What is cholesterol and why should you care? Cholesterol are fatty particles that circulate in your blood vessels. Elevated cholesterol is associated with an increased risk of heart disease. This sounds simple but is actually complex and I recommend that you get your cholesterol checked and talk with a doctor about your cholesterol level and how to manage your cholesterol and risk factors to decrease your risk of heart disease.
As a framework to understand the bad parts of cholesterol, please think about Teflon™ pans for a moment. Think about the lining of your blood vessels as being like a Teflon pan. A new Teflon pan is the status of the lining of your blood vessels when they are healthy. The lining is like a brand-new Teflon pan that is very slick and non-stick. With age and use the Teflon gets a bit worn and when you cook the food tends to get stuck on the Teflon.
So, how does this work with your cholesterol and your Teflon-like lining of your blood vessels and risk for heart disease? I like patients to think of three components; cholesterol, time, and inflammation as the causes of heart disease. You need cholesterol with the higher the number (in general) the worse the risk. You need time, heart disease occurs in older folks in general. Lastly, you need inflammation. Inflammation is caused by many things including smoking, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, infections, gout, and in women inflammation is associated with a history of preeclampsia.
Going back to the Teflon pan framework and the three components of time, cholesterol, and inflammation. You have food that you are cooking on the Teflon pan for years and the lining of Teflon becomes damaged and develops build up. This can occur in the lining of your blood vessels and lead to narrowed arteries to the point of having a heart attack.
If you have all three components (high cholesterol, time, and inflammation) then you have increased risk. If you decrease any of the three components then you decrease your risk.
Lifestyle habits to incorporate to decrease cholesterol and inflammation
- The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is an eating plan to lower or control high blood pressure. The plan incorporates lots of fruits and vegetables, low refined carbohydrates, high lean protein, plant protein, and nuts.
- Exercise 150 minutes per week to decrease cholesterol and inflammation.
- LDL acceptable 100 or less, great 70 or less, excellent less than 50
- Cholesterol/HDL and triglyceride/HDL both 3.5 or less
- Triglyceride goal less than 125
Every 2-4 years you and your provider should use the American Heart Association risk calculator to calculate your risk of heart disease and make recommendations.
For additional information, you can have your coronary calcium score measured.