Cholesterol is a soft waxy substance (or lipid) that is found in all your body cells and in the bloodstream. Your body needs cholesterol because it is used to build cell membranes, help produce vitamin D and produce certain hormones. The cholesterol found in a person’s bloodstream comes from two sources. It is either produced in the liver or absorbed by the intestines from the foods we eat.

Why worry about cholesterol?

Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in North America, and cholesterol is directly linked to the development of heart disease. It is the job of your liver to manage your cholesterol by adding and removing the cholesterol in your bloodstream as needed. However, when a person’s body has too much cholesterol, the liver is unable to handle it effectively. The extra cholesterol forms a solid plaque build-up on the walls of a person’s arteries. These narrower arteries obstruct the flow of blood to essential organs such as the heart. Since oxygen is carried through the blood, the heart becomes oxygen starved. When this happens, a person will experience chest pains or angina. When an artery leading to the heart becomes completely obstructed, a person will have a heart attack and could die. Blockages of other blood vessels can lead to a stroke, which can also result in death. If you control your body’s cholesterol, you greatly reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Reducing bad cholesterol and maximizing good cholesterol will significantly reduce future risks of heart disease and stroke.

What are good and bad cholesterol?

As mentioned above, the liver adds and removes cholesterol to your bloodstream. To do this, the cholesterol is combined with lipoproteins. Lipoproteins keep the cholesterol from turning into a solid substance. Good or bad cholesterol is created based on the type of lipoproteins it combines with.

HDL cholesterol – Cholesterol that combines with high-density lipoproteins becomes HDL cholesterol. This type of cholesterol is known as good cholesterol because the high-density lipoproteins prevent the formation of solids. This cholesterol travels away from the arteries returning to the liver where it can be removed from blood circulation

LDL cholesterol – Cholesterol that combines with lowdensity lipoproteins becomes LDL cholesterol. This is what is known as bad cholesterol because the lowdensity lipoproteins cannot prevent the cholesterol from forming a solid and building up on the artery walls. A person is at risk of developing heart disease when their level of LDL or bad cholesterol is high and/or their level of HDL or good cholesterol is low. On the other hand, low LDL’s and high HDL’s is very desirable.

What factors affect cholesterol?

Diet –People with diets that are high in saturated fats and cholesterol have a greater risk of raising their levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. Saturated fats come from meats and dairy products; oils derived from coconut, palm and cocoa as well as oils processed by hydrogenation.

Heredity – Family history is significant to the development of cholesterol related heart disease. Some people inherit a common disorder that effects the liver’s ability to detect and remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream. Other people inherit a tendency for either very low or very high HDL cholesterol.

Gender – Women whose bodies still produce estrogen

Inactivity – Regular exercise increases your good (HDL) cholesterol. If you are inactive, you are at a higher risk of developing a cholesterol problem

Smoking – Smoking significantly reduces your good (HDL) cholesterol. If you smoke, you double your risk of heart attack even with normal cholesterol levels.

Weight – Persons with excess weight tend to have increased LDL cholesterol levels.

 

How can I manage my cholesterol?

Managing cholesterol is important. Making a commitment to change your lifestyle is actually making a decision to change your future. To manage your cholesterol, a combination of techniques that lower your LDL’s and increase your HDL’s is the most effective.

Eat healthy – Reduce items that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol and increase foods that are low in saturated fats. The lists below indicate foods to increase in your diet and other foods to limit or avoid.

Foods with no or low saturated fats include:

• Fruits and vegetables
• Whole grains, such as cereal, rice and pasta
• Lean red meats and poultry without skin
• Low-fat or skim milk dairy products
• Lean fish and shellfish

Foods to limit or avoid include:

• Whole milk, cream and ice cream
• Butter and cheese
• Egg yokes
• Solid fats like shortening, soft margarine and lard
• Organ meats like liver, sweetbreads and kidney
• High-fat processed meats like bologna, salami hot dogs and sausage
Gender – Women whose bodies still produce estrogen