause plaque buildup in blood vessels. “These plaques can eventually become inflamed and rupture, leading to a clot,” explains Dr. Ronald Krauss, a cholesterol expert in San Francisco. The clot in turn can cause a stroke or heart attack. The lower your LDLs, the lower the risk for heart disease. About 100 mg/dL is considered optimal for men and women.

High triglyceride levels have been linked to an increased risk for coronary artery disease.  When combined with low HDL or high LDL high levels, triglycerides can increase your risk for heart attack and stroke. The ideal triglyceride level is less than 150 mg/dL for everyone.

What are three ways to keep cholesterol in check?

You can impact your cholesterol levels – both the “good” and the “bad.”

  1. Be active. Exercise regularly for at least 30 minutes a day to raise HDLs and lower LDLS. A quick walk will do the trick!
  1. Eat healthy. Limit foods high in saturated fats and add foods rich in fiber. Oats and legumes can lower LDL cholesterol by 5%!
  1. Don’t smoke. Smoking speeds up the hardening of the arteries as well as your risk for heart disease. Quitting will lower your risk.

For some, the above won’t be enough to lower cholesterol significantly. Genetics can strongly influence cholesterol levels. But, there are drugs called statins that can help.

Remember: There are no symptoms for high cholesterol levels. So, make sure you have it checked to keep it in check.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor with questions about your health or if you plan to start a new exercise program

Categories: Aging Well, Senior Health