The Scoop on Cholesterol

What better time to talk about cholesterol than National Heart Health Month? Cholesterol is one of those things that people are always talking about. You hear it mentioned at restaurants, in the break room at work, and in the line at the DMV. Walk into the grocery store, and you’re met with packaging claiming to lower cholesterol… on cookies. While it’s good to be mindful of your cholesterol levels, the spotlight has turned cholesterol into a bogeyman; people lie awake at night hoping cholesterol doesn’t get them. And many of us don’t really know what cholesterol is or why we should be concerned about it.

So what is cholesterol? Believe it or not, cholesterol isn’t a bad word. It’s something that is naturally produced by the body, and we need it to survive. The liver produces cholesterol and the body circulates it through the blood.

There are two kinds of cholesterol: HDL (high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol). Your health care provider may measure both kinds of cholesterol when you have your regular check ups, and you may receive results showing both of these numbers, plus your total cholesterol. The perfect number for you will depend on a number of factors, including your family history and your own health history.

When your body produces too much LDL cholesterol, it can line your arteries. Clogged arteries make it harder for blood to travel through your circulatory system, which forces your heart to work extra hard to keep your blood moving. High cholesterol can lead to blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks. So the concern over cholesterol isn’t unfounded.

What if you don’t have perfect numbers and you want to make changes? Your health-care provider may suggest medication or lifestyle changes.

Cholesterol can be found in the foods that we eat. Meat, dairy, and processed foods like French fries and snack cakes are a few of the common sources of cholesterol. Your doctor might suggest cutting back on these foods and increasing foods with plenty of fiber, like fruits and vegetables, oats, and other plant foods. You may also hear about losing weight, quitting smoking, and getting regular exercise.

Now you’ve got the basic scoop on cholesterol, you know the good habits to substitute for bad habits. For more specific information on your particular needs, see your health care provider.

You can schedule an appointment with myMANA!