This is the perfect time to discuss cholesterol. We torture our bodies all holiday long with overindulging, social drinking, staying out later than normal and getting all off track. Your body and cholesterol can suffer. So let's get back on track with these tips about cholesterol. Over the next several blog posts I am going to post information about cholesterol and how you can help keep yours under control, naturally.
Common Myths about High Cholesterol
There are a lot of myths that surround the high cholesterol health condition. These myths are passed on through TV shows, through old books, even through out-of-date biology curriculums.
Today's cutting edge health and science research has shown us that a lot of what we used to know about cholesterol simply isn't true.
Here are a few of the most common high cholesterol myths...
Myth # 1 - Eggs Are Bad for Your Cholesterol Levels
The health community used to recommend avoiding eggs due to their high dietary cholesterol levels. With over 200 mgs of cholesterol, it only makes sense that someone who wants to lower their cholesterol should avoid eggs - right?
Not so. Today, we know that only a tiny fraction of dietary cholesterol actually ends up in the blood stream. Eggs are actually quite a healthy source of proteins and contain twelve different kinds of vitamins and minerals.
It's still not good to overdo it, but a couple eggs a week won't hurt.
Myth # 2 - There Is an "Ideal" Cholesterol Number
People often look for a target cholesterol number, as if there were a global ideal that's right for everyone.
In reality, however, everyone's body is a bit different. A smoker's target LDL ("bad" cholesterol) levels are different than a non-smoker's. A diabetic's target levels are different than a non-diabetic's. So on and so forth.
Before you look online for "ideal" target levels, consult your doctor to get a target number tailored specifically for you.
Myth #3 - Cholesterol Is Evil
Cholesterol is actually a necessary part of your body's everyday processes. Cholesterol helps line various kinds of cells in your body, including your all-important brain cells. They also help give cells more structural integrity.
To make a long story short, our bodies wouldn't be able to function without cholesterol.
It's only when LDL cholesterol levels get too high that we're in trouble because of it.
Myth # 4- Only the Elderly Get High Cholesterol
Another common myth is that high cholesterol is an issue mostly for the elderly.
In reality, kids as young as eight years old have been diagnosed with high cholesterol. This tends to happen in overweight, obese or sedentary kids.
Though it's true that the rate of high cholesterol does go up with age, just because you're younger doesn't mean you're safe. Make sure to get your cholesterol count from your doctor in your annual check-up, even if you're under 30 years old.
These are a few of the most common myths that surround high cholesterol. Remember that medical information changes often as new research and data are discovered. The best source of information regarding high cholesterol should always come from a trusted doctor, rather than through friends, family or even the internet.
Understanding Cholesterol: The Fundamental Facts
Cholesterol is one of the most important substances in your body. On the positive side, it's used to produce various hormones, it's used to produce Vitamin D and it lines various cells to protect and insulate them.
On the down side, high blood cholesterol is one of the biggest causes of heart disease and strokes. Cholesterol can be loosely broken down into "good" (HDL) cholesterol and "bad" (LDL) cholesterol. Too little of the good cholesterol is bad, and too much of the bad cholesterol is bad.
What Causes High Cholesterol?
There are many factors that can play into increasing a person's cholesterol levels.
The most important factor is diet. Though only 20% of the cholesterol in your bloodstream comes from your food, what you eat can have a big impact on how much cholesterol your body produces overall.
In other words, the 80% that doesn't come directly from your food is still affected by the foods you eat.
Smoking and alcohol consumption can also play a big role in increasing cholesterol. The difference in HDL and LDL levels of smokers/drinkers versus non-smokers/drinkers is vast.
Finally, overall weight and physical fitness also plays a role.
Testing for High Cholesterol
High cholesterol isn't a condition that manifests itself in an easily detectable form. By the time warning signs show up, it's often too late.
Instead, high cholesterol should be detected by your doctor in your annual health check-ups. In fact, your doctor should inform you if you might have a cholesterol issue several years before you reach critical levels.
Treating High Cholesterol
There are several steps to treating high cholesterol.
First of all, if you're at a high risk level, the first step is to get you on a medication treatment. Prescription drugs are the fastest and most consistent way to get cholesterol levels down in a short period of time.
However, in the long run, you'll need to make some lifestyle and dietary changes if you want to lower your cholesterol levels for good. Suppressing cholesterol levels with prescription drugs is often necessary in the short term, but in the long run it's much healthier to get your health in order.
Who Should Worry about High Cholesterol?
Everybody. While it's true that the risk of high cholesterol goes up with age, it's simply not true that if you're younger you can't get high cholesterol.
Life threatening levels of high cholesterol have been discovered in children under the age of ten. Eating habits and sedentary lifestyle can cause dangerous health complications no matter what your age.
It's better to be safe than sorry. Your best defense is to make sure you get a check-up and blood test every year. Start looking early and high cholesterol can't catch you by surprise.
How to Diagnose High Cholesterol
If you think you might have high cholesterol and want to go in for a diagnosis, what can you expect? High cholesterol diagnosis is primarily done through blood tests. Just a physical exam can't tell the doctor much about your cholesterol levels.
What Is a Lipid Profile?
A lipid profile is a blood test specifically catered for testing for high cholesterol levels.
In order to make sure you get an accurate reading, your doctor will require that you skip meals for 12 hours before you take the test.
This is because certain levels in your blood can fluctuate whenever you eat food. In order to get a good baseline reading, they need you to not eat for a period of time.
They then take your blood using a needle. Much like taking blood for any other kind of test, your blood vessels will be constricted using a band to make them stand out. Blood will then be extracted and sent to the lab for testing and diagnosis.
The Different Parts of Your Lipid Profiles
There are a few numbers your doctor is going to come back with.
The first is your LDL cholesterol levels. LDL stands for "low density lipoproteins." Your LDL levels are the most important numbers you want to pay attention to if you're worried about high cholesterol.
Another important number to pay attention to is your HDL or "high density lipoprotein" levels. HDL is generally considered the "good" cholesterol that you want in your blood stream to help your cells function better.
The two other numbers your doctor will come back with are your triglyceride levels and your total cholesterol levels. Your triglycerides are also considered bad lipids. Your total cholesterol is the total of your HDL and LDL levels.
This is a basic explanation of what all these numbers are and what they mean. Your doctor can give you a more in-depth explanation of each factor and what they mean for you personally.
What Should Your Levels Be At?
Generally speaking, you want your LDL levels to be 3 or lower. Your total cholesterol should be 5 or lower.
Remember that these goals vary from person to person, depending on age, weight, smoking habits and other factors. There's no set goal or ideal level to hit overall; instead your specific target levels can be set by your doctor.
When you get your results back, your doctor is going to explain your cholesterol levels to you in terms of risk. Based on your levels, how likely are you to have heart complications in the next ten years?
Based on these results, a course of action can be recommended. Should you start taking medications? Should you start changing your lifestyle habits? These are all valid options depending on your risk levels.
Warning Signs of High Cholesterol
Perhaps the most dangerous thing about high cholesterol is how hard it is to see it coming. Unlike other health conditions that come with warning signs well ahead of time, by the time warning signs show up with high cholesterol you may already be in mortal danger.
The best and only sure way to catch high cholesterol before it causes major damage is to get checked up by a doctor regularly.
That said, here are a few signs that you could have high cholesterol.
If you're experiencing chest pains and you believe you might be at risk of being in a high cholesterol category, see a doctor right away.
Having chest pains means that the high cholesterol has already progressed to the point where it could have a serious impact on your cardiovascular health.
Treat chest pains as a medical emergency. Don't wait to get off work, don't wait for the kids to get home from school - get to a doctor right away.
This is especially true if you have a history of high blood pressure.
Fatty Deposits in the Skin
One relatively early warning sign is visible fatty deposits in the skin.
These deposits tend to appear in places where the skin creases - in the palm of the hands, in the elbows and around the eyes.
If you notice fatty deposits appearing in your skin, get a check-up as soon as you can.
Unlike chest pains, fatty deposits aren't necessarily a red flag warning. However, it does mean that your high cholesterol levels are getting dangerously high and should probably be looked at by a doctor.
Other Warning Signs
Unfortunately, there really are no other early warning signs of high cholesterol.
At a certain point, the only warning signs then become having a stroke or having a heart attack, both "warning signs" that could cost you your life.
High cholesterol is a condition that needs to be caught early by an attentive doctor. It's not a condition that you can be on the lookout for yourself.
Don't wait for warning signs to appear before trying to take care of your high cholesterol issues.
What to Ask Your Doctor
If you think you're at right of having abnormally high cholesterol but your doctor hasn't told you so yet, what should you do?
Start by getting in the habit of tracking your LDL ("bad" cholesterol) level. Ask your doctor for your cholesterol level and keep track of it over time. Is it going up or down?
Ask your doctor where your target range should be. Are you within that range?
If you're well outside of the range you want to be, start talking to your doctor about how you might get yourself back in range.
Your doctor may not start the conversation until your cholesterol levels are much higher than they should be. If that's the case, you might want to pre-emptively start talking about high cholesterol options to get a head start on this condition.
My next blog post will be tons of tips and diet ideas to help keep your cholesterol and body in good health.
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