News & tips on health, fitness and nutrition

Thursday, May 23, 2013

What is Cholesterol?

You already know that some cholesterol is good and some is bad. But did you know that there are clear guidelines for cholesterol levels for average Americans and newly established guidelines for high-risk patients?
Cholesterol is:
  • Produced by the liver and other organs and also furnished in the diet through such food as meats, poultry, fish and dairy products.
  • Required by the body to insulate nerves, make cell membranes, and produce certain hormones.
  • Carried through the body by lipoproteins in the blood.
Two Types of Cholesterol
The Good The Bad
HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) transports cholesterol from the body's tissues to the liver and other sites, where it may be broken down and excreted by the body. HDL cholesterol is commonly known as "good" cholesterol. LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) transports cholesterol from the liver to the rest of the body. LDL cholesterol is commonly known as "bad" cholesterol.
How to Control Your Cholesterol
Many Americans have succeeded in lowering their LDL "bad" cholesterol through lifestyle changes. Eating right, exercising, and relaxing are some of the basic lifestyle changes you can make to improve your overall health. Your doctor can test your cholesterol level, or you can test yourself with a kit you can purchase at your pharmacy.
The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) identifies LDL cholesterol as the primary target of cholesterol management. Clinical research has shown that elevated LDL, the "bad" cholesterol, is the primary cause of coronary heart disease.
New Guidelines for High Risk Heart Patients Can Save Lives
Every year 1.2 million Americans have a new or repeat heart attack. A new set of guidelines has been released that specifically targets these high risk Americans. The new NCEP guideline determines that high-risk heart patients should lower their LDL "bad" cholesterol to a rock bottom 70. The previous NCEP guideline was 100.
LDL Cholesterol Level Guideline (mg/dl)
Optimal
100-129 Near optimal/above optimal
130-159 Borderline high
160-189 High
>190 Very high
Total Cholesterol Level
Desirable
200-239 Borderline High
>240 High
HDL Cholesterol Level
Low
>60 High


Cholesterol


Cholesterol has a poor reputation, but it actually isn’t all bad. There is both good and bad cholesterol. HDL (high density lipoproteins) cholesterol is the “good” cholesterol that, when at healthy levels, can protect against heart attack and stroke. HDL also prevents LDL (low density lipoproteins) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) from clogging your arteries. Too much of one of these or not enough of the other can have critical implications for your well-being. It can also put you at risk for heart attack, stroke and heart disease. 

How do you know whether you have too much “bad” (LDL) cholesterol or not enough “good” (HDL) cholesterol? There is a screening your doctor or healthcare professional can administer to detect your levels of HDL and LDL in your blood. It’s important to know this information because there typically aren’t any symptoms associated with high cholesterol, but the consequences of having this condition can be severe.

Start by taking the American Heart Association’s Cholesterol IQ Quiz.


How Do I Manage my Cholesterol?


Our liver and other cells create about 75% of blood cholesterol, while the other 25% comes from food we eat. LDL cholesterol is produced naturally by the body, but many people inherit genes from their parents or grandparents that can cause their body to make too much. Additionally, LDL cholesterol can increase from what you eat, such as foods high in cholesterol and saturated and trans fats. While lifestyle modifications can help you get your LDL and HDL levels in check, if high cholesterol runs in your family, you may have to work with your doctor for an additional treatment plan. 

Once you know what your LDL and HDL levels are, you can work on finding the balance needed to stay healthy. Lifestyle modifications can include increasing physical activity and reducing trans fats and/or adding more nutritious fruits and vegetables to your diet. You can also add a soluble fiber supplement such as Konsyl to help manage your cholesterol. Soluble fiber can help reduce LDL cholesterol beyond what you can achieve with a diet low in saturated and trans fats and cholesterol alone. 

Diagnosis and Monitoring


While high cholesterol can lead to heart disease, heart attack or stroke, there usually are no symptoms. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor so he or she can test and monitor your cholesterol levels on a regular basis. Even if your levels are good, staying aware and maintaining good habits is essential to continued good health.

Prevention and Treatment


If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, being educated and managing your lifestyle are steps in the right direction. Work with your doctor for a specific treatment plan and you should also take these positive steps.
  • Lead a healthy lifestyle
    • Participate in regular physical activity
    • Eat a heart-healthy diet
  • Watch your fat intake
    • Know which fats raise LDL cholesterol and limit your intake of them
    • Keep overall fat intake to a healthy level


Fiber and Cholesterol


Fiber is a natural way to help lower or maintain your cholesterol levels, thereby reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. Adding 7 grams of soluble fiber from psyllium seed husk per day, along with sticking to a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol, can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. 


Is drinking coffee made with a paper filter healthier than drinking boiled coffee or other types of coffee?
Coffee contains a substance called cafestol that is a potent stimulator of LDL cholesterol levels. Cafestol is found in the oily fraction of coffee, and when you brew coffee with a paper filter, the cafestol gets left behind in the filter. Other methods of coffee preparation, such as the boiled coffee common in Scandinavian countries, French press coffee, or Turkish coffee, are much higher in cafestol. So for people who have high cholesterol levels or who want to prevent having high cholesterol levels, it is better to choose paper filtered coffee or instant coffee, since they have much lower levels of cafestol than boiled or French press coffee. Espresso is somewhere in the middle; it has less cafestol than boiled or French press coffee, but more than paper filtered coffee.


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