Be kind to your heart

September is National Cholesterol Education Month and the Heart
Health Centre, in partnership with Kirk Supermarket and Pharmacy and the Health
Services Authority, will be conducting free health screening checks that
include cholesterol, blood pressure, and body mass index checks on Friday,
September 17, between 4:00pm-8:00pm at Kirks supermarket. 

It is well known that high
cholesterol levels put you at greater risk of heart disease but as Jodie
Kelley, education and programs coordinator at the Heart Health Centre points
out. “You can have high blood cholesterol and not know it but high cholesterol
is a major controllable risk factor for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
This month is a good time to have your cholesterol checked. It’s also a good
time to learn about food and lifestyle choices that can help you reach and
maintain heart healthy cholesterol levels.”

Cholesterol is found in all cells
of the human body. It is naturally made by the liver and is used for the production
of hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids to help you digest fat. Cholesterol is a
waxy type substance as it appears in the body and if there is too much blood
cholesterol, some of the excess can become trapped in the walls of your
arteries. This build-up is known as plaque and it becomes very dangerous as
over time, plaque can narrow vessels and make them less flexible a process
called atherosclerosis and when atherosclerosis affects the arteries of your
heart, this condition is called coronary heart disease.  If the coronary arteries become partly
blocked with plaque, blood flow is slowed to the heart muscle and can cause
chest pain, or angina.  If blood supply
is completely cut off by a blockage the result is a heart attack. 

Now we all probably know this but
obviously a lot of us choose to ignore it because heart disease is the number
one killer of women and men around the world. The only accurate way of knowing
if you have high cholesterol levels is through a test .

Good and bad cholesterol

Like oil and water, cholesterol and
blood do not mix. To travel in the bloodstream, cholesterol is attached to
proteins and this combination of proteins and cholesterol is called
lipoproteins.  Two common lipoproteins
which carry cholesterol are:  LDL
(low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein).  LDL (bad) cholesterol is the main source of
artery causing plaque.  The chance of a
heart attack becomes higher with elevated levels of LDL.  HDL (good) cholesterol on the other hand
helps to keep LDL cholesterol from being lodged into your artery walls. It
carries cholesterol back to your liver for removal from the body.

A blood test called a lipoprotein
profile will measure your total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglyceride blood
levels.

Understanding the numbers 

A desirable total cholesterol level
is less than 200mg/dL.

HDL (good) cholesterol protects
against heart disease and helps keep cholesterol from building up in the
arteries.  For HDL, higher numbers are
better.  HDL levels of 60mg/dL or more
help to lower your risk for heart disease.

LDL (bad) cholesterol is the main
source of cholesterol build-up and blockage in the arteries.  For LDL, lower numbers are better.  Optimum LDL level is less than 100mg/dL.

Triglycerides are another form of
blood fat that can also raise heart disease risk.  Triglyceride level should be less than
150mg/dL

What affects cholesterol levels

Various factors can cause unhealthy
cholesterol levels. Some factors cannot be changed but most can be
modified.  Factors beyond our control
include heredity, age, and sex but even young people can have high cholesterol
levels

Diet:  Saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol in
your food contribute to elevated cholesterol levels.  Reducing the amounts of these fats will help
to lower your levels.

Weight:  Being overweight is a risk factor for heart
disease and tends to increase your cholesterol. 
Losing the extra pounds may help you lower your LDL and triglycerides,
while raising your HDL.

Physical Activity:  Inactivity is another risk factor for heart
disease.  Regular activity helps you lose
weight and improve your cholesterol profile. 
Thirty minutes of physical activity most days of the week should be your
goal.

Along with diet, weight management,
and physical activity your doctor may prescribe medication to help lower your
cholesterol levels.  It’s important to
talk with your doctor, know your risk factors, monitor your cholesterol
profile, and develop a plan to reach heart healthy cholesterol numbers.

Information provided by the Heart
Health Centre, “Your Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol with Therapeutic
Lifestyle Changes” and the U.S. National Cholesterol Education Program.

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