If you’re monitoring your vascular health, you’ve probably been told to keep a watch on your cholesterol. This sticky villain is a known health risk, responsible for clogged arteries, heart attacks, strokes, and a variety of other life-threatening problems.
But cholesterol is a natural substance that has both good and bad qualities - when it’s consumed appropriately. So how did this once-beneficial substance turn into the big bad wolf of vascular health? Let’s get back to the basics.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is an organic substance found in the walls of every human cell. It’s necessary for the production of hormones, Vitamin D, and substances that aid in proper digestion.
Your body produces all the cholesterol it needs, but cholesterol can also be found in foods that come from other animals such as eggs, milk, meat, and cheese. As these are common staples in every human diet, many people consume much more cholesterol than their body needs.
When your doctor runs a cholesterol test, they’re looking at two main types of cholesterol:
High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL)
Also known as “good cholesterol”, HDLs act as scavengers that carry cholesterol through the bloodstream to the liver, where it’s expelled from the body. High levels of HDL can actually lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL)
The majority of cholesterol in your body is LDL or “bad cholesterol”. LDL can build up in your arteries as plaque, a condition known as atherosclerosis. High levels of LDL increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Why is High Cholesterol Dangerous?
Because it has a waxy, fat-like texture, consuming too much cholesterol can cause it to build up in the blood and arteries as plaque. Eventually, the arteries can narrow and harden, leading to a range of serious health problems such as vascular diseases (like coronary artery disease or peripheral artery disease), stroke, or heart attack.
What causes High Cholesterol?
Most cases of high cholesterol are caused by an unhealthy lifestyle, though genetics, age, and race can also put you at higher risk. The most common causes of high cholesterol include:
- A high-fat diet
- Lack of physical activity
How Can I Lower My Cholesterol?
Ideally, your total cholesterol level should be less than 200, with at least 60 HDL and less than 130 LDL. If your blood test shows high levels, your doctor may prescribe a combination of lifestyle changes and medications to lower and control your cholesterol.
Helpful lifestyle changes can include:
- Eating a healthy diet. Heart-healthy diets are low in trans and saturated fats and high in vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and whole grains.
- Weight management. Maintaining a healthy weight through proper diet and regular exercise can lower your LDL levels.
- Quitting smoking. Tobacco lowers your HDL levels. The sooner you stop smoking, the faster your body can build helpful HDL to carry cholesterol to the liver.
If lifestyle changes alone can’t control your cholesterol, your doctor may also prescribe medication. Common medications for cholesterol management can include statins, bile acid sequestrants, cholesterol absorption inhibitors, and others. Your doctor will work with you to decide the best type of medication for you.
If you’re struggling with high cholesterol or other vascular health problems, the expert physicians at Vascular Associates of South Alabama can help. We work closely with our patients to develop treatment plans to treat and manage your condition and keep you in optimal health. Contact us today for an appointment.