What is Cholesterol? What role does it play in our bodies?

Must-Know Facts About Cholesterol

It is a waxy, fat-like substance – made by the liver and found in some foods – that circulates in the bloodstream and is vital to the body’s healthy functioning. However, too much cholesterol in the blood can be dangerous to heart and vascular health.

Here are some basic facts about cholesterol that everyone should remember:

  1. There are two kinds. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is also called “good” cholesterol, and it actually helps keep cholesterol from building up in the arteries, as well as helping protect against heart attack and stroke. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, is the main source of high cholesterol levels.

  2. It has two sources. The body produces about 75% of blood cholesterol, and the other 25% comes from food sources —primarily animal products. The cholesterol produced by the liver is enough to support bodily processes like digestion and making hormones. However, some people inherit genes that cause their bodies to make too much cholesterol.

  3. High blood cholesterol has no symptoms. People don’t generally experience any symptoms from high cholesterol in and of itself, therefore many people don’t even know their cholesterol is too high.

  4. High levels can be detected with a simple blood test. Screening to measure blood cholesterol should generally take place every 5 years for adults over 20, says the National Cholesterol Education Program. Those at higher risk — including men over 45 and women over 50 — may need to get tested more often.

The Dangers of High Cholesterol in Seniors

When seniors — or any of us — gets a blood test for cholesterol, the laboratory measures levels of HDL, LDL and triglycerides. The total number for HDL and LDL should, optimally, be below 200 mg/dL. Anything above that could indicate high cholesterol. At the same time, the specific numbers are important: having HDL below 40 mg/dL for men and below 50 mg/dL for women can increase the risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.

For seniors, it’s important to get screened for high levels. Cholesterol levels rise as we age, says NIH Senior Health, and in particular, women’s LDL levels tend to increase after menopause.

Older age isn’t the only risk factor, either. Cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, or a family history of early heart disease can also affect LDL levels. For seniors with high cholesterol, it’s critically important to work with a physician to determine a goal for lower LDL and healthy lifestyle habits.

Health Benefits of Lowering Cholesterol

Lowering cholesterol has a huge effect on cardiovascular health. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, high levels of LDL combined with other risk factors like the ones discussed above can increase the likelihood of heart disease or heart attack. At the same time, appropriately high levels of good cholesterol can help protect against heart attack, stroke and even dementia.

Lowering the levels may require a number of therapeutic lifestyle changes:

  1. Regular physical activity

  2. Weight management

  3. Not smoking

  4. Heart-healthy diet

Blog post courtesy of A Place for Mom .

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