September

is National Cholesterol Education Month

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a lipid that is found in all the cells of the body. It is made by the liver but can also be obtained through certain foods, such as meat and seafood. Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream in packages called lipoproteins. Two kinds of lipoproteins carry cholesterol through the body: low density lipoproteins (LDL) and high density lipoproteins (HDL).

What is the difference between LDL and HDL?

LDL and HDL have different functions. LDL is called "bad" cholesterol because in large amounts it can lead to a buildup of cholesterol in the arteries, which can restrict blood flow. HDL is called "good" cholesterol because it carries cholesterol from other parts of the body back to the liver.
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LDL and HDL differ structurally as well. LDL molecules are 50% cholesterol and 25% protein, while HDL molecules are 25% cholesterol and 50% protein. In addition, LDL molecules are lighter, so the lack of density can cause them to remain in blood vessels. On the other hand, HDL molecules are denser so they keep moving in the bloodstream.

How does the concentration of cholesterol affect my health?

When too much LDL builds up in in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain, it can form a thick, hard deposit called plaque and cause the arteries to narrow. This condition is called atherosclerosis and it can increase an individual's risk of heart disease.
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How do doctors monitor LDL and HDL?

Cholesterol and triglyceride testing is done as part of a routine physical exam to screen for a lipid disorder. It can also be done whenever a patient is experiencing unusual symptoms. High cholesterol, or hypercholesterolemia, is one of the major controllable risk factors for coronary heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. It is important to monitor cholesterol levers in order to understand a patient's risk for these diseases.

How do I interpret a cholesterol reading?

The cholesterol test will giver you a total cholesterol number, but the LDL and HDL levels are the two primary indicators of potential heart disease. The following chart shows a breakdown of the numbers.*
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*

This chart applies only to adults. See this link for a modified version for children and teens.

What else does the cholesterol test tell me?

In addition to LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol levels, the cholesterol and triglycerides test also provides information about other molecules. Triglycerides are a type of fat the body uses to store energy. Only small amounts should be found in the blood, so having a high triglyceride level along with a high LDL cholesterol shows an increased risk for heart disease. In addition, very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) is used to distribute the triglyceride produced by the liver. A high VLDL level can cause the buildup of cholesterol in the arteries and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

What can I do?

There are a number of things you can do every day to improve your cholesterol levels and overall health. To lower cholesterol, the American Heart Association recommends a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish and nuts, and while limiting red meat, sugary foods, and beverages. Try to limit the consumption of saturated fats and trans fats, as these can increase your LDL levels, but make sure to get enough of unsaturated fats, which can help your blood cholesterol. Being physically active is also important to prevent heart disease and stroke. It is recommended that an individual get between 30 to 60 minutes of moderately vigorous exercise a day. Finally, you should try to limit exposure to tobacco smoke. It is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle in order to manage your cholesterol and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Sources

About Cholesterol. (2016). Heart.org. Retrieved 11 May 2016, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/AboutCholesterol/About-Cholesterol_UCM_001220_Article.jsp#.VzKEq4QrLIU


Cholesterol and Triglycerides Tests. (2016). WebMD. Retrieved 16 May 2016, from http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/cholesterol-and-triglycerides-tests


Cholesterol in Children and Teens-Topic Overview. (2016). WebMD. Retrieved 16 May 2016, from http://www.webmd.com/children/tc/cholesterol-in-children-and-teens-topic-overview


Koly, D. (2015). How Do LDL and HDL Differ Structurally and Functionally?. LIVESTRONG.COM. Retrieved 16 May 2016, from http://www.livestrong.com/article/401250-how-does-ldl-hdl-differ-structurally-functionally/


Understanding Your Cholesterol Test Results. (2016). WebMD. Retrieved 16 May 2016, from http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/cholesterol-tests-understand-your-results


What Is Cholesterol? - NHLBI, NIH. (2016). Nhlbi.nih.gov. Retrieved 11 May 2016, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc

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Poster by Sunny Zhang, 3rd Block

even though it's not September yet.