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For many, September is synonymous with Labor Day, football and fall, which means chips, dips, barbecues and everyone’s favorite tailgating delicacies. This makes September a natural time to educate Wilson about the dangers of high cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that your body needs. It travels through the blood on proteins called lipoproteins and comes from two sources:
• It’s made by your body and used to do important things, like make hormones and digest fatty foods.
• It’s found in many foods, like egg yolks, fatty meats and regular cheese.
But when your body has too much cholesterol, it can build up on the walls of your arteries and lead to heart attack or stroke, which are two of the leading causes of death in the U.S. The challenge with high cholesterol is that it is symptom-free, and can go undiagnosed for years. Many people don’t realize their cholesterol levels are high until it’s too late.
The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that adults over the age of 20 have their cholesterol checked every five years. Additionally, individuals who are considered high risk should consult with their primary care physicians to determine the appropriate frequency of screenings. High-risk patients are those with a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease or stroke; individuals who live sedentary lifestyles, are overweight or regularly use tobacco products; and those who have previously been diagnosed with high cholesterol.
The good news is that high cholesterol is treatable. While some patients may be prescribed medication to combat their cholesterol levels, others can make some simple lifestyle changes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most effective therapeutic lifestyle changes are:
• Eat a healthy diet. Avoid foods high in saturated and trans fats, including fatty meats, baked goods and desserts, cheeses and other dairy products. Polyunsaturated fats, in moderation, may help lower cholesterol levels. These can be found in soybean, corn and sunflower oils, as well as fatty fishes like salmon, mackerel, herring and trout. Additionally, foods high in fiber can help reduce cholesterol.
• Exercise. Regular exercise helps lower total cholesterol levels. To better understand, there are two types of cholesterol in the body, low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good” cholesterol). HDL, the “good” cholesterol, carries the LDL out of the arteries and back to the liver where it is broken down and eventually eliminated. Regular exercise increases HDL levels, which means more “bad” cholesterol will be carried out of the body.
The U.S. Surgeon General recommends that adults participate in moderate to intense exercise for two and a half hours every week, which equates to 30-minute sessions, five days a week.
• Maintain a healthy weight and steer clear of tobacco. Being overweight and using tobacco products have many adverse side effects, and high cholesterol is one of them. To determine if your weight is healthy or to find the right smoking cessation strategy, consult with your primary care physician. If you do not have a primary care physician, Wilson Medical Center can help you find one who best fits your needs.
If you need a primary care physician, call our referral line at 800-424.-OCS (3627) to get connected with one today.
Ronald Stahl, M.D., is chief medical officer of Wilson Medical Center.