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Decoding Cholesterol: Your Path to a Healthy Body

February 19, 2024

Lowering your risk of heart disease, stroke, and peripheral artery disease is possible by maintaining normal cholesterol levels. Here's what you should know:


Understanding Cholesterol:

Cholesterol is a waxy substance present in all cells, serving various essential functions in the body. It is produced by the liver and obtained from the foods we consume. Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream.


Significance of Cholesterol:

Cholesterol can combine with other substances, forming thick deposits inside arteries, which makes them less flexible. Over time, these deposits can grow and hinder sufficient blood flow, potentially leading to heart attacks or strokes.


Different Types of Cholesterol:

There are two types of cholesterol:

High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL): Often referred to as "good" cholesterol, HDL collects excess cholesterol from the blood, transporting it back to the liver for breakdown and removal.

Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL): Known as "bad" cholesterol, LDL can accumulate in artery walls, contributing to the development of heart attacks or strokes.

High Cholesterol Risks:

Having high cholesterol means an excess of LDL and insufficient HDL in the blood, increasing the risk of blockages that cause heart attacks or strokes. Notably, high cholesterol typically presents no symptoms.


Normal Cholesterol Levels:

Normal cholesterol levels vary based on age and sex:

Individuals aged 19 or younger: LDL cholesterol should be below 110 milligrams, and HDL should be above 45 milligrams.

Men aged 20 or older: LDL cholesterol should be below 100 milligrams, and HDL should be above 40 milligrams.

Women aged 20 or older: LDL cholesterol should be below 100 milligrams, and HDL should be above 50 milligrams.


Actions to Take:

The good news is that high cholesterol can be lowered, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Lifestyle modifications can help achieve this:


Adopt a heart-healthy diet: Reduce saturated and trans fats, limit red meat and whole milk products, and opt for skim milk, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts. Additionally, limit sodium, sugar, and fried foods.

Increase physical activity: Aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise per week to boost HDL cholesterol levels.

Quit smoking: Smoking and vaping can lower HDL cholesterol, so quitting is crucial.

Manage weight: Losing 5% to 10% of body weight can improve cholesterol levels, as excess weight contributes to higher levels of bad cholesterol and lower levels of good cholesterol.

Monitoring Cholesterol:

Adults at average risk of coronary artery disease should get tested every five years starting from 18 years old. For most children, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends cholesterol screenings between ages 9 and 11 and again between ages 17 and 21.