Cholesterol: The good, the bad and the great news
Monday, July 12, 2021
Cholesterol is a silent disease and common enough that Stephen Knox, M.D., board-certified family medicine, Genesis Primary Care, addresses the problem with patients every day.
“Without testing, we can’t tell if our cholesterol levels are too high or too low until we have a big problem,” Dr. Knox said. “That’s why I talk about this multiple times per day. The great news is, with the right steps, we can prevent and correct issues and have healthier lives.”
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, yellowish fatty substance found in the blood. While the body needs cholesterol to build healthy cells, too much of it can accrue over time. As extra cholesterol gathers, plaque forms within blood vessels and arteries and increases the chances of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.
The liver, the largest gland in the body, makes and clears cholesterol for our bodies. We also get cholesterol from foods we eat, specifically animal-based products.
The good, the bad and the great news related to cholesterol.
Although bad cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, leads to fatty buildups in arteries, not all cholesterol deserves a bad rap. Good cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, carries bad cholesterol back to the liver, so it can be broken down and removed from the body.
To determine good and bad cholesterol levels, everyone over the age of 20 should have a routine blood test once every five years.
“Ideally, we want high HDL and low LDL, and that can take effort,” Dr. Knox said. “But don’t worry. You can lower your cholesterol. A good place to start is with your family doctor.”
Lifestyle upgrades to lower cholesterol.
Treatments for high cholesterol include medication and lifestyle changes. Your family doctor will work with you to identify the best pathways to better health while considering medical history, risk factors and health goals.
Risk factors for having high cholesterol include gender (males tend to have higher levels than females), age (cholesterol levels commonly increase with age), poor diet, obesity, smoking and diabetes.
“We can’t control all of the risk factors for high cholesterol like genetics, but we can take control of our diet, activity levels and smoking habits,” Dr. Knox said. “Lifestyle changes can make a major difference in our cholesterol level and overall health.”
Dr. Knox suggests these three lifestyles changes to lower cholesterol levels:
1. Quit smoking. A non-smoking 55-year-old non-diabetic male with low good cholesterol and high total cholesterol has a 10.8 percent chance of having heart disease or a stroke in the next 10 years. If that same person is a smoker, the risk of heart disease or stroke jumps to almost double at 19.5 percent.
2. Improve diet choices. Eating less high-processed sugary foods and carbohydrates and consuming more fruits and green vegetables will help lower cholesterol levels. Also, when choosing to eat animal products, pick leaner meats like fish and chicken instead of fatty red meats.
3. Increase activity levels. When it comes to exercise, Dr. Knox said anything is better than nothing. A recent study showed that 60 minutes per week of moderate activity levels improved cholesterol levels. So, take your activity to the next level and spur cholesterol improvement.
To schedule an appointment and have your cholesterol levels tested, call your family doctor. If you don’t have a family doctor, call Genesis OneCall at 740-455-7500.