The Ultimate Guide To Managing Your Cholesterol
Yes, you’ve heard of cholesterol and understand the importance of keeping it in check—but as for the nitty gritty of how to do so, that’s where things may start to get fuzzy.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone: An April 2017 survey by the American Heart Association (AHA) found that most people who have high cholesterol aren’t sure how to manage their condition and don’t feel confident that they can. And 47% of the respondents with a history of or risk factors for heart disease or stroke hadn't gotten their cholesterol checked in over a year.
“With all the conflicting data among the scientific community about cholesterol, it’s hard for patients to know exactly what their cholesterol level should be and what to do to get it there,” says Jennifer Haythe, MD, leading cardiologist and internist at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York.
Since even modestly elevated cholesterol levels can lead to heart disease later in life, here’s everything you need to know (and do) to get a grip on your cholesterol:
Cholesterol tends to get a bad rap.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in every cell of the body, and plays an important role in many bodily functions, such as making hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. It travels through your bloodstream in tiny packets called lipoproteins, which are made of fat on the inside and proteins on the outside.
There are two types of lipoproteins that deliver cholesterol throughout your body—low-density (LDL) and high-density (HDL)—and having healthy levels of both is super-important to your overall health.
LDL cholesterol (Bad): Your body uses LDL lipoproteins to build cells—but when you have too much it becomes a “bad” cholesterol, building up in the walls of your arteries and causing them to narrow, says Niket Sonpal, MD, assistant professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York.
HDL cholesterol (Good): Known as “good” cholesterol, HDL lipoproteins protect against heart disease by sending “bad” cholesterol to your liver, where it’s processed and removed from your body.
On its own, high blood cholesterol doesn’t cause any symptoms, hence the importance of finding out what your numbers are. The higher the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood, the higher your risk of heart disease. The higher the level of HDL cholesterol, the lower your risk.