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Know your Cholesterol Level

Posted Jun 22 2009 12:00am

Cholesterol has a variety of uses in the body that are very important; it is a waxy, fat-like substance that your body needs to function normally. It’s used in the cell membranes that surround cells throughout your body. You also use cholesterol to make important chemicals, including hormones, vitamin D and the acids that help you digest fat. Cholesterol is substance found among the lipids (fats) in the bloodstream and in all your body’s cells.

Cholesterol is an important part of a healthy body because it’s used to form cell membranes, some hormones and is needed for other functions. But a high level of cholesterol in the blood hypercholesterolemia is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, which leads to heart attack. Cholesterol and other fats can’t dissolve in the blood. They have to be transported to and from the cells by special carriers called lipoproteins.

cholestrol 300x240 Know your Cholesterol Level

The cholesterol in a person’s blood originates from two major sources; dietary intake and liver production.

Dietary cholesterol comes mainly from meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products. Organ meats, such as liver, are especially high in cholesterol content, while foods of plant origin contain no cholesterol. After a meal, cholesterol is absorbed by the intestines into the blood circulation and is then packaged inside a protein coat. This cholesterol-protein coat complex is called a chylomicron.

The liver is capable of removing cholesterol from the blood circulation as well as manufacturing cholesterol and secreting cholesterol into the blood circulation. After a meal, the liver removes chylomicrons from the blood circulation. In between meals, the liver manufactures and secretes cholesterol back into the blood circulation.

There are several kinds, but the ones to focus on are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

What is LDL cholesterol?

Low-density lipoprotein is the major cholesterol carrier in the blood. If too much LDL cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the walls of the arteries feeding the heart and brain. Together with other substances it can form plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog those arteries. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. A clot (thrombus) that forms near this plaque can block the blood flow to part of the heart muscle and cause a heart attack. If a clot blocks the blood flow to part of the brain, a stroke results. A high level of LDL cholesterol (160 mg/dL and above) reflects an increased risk of heart disease. If you have heart disease, your LDL cholesterol should be less than 100 mg/dL and your doctor may even set your goal to be less than 70 mg/dL. That’s why LDL cholesterol is called “bad” cholesterol. Lower levels of LDL cholesterol reflect a lower risk of heart disease.

What is HDL cholesterol?

About one-third to one-fourth of blood cholesterol is carried by HDL. Medical experts think HDL tends to carry cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it’s passed from the body. Some experts believe HDL removes excess cholesterol from plaques and thus slows their growth. HDL cholesterol is known as “good” cholesterol because a high HDL level seems to protect against heart attack. The opposite is also true: a low HDL level (less than 40 mg/dL in men; less than 50 mg/dL in women) indicates a greater risk. A low HDL cholesterol level also may raise stroke risk.

Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the artery walls. Each time the heart beats, it pumps blood throughout the body, resulting in the highest blood pressure as the heart contracts (the systolic pressure) and the lowest pressure when the heart relaxes (the diastolic pressure).

With high blood pressure, the arteries may have an increased resistance against the flow of blood, causing the heart to pump harder to circulate the blood, “Having high blood pressure directly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Why You Should Check

Keeping an eye on blood sugar levels has many benefits. For example, testing your blood sugar levels before and after meals helps you see how eating certain foods affects those levels. Knowing this can help you adjust your food choices.

Exercise also can make your blood sugar levels fluctuate, so test them regularly when you’re active. This way you can tell whether your dose of diabetes medicine should be adjusted as you step up your physical activity.

And because being sick can mess up how much diabetes medicine your body needs, know your blood sugar levels when you’re feeling ill. This can help you and your doctor to decide if you should use less or more medicine, depending on your diabetes management plan.

To keep your cholesterol under control:

· schedule a screening

· eat foods low in cholesterol and saturated fat and free of trans fat

· maintain a healthy weight

· be physically active

· follow your health care professional’s advice

Know your cholesterol level to screen for risk of developing heart disease. Adults should be tested once every five years or more frequently if being treated for high cholesterol or have one or more risk factors for heart disease. Children and adolescents with risk factors should also have their cholesterol level checked.

Have your cholesterol checked regularly starting at age 35. If you are younger than 35, talk to your doctor about whether to have your cholesterol checked if:

· You have diabetes.

· You have high blood pressure.

· Heart disease runs in your family.

· You smoke.

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