NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Counting Cholesterol

Counting Cholesterol


The bad news is that more than 100 million Americans have high cholesterol (above 200 mg/dL), which can clog arteries and cause heart attacks and strokes. Also, not all cholesterol is alike. There's "good" cholesterol -- high-density lipoprotein, or HDL -- that you want to maintain relatively high, and "bad" cholesterol -- low-density lipoprotein, or LDL -- that needs to be kept at bay. The good news is that there are a variety of time-tested strategies you can use to lower your cholesterol and decrease your risk for heart problems.

          Your body needs a small amount of cholesterol to function properly. But we may get too much saturated fat and cholesterol in our diet, and both can raise levels of LDL. LDL cholesterol can cause plaque to build up in arteries, leading to heart disease. HDL on the other hand, helps clear bad cholesterol from your blood.

Keep in mind that, according to the American Heart Association, these strategies may not be enough, especially if you have a family history of high cholesterol.

Exercise is a great way to raise HDL.  Some medical doctors maintain that people who have had a heart attack can reduce their death risk by 25% with exercise.  Exercise requires more effort than popping a pill, and communities often aren't set up to make it easier.

Choosing healthy food such as fish and veggies over red meat and French fries is relatively straightforward. Societies with low-fat diets, such as Japan and parts of the Caribbean, have lower levels of heart attack and stroke. Watch out for saturated fats, which lurk in red meat and dairy products. The Mayo Clinic recommends that less than 7% of daily calories come from saturated fat. Alternatives include leaner meat cuts, low-fat dairy products and monounsaturated fats, which you can get from olive, peanut and canola oils. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables can all help lower cholesterol. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help lower bad cholesterol, too; these include certain fish -- salmon, mackerel and herring -- as well as walnuts, almonds and ground flaxseed. Oatmeal is another fighter of bad cholesterol as it contains soluble fiber, which can reduce cholesterol's absorption into the bloodstream. Kidney beans, apples, pears, barley and prunes are also good sources of soluble fiber.

Stepping on the scale and evaluating your weight is a major step in lowering cholesterol. You may be able to reduce cholesterol levels significantly by losing 5% to 10% of your body weight, according to the Mayo Clinic.  Accomplishing that isn't necessarily easy, but you can begin with small steps. Incorporate physical activity into your daily routine in simple ways, such as walking up and down stairs.

Everyone knows smoking is bad for your health, so it will come as no surprise that smoking is harmful to the heart. If you quit smoking, you may improve your good cholesterol level. What's more, your blood pressure decreases within 20 minutes after quitting, according to the Mayo Clinic. Risk of heart attack lowers within 24 hours of quitting smoking, and within a year the risk of heart disease is just half that of someone who smokes. Heart disease risk drops to levels similar to people who have never smoked within 15 years of quitting.

While these lifestyle changes can be useful, sometimes doctors still need to prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications. If your cholesterol is high, talk to your health care provider and come up with an easy-to-manage plan of attack.



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