Cholesterol Too High? Here’s Why
If you’re over the age of 50, you’ve surely heard your doctor’s admonishments against letting your cholesterol levels get too high. You’ve probably heard that high cholesterol can lead to serious health problems in your senior years – life-threatening, life-altering health problems such as stroke and heart attack.
We know high cholesterol is bad, but what exactly is this thing that threatens us so severely?
What Is Cholesterol?
Simply put, cholesterol is a wax-like, fatty substance that occurs naturally in the cells of the human body. Cholesterol is important for our health, from the manufacture of hormones to the synthesis of vitamin D, along with other functions. The liver is the main manufacturer of cholesterol inside the body but we also get it from foods we eat, mostly animal products.
When we eat foods high in saturated fats and those rich with trans fats, this triggers the liver to make more cholesterol – more than we normally would need. This results in increasing levels of blood cholesterol. Because this stuff has to go somewhere, it can build up as plaques on the walls of our arteries. When this happens, it can mean heart attack, stroke and peripheral artery disease may be on the way.
The Good and the Bad
Cholesterol is an oil-based substance, so it doesn’t mix with our water-based blood. For it to get where it needs to be, lipoproteins carry it around inside our bodies. There are two types of lipoproteins: the good and the bad.
When your doctor checks your cholesterol level, what you get is a set of numbers. One is your “total cholesterol” level. This is the total of your “good” and your “bad” cholesterol levels, plus 20 percent of your triglyceride level added in.
Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol, is what’s called the “bad” cholesterol. This type of lipoprotein contributes to the buildup of fat deposits and hard plaque accumulations that narrow arteries. These narrowed passages increase our risk for stroke, heart attack and peripheral artery disease.
High-density lipoprotein, or HDL cholesterol, is the “good” cholesterol. This is the healthy form so higher levels of this one are better. When we maintain our HDL at a healthy level, it may help protect against heart attack and stroke. HDL functions like a bloodhound, tracking down LDL cholesterol and carrying it away from our arteries. It takes the bad LDL back to the liver which breaks it down and eliminates it from the body.
Another type of fat found in the body is triglycerides. This is the most common type of fat; it stores excess energy from our diets. When our triglyceride level is high, along with a low HDL or a high LDL, we’ve got a recipe for a heart attack or stroke working against us. For this reason, most doctors check a triglyceride level when looking at LDL and HDL levels.
Bringing Down Cholesterol Levels
In a perfect world, we would all follow the best dietary advice available, which would keep us healthy and prevent illness. But we all know this isn’t happening, especially among seniors. Too many seniors let their preventative wellness measures fall to the wayside as we get older. This includes lifestyle measures to prevent abnormally high cholesterol levels.
Taking steps to control cholesterol levels is not difficult. A few lifestyle adjustments may be all that’s needed.
- Read the labels. Look for total-fat descriptions. Keep calories from fat to no more than 25 to 30 percent, with no more than 7 percent from saturated fat.
- Practice portion control. Follow the “serving size” recommendations on packaging, and drink water before and with meals.
- Substitute when cooking to lower cholesterol levels. Look for replacements for heavy butter or cream, for example.
- Get some exercise and keep physically active.
Contact us for more information on bringing your cholesterol levels under control!