Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cholesterol and Cardiovascular Disease

The American Heart Association has established guidelines for managing your cholesterol levels to prevent heart attack and stroke. High cholesterol levels, specifically LDL or bad cholesterol has been linked to cardiovascular diseases, while HDL or good cholesterol has been associated with a reduced risk. In light of the prevailing evidence, the American Heart Association has established guidelines for managing your cholesterol to prevent heart attack and stroke. Let's take a closer look at cholesterol and the risks associated with this substance.

What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that is found in your blood. Your liver makes most of the cholesterol that is circulating in your body. You also get some cholesterol from the foods you eat.

Functions of Cholesterol
Cholesterol has been given a bad rap because of its link to cardiovascular disease. However, it is not just this waxy substance sitting in your bloodstream waiting to cause trouble. Cholesterol is actually needed for some very important functions. For instance, it is used to make vitamin D from the sun. It is also used to make hormones, like estrogen and testosterone.

The problem with cholesterol and cardiovascular disease comes when there is too much cholesterol in the blood and it causes the buildup of plaque in the arteries.

The Dangers of High Cholesterol
Cholesterol becomes a danger to your health when there is too much in your blood because it then sticks to the walls of your blood vessels and forms plaque. As plaque builds up, the blood vessels begin to get stiff and can no longer pump blood efficiently. That makes the heart have to work harder, which in turn can result in damage to the heart. Extensive damage to the heart can ultimately lead to a heart attack.

Another reason to be concerned is that plaque could break away from the lining of the blood vessels, form a clot and block the flow of blood. If this happens in a key artery to your heart or brain and stops the blood from getting to these vital organs, you could have a stroke.

Know Your Numbers
If your doctor tells you that your cholesterol is high, ask to see the numbers. The current target for total cholesterol is under 200 mg/dL (closer to 150 mg/dL). But the real numbers to watch are your HDL or good cholesterol and LDL or bad cholesterol. The target for HDL is over 40 mg/dL for men and and women and the LDL level is under 100 mg/dL.

You might hear these numbers referred to in terms of a ratio because it seems like the ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol has a huge impact on whether or not you are at increased risk for a heart attack or stroke.

Controlling Your Cholesterol Levels
Talk to your doctor about what you can do to lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Keep in mind that your goal is to a healthy ratio of HDL or good cholesterol to LDL or bad cholesterol. Specifically, you should learn what steps you can take to improve your diet, lose weight (if you are overweight or obese) and get physically fit (through exercise) to improve your cholesterol levels.

Learn what you can do to lower your cholesterol and reduce the risk of a potentially fatal heart attack or stroke. Improving your diet, losing weight (if you are overweight) and getting regular exercise are important steps that you can take starting right now.