Cholesterol is a waxy substance naturally created in the liver. It’s also found in foods, such as animal products that we commonly eat. When “bad cholesterol” is higher than normal, the body becomes susceptible to serious conditions including heart disease—the leading cause of death in the U.S. Each February, also known as American Heart Month, people are encouraged to learn about the risk factors associated with the condition. For starters, Americans are consuming an excessive amount of cholesterol. About 94 million adults are living with higher than normal levels. “Oftentimes, people think if they have food with cholesterol then their cholesterol will be high,” explained Grace Derocha, a registered dietitian, certified health coach, diabetes care and education specialist at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “That is one part of it. The other part is the overweightness or processed fried foods that aren't the best for you either.” On the latest episode of A Healthier Michigan Podcast, hosted by Chuck Gaidica, he’s joined by Derocha and Kristian Hurley, Senior Director of Community Impact for the American Heart Association of Southeastern Michigan. Together, they discuss the best way to keep your cholesterol under control.
Some people are genetically predisposed to high cholesterol and despite their best efforts, still struggle. This is called an uncontrollable risk factor. “I've had patients like that,” revealed Derocha. “They did everything right. They were fit, they ate healthy and nutritious food, but their cholesterol just tended to be higher because of how their body made and produced cholesterol.” Two factors you can control are diet and exercise. No matter your genetic makeup, it’s important to eat healthy, well-balanced meals and engage in regular physical activity. Some heart-healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein such as poultry and salmon. Fish is a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which can help to lower cholesterol levels. You should also be aware of the different types of cholesterol. There’s HDL and LDL, commonly referred to as good and bad cholesterol. LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is known for causing plaque buildup along the artery walls, which can lead to clots, heart attack and stroke. HDL (high-density lipoprotein) has the opposite effect. “Just like LDL brought that plaque buildup, the HDL … takes it away,” said Derocha. “I always tell people it makes your blood more slippery.” “The good cholesterol actually helps to clear the bad cholesterol out of your artery,” added Hurley. “It's not all bad.” To learn proper cholesterol management, talk to your doctor. They may suggest doing a complete blood count as well as a cholesterol panel. You can also visit heart.org to access the cholesterol risk calculator and guidebook for more detailed information. Read more heart health stories:
- Outrunning a Congenial Heart Condition
- Top 5 Myths About Heart Disease
- How Much Do You Know About Cholesterol?
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