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What You Need to Know About Cholesterol

Too much cholesterol can lead to heart disease. But it’s never too late or too early to manage your cholesterol levels.

Talk to your doctor to get a screening. Also ask about ways to take care of your heart and live a healthier life.

The facts

Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance in your bloodstream. It’s used to build new cells and digest food. Some is good. But too much is bad.

Q. Where does cholesterol come from?
A. Some of it comes from foods like whole milk, cheese, meat and butter. Heredity (genes) also can play a role. For example, if some of your relatives have or had high cholesterol, you may be at a higher risk.

Q. What are the different types of cholesterol?
A. The different types are:

  • TC (total cholesterol): The total amount of all cholesterol in your blood — too much increases your risk of heart disease
  • LDL cholesterol: Known as "bad" cholesterol, LDL can attach itself to the walls of your bloodstream, causing blockage that can lead to heart disease or stroke
  • HDL cholesterol: Known as "good" cholesterol, HDL flushes away the LDL cholesterol
  • TG (triglycerides): The body’s storage form for fat
Exercise: You can do it

Regular exercise can help. It raises the "good" (HDL) and lowers the "bad" (LDL). Try to get 20 minutes of moderate activity three days a week.

Tips to increase activity

  • Start small. Work up to increasing the duration and intensity of activities.
  • Choose fun activities. Add variety so you don’t get bored.
  • Walk as often as possible. Park farther away or take the stairs, not the elevator.
  • Vacuum or do yard work. These and other household chores are exercise too!

Remember to ask your doctor what exercise is right for you.

Tips for healthy eating:

  • Whole-grain cereals
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Unsalted pretzels
  • Low-fat microwave popcorn
  • Juices, sorbets, nonfat yogurt
  • Broiled or baked foods, not fried
  • Avoid creamy salad dressings
  • Ask for sauce or gravy on the side to avoid excess portions

Medications you need to know

Even when you change your diet and exercise habits, you may need medication. There are many medications available to help you save money and lower cholesterol levels, such as:

  • Simvastatin
  • Lofibra® or Fenofibrate
  • Gemfibrozil

It’s important to get your cholesterol checked. Talk to your doctor to find out how often you should be tested and what steps you can take to improve your levels.

Desirable: Less than 200 mg/dL
Borderline: High 200-239 mg/dL
High: 240 mg/dL and above

Remember: The lower the LDL, the better!
Optimal: Less than 100 mg/dL
Near Optimal: 100-129 mg/dL
Borderline High: 130-159 mg/dL
High: 160-189 mg/dL
Very High: 190 mg/dL and above

Remember: The higher the HDL, the better!
Low: 40 mg/dL
High: 60 mg/dL and above

Source: National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP)

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