Health Notes: Cholesterol
By Ellen S. Mullen, M.D.
Blood cholesterol is a fat-like substance that is found in the blood. It is made in the liver and comes from foods we eat. Heredity also plays a part in how much cholesterol is made and how much is excreted. Too much cholesterol can build up in arteries over time and cause heart attacks, strokes and peripheral vascular disease (clogging of your leg arteries).
High cholesterol rarely has symptoms so everyone should know their cholesterol numbers. This is determined by having a blood test called a lipid panel. This should be done at least every 5 years but more often if you are a male over the age of 45 or a female over the age of 55. If you have other risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of heart disease you should check your cholesterol more often.
A lipid panel includes a total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides. The recommended levels of cholesterol for a person without other risk factors are as follows: total cholesterol less than 200, LDL less than 100, HDL for women over 50, and for men over 40. Triglycerides levels should be under 150. These numbers are stricter if you have a history of heart disease, diabetes or peripheral vascular disease.
What are some ways to control blood cholesterol and triglycerides? Healthy eating, weight loss, physical activity, and medication are what can be done about cholesterol levels. Eat more fruits and vegetables and increase fiber intake. Eat more chicken and fish and less red meats, egg yolks and organ meats. Drink skim milk instead of whole milk and eat less of the yellow cheeses and more white cheeses and low fat cheeses. Limit the trans fatty acids that are found in fried foods, and snack foods. The American Heart Association recommends eating less than 300 mg/day of cholesterol in our diet. Read labels on the back of foods and limit the foods that contain more than 30mg of cholesterol per serving. Eat in moderation and incorporate physical activity into your daily routine.
Medication is our last resort and can be very effective in decreasing cholesterol. Medications block the production or the absorption of cholesterol in your body.
Your doctor can decide which cholesterol medication would work best for you. Lifestyle changes are still needed even with medication use.