Take Control of Cholesterol Levels for a Healthy Heart

High cholesterol levels can put people at risk for heart attack, coronary artery disease, and stroke. This waxy substance, produced by the liver and found in some foods, circulates through the blood forming hard deposits of plaque on artery walls. This buildup of plaque narrows the arteries and increases the likelihood of a blood clot blocking the flow of blood to the brain, causing a stroke, or to the heart, causing a heart attack.

Some cholesterol is essential for hormone production and other bodily processes. Cell membranes require cholesterol to absorb nutrients and eliminate waste. Cholesterol does not dissolve in the blood; it is carried through the body by high-density (HDL) and low-density (LDL) lipoproteins. The HDLs have been found to carry cholesterol out of the blood and is considered “good” cholesterol. It is the LDL levels that present a risk to heart health.

Approximately 75 percent of cholesterol in the body is naturally produced by the liver. The amount varies by individual and often is determined by genetic factors. High cholesterol levels run in families. The remaining 25 percent comes from eating foods containing animal fat — meats, egg yolks, dairy products, fish eggs and shellfish. The American Heart Association recommends healthy individuals limit their consumption of cholesterol to 300 milligrams a day; those at high risk for heart disease should reduce cholesterol further. Just one egg yolk has 186 milligrams of cholesterol, and a tablespoon of butter has 30 milligrams. Educating yourself about cholesterol in foods, and restricting or eliminating high cholesterol foods in your diet, can help lower cholesterol numbers. There are low cholesterol alternatives, such as vegetable based spreads and egg substitutes that can make a low cholesterol diet more palatable.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults age 20 or older have their cholesterol checked every five years. For a complete profile of cholesterol levels, you will be required to fast for nine hours before a small sample of blood is drawn for testing. A doctor will analyze the results, taking into consideration family history and behavioral factors, such as smoking, to determine if changes are necessary in your diet or lifestyle to protect against heart disease. When diet and exercise changes are not enough to lower your cholesterol, a doctor may prescribe medication.