Why controlling your cholesterol is so important

Cholesterol can be really confusing.

There’s “good” cholesterol (HDL) and “bad” cholesterol (LDL). There’s cholesterol in your diet, which does not necessarily lead to an increase in cholesterol in your bloodstream. (See the divergent scientific opinion of how healthy eggs are/aren’t.) There’s even some question about how high cholesterol should be treated.

But here’s one simple thing to remember: you do not want your overall cholesterol level to be high.

High cholesterol levels can lead to heart disease and increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 100 million Americans have cholesterol levels over 200 mg/dL, which is considered above the healthy level. With September being Cholesterol Awareness Month, it’s the perfect time to think about keeping your own cholesterol levels in line.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance your body needs to build cells, make hormones, and digest fatty foods. But your liver produces enough cholesterol—the good HDL kind—to get those jobs done. The bad kind, or LDL, can clog the arteries that lead to your heart and brain.

So what can you do to control your cholesterol level? The American Heart Association recommends a three-point program:

  • Check
  • Change
  • Control

Let’s take a closer look.

Check your cholesterol levels

High cholesterol doesn’t have any visible symptoms. Although there are risk factors, like obesity, anyone can have high cholesterol. That’s why the CDC recommends everyone over 20 get their cholesterol checked every five years. With cholesterol levels included in most blood panels, this is easy to do. Your target level is 170 or lower, with a bad cholesterol level of 110 or lower.

Change your diet and lifestyle

As we mentioned, the connection between dietary cholesterol and your blood cholesterol levels is complicated. But foods high in cholesterol—including beef, poultry, and full-fat dairy—also tend to be high in saturated fats. Cutting down on your intake of high-cholesterol foods and getting more fiber in your diet—fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—lowers your risk level. So does making sure you get enough exercise and control your weight. And if you smoke, stop.

Control your cholesterol

You should always consult with your doctor to monitor your cholesterol. If there is reason for concern, work together to form a plan.

If you want to find out more about Check, Change, and Control, the American Heart Association has a calculator to help determine your risk level.

This material is not intended as medical advice. Talk with your doctor about this or any other subjects pertinent to your health.

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