High cholesterol seems to be on everyone’s mind these days. We see commercials on television advertising medicines we can take to lower our cholesterol level. We hear our doctor talk about lowering our cholesterol level. What exactly is cholesterol? How do you get it? Why is it bad for you? Are there any ways other than prescription medications to lower it?
First, cholesterol is a lipid which is naturally produced by the body to maintain cell membranes. The body actually makes all the cholesterol it needs for its functions. Our cholesterol level becomes high when either our bodies overproduce cholesterol or we take in too much cholesterol through the foods we eat.
High levels of cholesterol are bad for you because this excess cholesterol can build up in your arteries, causing heart disease and heart attack. High cholesterol is also responsible for strokes. All three of these conditions can be debilitating and in some cases, deadly.
How do you know if your cholesterol level is high? Your doctor can perform a blood test to determine what the level of cholesterol is in your blood. Sometimes your doctor may want you to take a fasting blood test, which means he will test the cholesterol level in your blood after you have gone without eating for a specified number of hours.
A high cholesterol level is medically defined as more than 240 mg/DL total. Your doctor may also divide your cholesterol level into “good” cholesterol or HDL cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol or LDL cholesterol. If your HDL cholesterol is above 40 mg/Dl this is considered ideal. Your LDL cholesterol level, however, should be less than 100 mg/DL. Any reading above this puts you at a greater risk for heart disease or heart attack. HDL cholesterol is considered good because it is this type that is carried out of the blood stream to the liver where it is broken down and expelled from the body. LDL cholesterol, however, is the kind that builds up in your blood vessels and arteries.
If your doctor deems your cholesterol level is high, there are several things you can do to lower this level. These things include eating a healthy low-fat diet and exercising regularly. Not only does the healthy diet and exercise help lower you cholesterol level, it can also help lower your weight which in turn decreases you chances of heart disease. If you are a smoker you should consider stopping. Also, limit your intake of alcohol and sugar. After trying all these things, if your cholesterol level is still not ideal, your doctor can put you on cholesterol lowering prescription medication. Remember, though, cholesterol medications can damage your liver, so they should be used only after other options have been exhausted.
As you can see, your cholesterol level has a very important impact on your total body health. It can even be life threatening if not controlled. See your doctor for a cholesterol test. If your cholesterol level is not within normal ranges, take action to lower it.