Cholesterol 101: What Adults Should Know

Cholesterol 101: What Adults Should Know

September is National Cholesterol Awareness Month, and Pioneer Memorial Hospital & Health Services wants to remind you that it is a good time to get your blood cholesterol checked and take steps to lower it if is high. It is also a good time to learn about lipid profiles and foods and lifestyle choices that can help you reach your personal cholesterol goals.

More than 102 million American adults (20 years or older) have total cholesterol levels at or above 200 mg/dL, which is above healthy levels. More than 35 million of these people have levels of 240 mg/dL, which puts them at high risk for heart disease. High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, the first and fifth leading causes of death in the United States.

Everyone can benefit from knowing their cholesterol numbers and doing what they can to prevent or reduce high cholesterol levels. (Uncontrolled cholesterol is a risk factor for heart attacks and stroke). High cholesterol has no symptoms, so patients may not know their cholesterol is too high – unless it’s measured by a medical provider with a blood test.

While some risk factors – such as family history – may be out of our control, there are other ways to reduce or prevent high cholesterol, such as exercising, eating a healthy diet, not smoking and taking medication as prescribed.

What is Cholesterol?

Briefly put, cholesterol is a fatty substance that's found in every cell in the human body. Cholesterol plays an important role in the manufacture of certain hormones, as well as in making Vitamin D. It also aids in the digestive process. Some cholesterol is necessary for good health.

There are two types of cholesterol--low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). The LDL variety is often called 'bad cholesterol,' while HDL is often called 'good cholesterol.' The body needs to maintain a certain level of both kinds in order to function optimally.

What is High Cholesterol?

Unfortunately, many foods common in a western diet contain high amounts of cholesterol. When you add the cholesterol that's contained in these foods to the body's natural supply, the total amount of LDL cholesterol can build up in the arterial walls, blocking the flow of blood and possibly leading to heart disease.

Your level of HDL or 'good' cholesterol also plays a role in the amount of LDL cholesterol in your body. This is because HDL cholesterol carries 'bad' cholesterol to the liver, where it's eventually eliminated from the body. A balance between LDL and HDL is necessary for optimum health and the prevention of heart disease.

The more LDL cholesterol you have in your body, the greater your risk for heart disease. Similarly, high levels of HDL cholesterol tend to lower this risk because of its ability to eliminate 'bad' cholesterol from the body.

And the problem with high cholesterol is that, by itself, it does not present any symptoms. The only way to know there's a problem with your cholesterol is to have a blood test. Experts say older adults should have their cholesterol checked yearly.

How Seniors Can Manage Their Cholesterol

The best source of any health information is your doctor. They will likely share a ways you can maintain a healthy balance of good and bad cholesterol including:

  • Proper diet. A healthy diet of whole grains combined with fresh fruits and vegetables will go a long way toward lowering cholesterol, as will staying away from foods that are high in fat

  • Exercise. Along with a healthy diet, a moderate amount of low impact cardio work will help older adults lower their levels of 'bad' cholesterol

  • Smoking cessation. Quit smoking if you are a smoker. Also avoid second hand smoke which can be nearly as damaging.

  • Prescription drugs. Usually used as a last resort, your doctor can prescribe medications to help lower older adults' levels of cholesterol.

How Can We Help

Adults aged 20 and older should have their cholesterol levels checked every 5 years. Your medical provider will determine if you are at risk for heart disease and any necessary treatment. Take time this month to schedule an appointment with one of our providers to get your cholesterol checked and to discuss your risks by calling (605) 326-5201.

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