Thursday, April 25, 2024

What is High Cholesterol?

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By Dr. Ram Gordon
rg@cardiacspecialists.com

Cholesterol is a fatty substance found throughout our bodies and is an important building block for hormones, nerve coverings, and enzymes. However, high cholesterol levels are an important modifiable risk factor for heart disease, the number one killer of men and women in the United States. High cholesterol and other risk factors for heart disease, including family history, smoking, obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, can cause plaque to form in our arteries and lead to atherosclerosis (blockage of the arteries), and a higher risk of heart attack and strokes.

Our bodies get cholesterol from two sources: Our livers produce it, and we also absorb it from the foods we eat, including eggs, dairy products, and meat. Cholesterol levels can be elevated due to genetics, older age, an unhealthy diet, smoking, being overweight, and low exercise levels. All adults should know their cholesterol numbers, which include total cholesterol, HDL-C, LDL-C, and triglycerides.

HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is often called “good” cholesterol because it carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver to process it and remove it from your body. LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is often called “bad” cholesterol because a high LDL level can lead to plaque formation and atherosclerosis. Triglycerides are the most common type of fats in your blood and are derived from the diet, especially carbohydrates and excess calories.

The best way to improve cholesterol levels is lifestyle modification. The first step is to adopt a heart-healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, which includes lean sources of proteins, plenty of vegetables, whole grains, limited alcohol, and low amounts of saturated fats, simple sugars, and processed foods. Adding aerobic and resistance exercises at least three times a week and maintaining a healthy weight can also be helpful. Despite lifestyle changes, some people have genetically determined high cholesterol and require medications to lower levels. Other patients, especially those with a history of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, need to take prescription lipid-lowering drugs, such as statins, ezetimibe, and PCSK9 inhibitors, to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular events.

A combination of smart lifestyle choices and good medical care are the keys to managing cholesterol levels and other cardiac risk factors to ensure a long and healthy life with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

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