Cholesterol can be confusing – what is good and bad cholesterol? Why does it matter? How can I lower it? Should I get tested? If you’ve ever found yourself asking these questions, you are not alone. Here’s a quick breakdown of cholesterol basics and what you can do to help keep your heart healthy.
Good vs. Bad Cholesterol
Yes, there’s more than one type of cholesterol. You may recognize the acronyms LDL and HDL, but may not know what they mean. LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein. LDL makes up most of the blood’s cholesterol and is referred to as “bad” cholesterol. LDL is credited with causing plaque buildup in arteries when high levels are present in your blood. According to the American Heart Association, these plaque buildups narrow your arteries, increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease.
On the flip side, HDL, or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, is what is called “good” cholesterol. HDL is responsible for delivering LDL cholesterol to the liver, where the blood is filtered, and toxins are removed from the body.
The most common type of fat in the body is triglycerides. These fats store energy from your diet, and when paired with high amounts of LDL in your blood, can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Assessing Your Risk
By understanding your risk of cardiovascular disease, you’ll be able to work with your doctor to begin fighting the culprits and decrease your risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states recommend that adults ages 20 and older get their cholesterol levels checked every five years.
A Total Cholesterol Test is a good place to start. This test detects HDL, LDL, and triglyceride levels. Your doctor will review the numbers along with other risk factors to determine your overall risk of heart disease. After the initial test, a plan of action can be established and other supplemental tests can be performed if needed.
Lowering Your LDL Cholesterol
Genetics, ethnicity, diet, exercise, and age all contribute to your risk of high cholesterol and heart disease. Luckily, you can reverse some of the damage and lower your risk by making lifestyle changes. The American Heart Association says that eating a more heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding tobacco smoke can reduce your high cholesterol levels, even if they are due to genetics. Increasing your intake of soluble fiber can also help to reduce “bad” cholesterol, according to the Mayo Clinic. Foods high in soluble fiber include oats, apples, peas, beans, and citrus fruits.
Make this the year you take charge of your heart health. With simple lifestyle changes, you can begin preventive self-care for your heart and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Read more posts and learn more here.