GHS Cares: Why Your Cholesterol Levels Matter
According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly one in three Americans has high cholesterol. It is not uncommon to hear about high cholesterol, whether through ads on television for cholesterol medications or by reading nutrition labels at the grocery store. There is a lot of talk around the negative effects of high cholesterol, but what exactly is cholesterol and why does it matter?
Fact #1 Cholesterol is found in animal products that people may consume, but not all cholesterol is bad.
Cholesterol is a substance found in all animal tissue. It is an important and required building block in our body that is made by the liver. We also eat cholesterol whenever we eat animal products, including meat, dairy and eggs. There are multiple different kinds of cholesterol, including “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, and “good” cholesterol, or HDL.
Fact #2 Bad cholesterol can build up in blood vessels and have serious negative health effects.
Doctors measure cholesterol using a blood test. When our LDL cholesterol number is high, the bad cholesterol is more likely to build up on the walls of our blood vessels and cause blockages and other problems. This build up of cholesterol increases our risk of heart disease, stroke and death.
Fact #3 Overweight children and nearly all adults should be screened for high cholesterol periodically.
Most people need to be screened for high cholesterol. Young adults are generally screened once when they first establish primary care in adulthood. Screening may occur annually or can be every five years thereafter depending on the initial cholesterol levels and overall health of the individual. Even overweight children need to have their cholesterol checked. Please check with your primary care provider to make sure you or your child is not due for a cholesterol screening
Fact #4 Eating less animal products, especially fatty meats, full-fat dairy and large quantities of eggs, can improve your cholesterol levels.
If you are diagnosed with high cholesterol, there are many things you can do to help lower it. Ultimately, a healthy diet that is low in saturated fat is key to lowering cholesterol. This means limiting portions of fatty meat, full-fat dairy and eggs in favor of more fruits and vegetables. Maintaining or working towards a healthy weight and incorporating regular exercise can also make a big difference in cholesterol numbers. Quitting smoking can also make a difference. Although all of these things can be difficult to achieve, we’ve seen success even with modest changes. If you opt for leaner meats like chicken and fish, more veggies, and take on a daily walk you may be impressed with your progress.
Fact #5 If positive changes are being incorporated but progress is not being made, consult your doctor.
Sometimes diet and exercise are not sufficient to control high cholesterol. In this case, your doctor will likely recommend a medication called a statin. These medicines can effectively bring down your cholesterol and protect against bad outcomes, including heart disease and stroke. Many people worry about the possibility of muscle aches with statin medicines, as aches are a known side effect, but these aches are not extremely common and are usually mild. All medicines have risks and benefits, but in general a medicine that protects from heart disease and strokes is something to consider!
As with all other health care needs, we encourage you to discuss cholesterol screening and cholesterol levels in general with your primary care provider.
Dr. Liz Baltaro and Dr. Amy Nayo are primary care physicians expanding community access to quality pediatric and family medicine at Granville Primary Care, Butner-Creedmoor, located at 1614 NC Highway 56, Butner. To schedule your primary care appointment, please call 919-575-6103 or schedule online at ghshospital.org. You can schedule a primary care appointment with a provider as far as 12 months in advance through online scheduling.
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