by Dr. Julie Reihsen
It seems every day we read or hear more news about cholesterol. What does it all mean? Cholesterol is a type of fat made by the liver. Cholesterol is also contained in certain foods that you eat such as eggs, meat, and dairy products. Shrimp is full of cholesterol. However, the real cholesterol danger lurks in the slyly packaged “cholesterol free” cookie. You see, shrimp contains very little of the fat that makes the cookie taste so good. And it is the saturated fat and food that has the greatest effect on your cholesterol level.
Foods high in saturated fat raise cholesterol because your liver turns saturated fat into cholesterol. Cholesterol is a white, waxy fat found naturally in your body. It is used to build cell walls and make certain hormones. Cholesterol travels through the blood in different types of packages called lipoproteins. The low-density lipoprotein (LDL) delivers cholesterol to the body. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) removes cholesterol from the bloodstream. Too much cholesterol and your blood can raise your risk of heart attack or a stroke. The cholesterol can deposit along the walls of your arteries and causing to become narrow. Eventually, the deposit can build to a point where it blocks the flow of blood through the artery. If an artery that supplies blood to your heart becomes blocked, you may have a heart attack.
According to the national cholesterol education program, everyone age 20 or older should have their cholesterol checked. After that, you should have it checked at least once every five years. Depending on your cholesterol level and your risk factors for heart disease, your doctor will recommend how often to test. The test measures the total amount of cholesterol in your blood. The best total cholesterol is less than 200. A total cluster all above 239 means that you may have an increased risk for heart disease. The total cholesterol is composed of the HDL, or “good” cholesterol which cleanses the arteries, plus the LDL, or “bad” cholesterol which builds up and clogs arteries. It is best to have an LDL cholesterol of less than 130. If the LDL is greater than 160, you are at higher risk for heart disease. And HDL of 60 or more reduces your risk for heart disease is whereas if this is below 35 your risk is increased. If your cholesterol is elevated the methods to reduce it are eating healthy foods and exercising regularly.
Generally, the diet should emphasize fruits and vegetables, low-fat meats and fish, and fiber-rich foods like whole-grain bread. Limit your intake of saturated fat in palm and coconut oils. Pay attention to labels on food packages. Read the amount of total fat, saturated fat, and the portion size. Limit foods high in cholesterol like egg yolks and liver. Also, 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 to 4 times a week may raise the beneficial HDL in your bloodstream. Discuss any exercise program with your doctor prior to beginning. Finally, if you do smoke, stop. This may raise your HDL level. If eating healthy and exercising do not bring down your cholesterol level after about six months, your doctor may wish to discuss using certain medications to lower your cholesterol levels. This will require periodic monitoring and may be a lifelong treatment. So this is generally reserved for those who do not lower the cholesterol with diet and exercise. If you have any questions about cholesterol or want your cholesterol level checked, talk with your family doctor.