Did you know that September is National Cholesterol Education Month?
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, high blood cholesterol can be a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, the two leading causes of death in the United States.
Though anyone can have high blood cholesterol, Solano County data shows that Hispanic and Asian adults are most likely to have the highest blood cholesterol.
What exactly is cholesterol? It is a waxy, fat-like substance that your body needs to function. However, when there is too much of it in your blood, it can build up on the walls of your arteries and form blockages, which can lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Not all cholesterol is bad for you. In fact, there are two types of cholesterol: High-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Think of HDL as the “good” cholesterol and LDL as the “bad” cholesterol. When your healthcare provider talks about high cholesterol, he or she is most likely talking about LDL or “bad” cholesterol.
Seventy-one million American adults (roughly one in three adults) have high “bad” cholesterol. Unfortunately, only one in three adults with high “bad” cholesterol have the condition under control.
What can you do to prevent or treat high cholesterol? High cholesterol can be prevented or treated through prescribed medication and by making the following simple lifestyle changes:
1. Eat a healthy diet. Avoid saturated and trans fats, which can be found in spreads such as butter and margarine, packaged foods, instant soups, fast food, frozen food, potato chips, nuts and seeds and dairy products. Eating more fiber helps lower blood cholesterol. Fiber can be found in beans, whole grains, brown rice, popcorn, nuts, baked potato with skin, berries, bran cereal, oatmeal, fruits and vegetables.
2. Exercise regularly. Physical activity can lower blood cholesterol. The Surgeon General recommends that adults engage in at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity exercise a week. Walking briskly, water aerobics, bicycling, tennis, dancing and even gardening are considered moderate-intensity activities.
3. Maintain a healthy weight. Losing weight can help lower blood cholesterol levels.
4. Don’t smoke. Studies have shown that smoking lowers “good” cholesterol and raises “bad” cholesterol. Quitting smoking can help raise “good” cholesterol levels, which in turn helps decrease the risk for heart disease.
Now, are you asking, “How do I find out if I have high cholesterol?” Well, the answer is simple: Screening. Screening is the key to detecting high cholesterol. The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that adults aged 20 and older have their cholesterol checked every five years. However, depending on factors such as age and the risk for heart disease and stroke, you may need to have your cholesterol checked more often.
Always make sure to keep your blood cholesterol in check. Your healthy heart will thank you.
Kristine Lalic is a Community Programs Project Assistant at Solano Coalition for Better Health.