Cholesterol

 
People tend to think of men as having much higher cholesterol levels and as being more prone to cardiovascular disease (disease of the heart and blood vessels). However, the top causes of death for American women are heart attack and stroke. In fact, cardiovascular disease kills twice as many women as cancer. Cardiovascular disease is a problem in post-menopausal women, because the hormone estrogen helps to protect them from high cholesterol.
 
 
Cholesterol is a necessary substance for building cells all over your body. But if you have more cholesterol than necessary in your blood, it can stick to the inner walls of your arteries, build up, and eventually block them. This is a particular problem in the blood vessels that feed your heart, and the arteries that feed your brain. If any of these are blocked, it can cause a heart attack or stroke.
 
Some cholesterol can come directly from your food, but most cholesterol in your body is made by the liver, changing fats in your diet to lipoproteins. Lipoproteins are a combination of cholesterol, fats, and proteins, and their job is to transport these substances throughout the body. (Fat needs to combine with other substances to be carried around the body because it does not dissolve in blood, which is mostly water).
 
There are two main types of cholesterol: 
  • low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is known as "bad cholesterol" because cholesterol from LDL sticks to your arteries and builds up
  • high-density lipoprotein (HDL) is known as "good cholesterol" because its main function is to keep your arteries clear, by picking cholesterol up and bringing it back to the liver
 
Here’s a quick way to remember which cholesterol is which. HDL is the heavenly cholesterol and LDL is the “other” one.
 
A higher HDL level can actually help lower the level of the more harmful LDL cholesterol.
 
Your cholesterol levels can be measured with a simple blood test. Your total cholesterol numbers, which is LDL + HDL, should be less than 200 mg/dL, and your LDL should be less than 100 mg/dL. However, because HDL has a function that reduces artery-clogging, it is best to have more than 60 mg/dL. 
 
If your LDL is too high or HDL too low, your doctor will discuss treatment options with you. Although there is a lot of genetic control over cholesterol levels, a healthy weight maintained with a good diet and exercise help to keep cholesterol levels where they should be. To help lower your bad cholesterol, here are some cholesterol lowering foods:
  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Reduce dietary fat, especially saturated fat, which raise cholesterol levels more than unsaturated fats
 
If a change in lifestyle is not effective at reducing cholesterol, your doctor might prescribe medication such as statins, which reduce your body's production of cholesterol.
 
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