Cholesterol 101: What Is Cholesterol Anyway?

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September is National Cholesterol Education Month. Most people have probably heard of cholesterol, and they may even know that it plays an important role in heart disease—a leading killer of U.S. men and women. Even so, many people may have questions about cholesterol and why they should pay attention to it.

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that your body actually needs to function normally. But if too much of it builds up in your bloodstream, your health could suffer as a result.

What causes high cholesterol?

Your body makes some cholesterol. And cholesterol is found in animal-based foods, like meat and cheese. But the dietary components that raise blood cholesterol the most are saturated and trans fats. Foods high in these fats can cause your liver to make more cholesterol than your body needs.

What are the different types of cholesterol?

There are two main types of cholesterol: Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is often called the bad cholesterol because it tends to collect in arteries; and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is often called the good cholesterol because it helps remove excess cholesterol from your arteries. Over time, excess LDL cholesterol can combine with other substances in the blood and clog arteries that supply the heart and the brain with blood. As a result, those arteries may become stiff and narrow, and circulation may be decrease or become blocked.

How can I know my cholesterol levels?

The only way to know is to get tested. It’s a simple blood test included within CVMC’s discounted $40 wellness panel offered on the third Thursday of every month (Sept. 20 this month) between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. at 1107 Highway 395 N in Gardnerville. An 8-hour fast prior to the test is required.

How are unhealthy cholesterol levels treated?

If your cholesterol levels aren’t what they should be, you may be able to improve them with some lifestyle changes.

It helps to:

• Eat fewer foods high in saturated and trans fats, such as fatty meats and processed foods.

• Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

• Get some exercise, such as brisk walking, at least 150 minutes a week.

• Maintain a healthy weight. You also may need to take a cholesterol-lowering medicine.

Ask your primary care physician about the best approach for treatment. If you don’t have a primary care provider, call our Find-A-Doc hotline at 775-782-1545 or fill out our online form at cvmchospital.org/doc and we’ll match you with the perfect fit for your healthcare needs.

Not sure where to start?

Carson Valley Medical Center Registered Dietitian Renie Tharp will facilitate a healthful cooking demonstration Sept. 29 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Douglas County Community & Senior Center in Gardnerville, 1329 Waterloo Lane. Breakfast, lunch and dinner samples will be prepared by CVMC staff showcasing the anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet.

Space is limited and reservations must be made in advance. Cost is $10. Call 775-782-1528 or visit cvmchospital.org/demo.

Additional sources: U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health

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