(AP) - Cholesterol plays a major role in a person's heart health.
High blood cholesterol is a major risk for coronary heart disease and stroke, the American Heart Association says. That's why it is important for people to know their cholesterol level. They should also learn about the other risk factors for heart disease and stroke, the association says. Cholesterol can be both good and bad, so it's important to learn what cholesterol is, how it affects your health and how to manage the cholesterol levels in your blood.
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found among the fats in the bloodstream and in all your body's cells. It is normal to have cholesterol. It's an important part of a healthy body because it's used to form cell membranes, some hormones and to serve other needed bodily functions. But too high a level of cholesterol in the blood is a major risk for coronary heart disease, which leads to heart attack. It's also a risk factor for stroke.
You get cholesterol in two ways. Your body makes some of it, and the rest comes from animal products that you eat, such as meats, poultry, fish, eggs, butter, cheese and whole milk. Food from plants like fruits, vegetables and cereals do not have cholesterol.
Cholesterol and other fats cannot dissolve in the blood. They have to be transported to and from the cells by special carriers called lipoproteins. There are two kinds that you need to be concerned with. Low density lipoprotein or LDL, is known as the "bad" cholesterol. Too much LDL cholesterol can clog the arteries to your heart and increase your risk of heart attack.
High density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as the "good" cholesterol. Your body makes HDL cholesterol for your protection. It travels away from your arteries. Studies suggest that high levels of HDL cholesterol reduce your risk of heart attack.
Your health care provider must interpret your cholesterol numbers based on other risk factors such as age, gender, family history, race, smoking, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes.
Medication combined with lifestyle changes helps people with very high cholesterol reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, the American Heart Association reports.
The American Heart Association urges people to get a cholesterol screening, eat foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly and follow all of your doctor's recommendations.
Understanding all the facts on cholesterol will help you take better care of your heart and live a healthier life, and reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke.
Copyright Johnson Publishing Company Jul 8, 2002