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Cholesterol: The Whats, Hows, and Whys


What exactly is cholesterol?


Cholesterol is fatty substance made from the fats you eat. Your body needs cholesterol to build cells and do other important functions. But too much cholesterol can cause damage.

There are 2 ways your body gets cholesterol. Your liver makes cholesterol and other cholesterol comes from food such as meat, poultry and dairy products.


How can cholesterol be bad for my health?


When too much cholesterol stays in your blood, it can join together with other substances and stick to the walls of your arteries. This can cause the arteries – which need to carry blood and oxygen all over your body - to be narrower, stiffer, and hard. This condition is called atherosclerosis.


Why is atherosclerosis a problem?


Atherosclerosis, when the cholesterol narrows the arteries, can lead to heart disease and brain. The arteries providing the much-needed oxygen to the heart can become narrowed so much that they may become blocked, as shown in the picture. This will prevent oxygen from reaching the heart and that will lead to heart cells dying. This is known as a heart attack. It can also block the oxygen from reaching the brain, leading to a stroke, where the brain cells die.




How can I prevent a heart or stroke?


A healthy diet and enough exercise can prevent your cholesterol from reaching dangerously high levels. A heart healthy diet with plenty of vegetables, lean meats such as chicken or turkey, fish such as salmon, low-fat dairy products, nuts, beans and legumes, and less salt will go a long way to keeping your cholesterol levels in check. In general, look to buy foods that are low in saturated and trans fat. Aim for 150 minutes – just 2 ½ hours – of moderately vigorous exercise a week. (See our other posts for more details about exercise). Quitting smoking will help immensely as well. In addition, your doctor may prescribe you a medicine – usually called a “statin” - to reduce the cholesterol already in your blood.



Can you explain my cholesterol bloodwork?


Your doctor will generally check for 4 different type of cholesterol. They are: LDL, HDL, Triglycerides, and Total Cholesterol. LDL is generally known as the “bad” cholesterol, which sticks to the walls of the arteries. You want this number to be under 100. HDL is the “good” cholesterol which helps get rid of the LDL. You want this number to be above 40. Triglycerides is another kind of fat which helps your body store energy. If this is too high, together with a high LDL, it will increase the amount of cholesterol sticking to the artery walls. This number should be below 150. Finally, total cholesterol is a calculation of all the cholesterol levels and this number should stay below 200.




Sticking to a healthy diet and exercise, quitting smoking and staying on top of your check ups with your provider, you can go a long way to keeping your cholesterol levels at a healthy level!


More information about cholesterol can be found at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol

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