Cholesterol is a natural substance that your body makes, but also one you can also acquire through food. Your body produces the waxy substance to serve your body’s natural functions. But, too much cholesterol — particularly the LDL variety — can increase your risk of heart disease. It forms blockages, or plaques, in the arteries so it’s hard to circulate blood. The plaques may lead to blood clots, potentially causing a stroke, or if one blocks an artery to your heart, it may cause a heart attack.
When you’re older than 20 years old, it’s a good idea to get your cholesterol levels checked — at minimum — once every 5 years. If your levels are high, it indicates that you’re at an increased risk of developing heart disease. The only way to know if you have high cholesterol is through a screening; high cholesterol doesn’t cause outward symptoms.
The doctor orders a lipoprotein profile, which is a simple blood test. It evaluates the relationship of bad and good cholesterol in your system as well as measures your total cholesterol. It also measures the amount of triglycerides, or the fat in your blood. Too high of levels — of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, or triglycerides — requires intervention.
LDL is low-density lipoprotein and contributes to the dangerous plaques that cause health scares. HDL is high-density lipoprotein and it acts to round up LDL and herd it back to your liver, where it is processed appropriately. When you get your test results, it’s optimal to have higher levels of HDL and lower levels of LDL.
A healthy diet that contains lots of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins — such as white-meat chicken and fish — and whole grains supports healthier cholesterol levels. Physical activity also tends to keep your cholesterol levels down and boost the amount of HDL. Depending on your health situation, the doctor discusses the possibility of making these lifestyle changes as well as prescribing cholesterol-lowering medication to keep your levels in check.
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