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National Cholesterol Education Awareness Month (September)

The month of September is National Cholesterol Education Awareness Month. Heart disease was the number one killer of Americans and Stroke was the number 4 killer of Americans in 2011. Having high cholesterol is a risk factor for both. (

Cholesterol is important to many bodily functions like the production of cell membranes and some hormones. Having too much of the "bad" cholesterol and not enough of the "good", can put us at risk for coronary heart disease. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is known as "bad" cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as "good" cholesterol. LDL (bad) cholesterol can slowly build up in the walls of the arteries of the heart and brain. Atherosclerosis is a condition where plaque, a thick, hard substance can narrow the arteries and make them less flexible. If an artery is blocked, a heart attack or stroke can result. High levels of HDL (good), at least > 40 mg/dL, protect against heart attacks. Some experts believe that HDL carries cholesterol away for arteries and back to the liver to be broken down, while others think it removes the cholesterol from the arterial plaque. Either way, studies support that an elevated level of HDL actually protects the arteries in the heart, the brain and throughout our bodies.

People have two sources of Cholesterol: their body and their food. The liver and other cells in the body make about 75 percent of blood cholesterol. The other 25 percent comes from the foods people choose to eat. LDL cholesterol is produced naturally by the body. Some people inherit genes from their mother, father or even grandparents that cause them to make too much. Dietary sources like saturated fat, trans fats and cholesterol can also affect the various cholesterol levels. If high blood cholesterol runs in your family, lifestyle modifications may not be enough to help lower your LDL or total blood cholesterol. Everyone is different, so work with your physician or health care provider to find a treatment plan that's best for you.

Many people want to use the escape of "my high cholesterol is genetic". Taking control of one's lifestyle can be challenging. Examine your lifestyle before you just give up. Is there room for improvement with your diet: what you consume and how much? Eat fruits and vegetables, low fat dairy, lean meats and other protein sources, along with whole grain bread and cereal products. Do you smoke? If so, have you tried to quit? Smoking and other tobacco products can influence your HDL levels, as well as damage the arterial wall, adding another risk factor to your already elevated cholesterol. Activity and exercise are the secret. Being active helps lose extra weight and improve your cholesterol levels. If the listed lifestyle changes do not improve you cholesterol levels, then again, work with your health care provider to find the proper treatment for you.

To find out more about cholesterol and how to prevent or treat the condition, please refer to the American Heart Association or the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Article provided by Dana Breeding, RN Health Educator with Community Outreach.