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Cholesterol Overview

If you have recently been told by a doctor that you have high cholesterol, you may be confused with where to begin and what needs to be done to rectify the problem.  The first step is to understand what cholesterol is and what you can do at home to change the diagnosis.

This guide and cholesterol overview will help you to understand the causes and contributors to high cholesterol and what you can do to prevent further complications from occurring.

Cholesterol Overview: The Basics
The definition of cholesterol is a supple and fatty substance that originates in the body’s primary filtration organ known as the liver.  The body requires some cholesterol to be able to operate properly, but when too much is present in the system health problems may arise.  High levels of cholesterol can lead to heart disease.

Cholesterol is made to travel through the blood stream and attach itself to a protein.  This attachment forms a lipoprotein.  Lipoproteins are either high density or low density, depending on the ratio of fat and protein.

There are two types of lipoproteins: low density lipoproteins or LDL and high density lipoproteins or HDL.  LDL is often referred to as bad cholesterol because it has a higher density of fat and a lower density of protein.  HDL is considered to be good cholesterol because it contains a higher density of protein and less fat.  When there is more LDL in the blood stream, there is a greater risk for heart disease.

Causes of High Cholesterol
When there is too high a level of cholesterol found in the body it can become present in the arteries as well.  Too much cholesterol in the arteries leads to a narrowing that prevents blood from flowing to the heart.  Over time, the arteries may become hardened due to excess amounts of cholesterol in the system. The buildup of cholesterol leads to heart disease.

Some of the most common causes or contributors of high cholesterol include:
    •    Poor diet 
A diet rich in saturated fats and cholesterol contributes to high cholesterol levels in the body.  The food you eat is directly related to the cholesterol level you have.  A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and lean protein sources leads to lower cholesterol levels than a diet full of fats and fried foods.
    •    Excess weight 
Typically people who are overweight tend to have increased levels of cholesterol.  Losing weight can lower cholesterol levels, while gaining weight can contribute to high cholesterol levels.
    •    No exercise 
A lifestyle that contains regular exercise helps to lower cholesterol levels.  A person who exercises 30 minutes a day on five to six days a week often has a lower cholesterol level than a person who does not exercise regularly.  Exercise can lower LDL cholesterol levels and increase HDL cholesterol levels.
    •    Increased age or gender 
As a person gets older, cholesterol levels tend to increase.  Women tend to have lower cholesterol levels than men prior to menopause and immediately following menopause experience higher cholesterol levels.  Gender and age contribute to varying cholesterol levels.
    •    Hereditary factors 
Genes do play a part in cholesterol levels.  If your mother or father had high cholesterol, it is very likely that you may experience the same thing.  It is crucial that if high cholesterol runs in your family that you take preventive measures.
    •    Diabetes 
Diabetes is a huge contributor to high cholesterol.  A person who suffers from diabetes must pay careful attention to controlling it.  Those that do not control the diabetes often suffer from high cholesterol.  The cholesterol levels may fall with more diabetic control with regard to diet, medication and lifestyle modifications.

Diagnosing High Cholesterol
The first step in diagnosing high cholesterol is going to the doctor and ordering the test.  The typical test for cholesterol is the cholesterol screening blood test.  Doctors recommend that this test be done once every five years.  The blood test commonly conducted to perform cholesterol screenings is a lipoprotein profile.  The profile includes screening of the following:
    •    LDL – low density lipoprotein levels 
    •    HDL – high density lipoprotein levels 
    •    Triglycerides – fats that are carried through the bloodstream from consumed foods 

The results of the blood test are typically offered to the patient by the doctor and the numbers reviewed together.  An LDL of 160 and above is considered high, whereas an LDL of 100 is found to be optimal. The good cholesterol number, or HDL, should be less than 40 in men and under 50 in women.  Triglycerides should fall beneath the 150 mark and anything above 200 is considered to be high.

Depending on the results, a doctor may set up a treatment plan that best suits the needs of the patient.  If the results yield high cholesterol, diet changes and lifestyle modifications may be discussed.  It is important to follow the treatment plan offered in order to get the cholesterol levels down to an optimal level.

Cholesterol Overview: The Treatment Plan
Most doctors emphasize a strict diet, increased exercise and weight loss in order to reduce cholesterol levels.  A typical treatment plan covers all of these aspects.

Since diet is a contributing factor to high cholesterol, a low cholesterol meal plan is typically designed to lower cholesterol levels.  Foods that are helpful in lowering cholesterol levels include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish.  Fried foods and saturated fats should be avoided.

There are supplements that can be taken to lower cholesterol levels naturally.  The most common supplement is the omega-3 fatty acid.  This supplement can be found naturally in foods such as flaxseed or flaxseed oil, or can be taken in pill form.  These capsules are found in most health food stores and sold as fish oil.

Dietary fiber is another great source that naturally lowers your cholesterol.  Eating foods rich in fiber, such as soybeans and flax, is a great way to manage cholesterol.

If diet changes and lifestyle modifications are not enough, a doctor may prescribe medication that works to lower high cholesterol levels.  Ask your doctor what the options are and work together on developing the treatment plan that is best for you.

Suzanne Somers

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