Cholesterol is just one of those things. You know it’s important, but it isn’t exactly an issue to get excited about. Still, it can have a profound impact on your health, especially in the long term. And taking control now can dramatically reduce cholesterol complications later in life.
Here are some thoughts on getting a handle on your cholesterol, starting with the basics: what’s up with that good-cholesterol/bad-cholesterol deal anyway?
The Bad Stuff: LDL Cholesterol
This is the stuff that sticks to the inside of your arteries, making a more narrow passage for blood to flow through and generally gunking up the circulatory system. It makes the arteries more brittle and creates bottlenecks that make it easier for a rogue clot to cause a heart attack or stroke.
The Good Stuff: HDL Cholesterol
The medical community disagrees on exactly what’s going on with HDL cholesterol but they are basically on the same page in saying that it’s beneficial. One well-regarded belief is that it helps carry the bad cholesterol (above) away to the liver where it can be ultimately eliminated from the body altogether. Regardless, having healthy HDL levels consistently means reduced risk for heart disease and heart attacks.
So that’s the short version of what good and bad cholesterol are all about. So what to do about it? Here are the basics.
Know where you stand. Having a cholesterol problem (too much of the bad stuff and/or too little of the good stuff) doesn’t mean you’ll have any symptoms telling you so. The only way to know for sure is to get tested and keep an eye on your numbers. Ask your doctor for more information and follow up annually (or more often, if needed).
Do the basics. Cholesterol is one of those things that responds really well to all those things that you know you should be doing already – eating well, getting regular exercise, not smoking, etc. Genetics and other factors can certainly play a role (and a big one), but the bottom line is that nothing beats a healthy lifestyle.
Eat smart. If you do have a cholesterol problem, avoiding saturated fats and high cholesterol foods becomes even more important. To eat a truly cholesterol-conscious diet, you’ll probably have to do your homework, at least at first. Keep an eye on the fat and cholesterol content of what you’re eating and start to steer yourself in more heart-healthy directions.
If it turns out that cholesterol is an issue for you and you want to take a more active role in improving your LDL and HDL levels, there’s tons of information out there to help you get started. Check out the Cholesterol Tools and Resources page over at heart.org and be sure to speak with your doctor.