Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention
 Frequently Asked Questions

What are Triglycerides?

Triglycerides are fatty substances in the blood that are carried by the same elements that carry cholesterol. High levels of triglycerides may be associated with an increased risk of heart attack.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy-looking substance either made by your liver or consumed through food. Your body uses it for many purposes including, making hormones and building healthy cell membranes. Your body gets cholesterol from 3 different sources:

  • Your body makes it. Your liver manufactures all the cholesterol you body needs.
  • You eat cholesterol in foods. Just like humans, all animals make cholesterol in their liver. Therefore, you eat extra cholesterol any time you eat animal products such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products. There’s no cholesterol in food from plants such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds.
  • You eat foods high in saturated fat. Foods containing saturated fat contribute the largest source of excess cholesterol in the blood. Any saturated fat you eat causes your liver to make more cholesterol, whether you need it or not. Animal fats, hydrogenated oil (margarine, shortening), and some vegetable oils (coconut, palm and cocoa oil) are saturated fats.

What causes High Cholesterol Levels?

High cholesterol can be caused by many factors, including heredity, diet, and lifestyle. Some people’s livers produce high levels of cholesterol. People who eat high-fat diets or don’t exercise may also have higher levels of cholesterol.

What Problems Cholesterol Can Cause

Cholesterol can cause health problems when you have more cholesterol than your body can use. Over time, excess cholesterol can attach and build up on the walls of your arteries and damage them. It can even decrease or stop blood flow to important organs such as your heart and brain.

"Good" Cholesterol vs. "Bad" Cholesterol

Cholesterol travels in the blood surrounded by substances that contain protein and fat, called lipoproteins. There are 2 types of lipoproteins that are usually measured in your blood.

LDL, or low density lipoprotein, is the "bad" cholesterol that usually sticks to the arteries. You want a low LDL level in you body. HDL, or high density lipoprotein, is the "good" cholesterol. It is used as needed in the body and the leftover is discarded. HDL can also help remove excess LDL cholesterol from artery walls. You want a high level of HDL in your body.

How Do I Know If I Have Too Much? Have Your Blood Checked!

Your healthcare provider should do a blood test to evaluate your cholesterol and triglyceride levels at least once every 5 years or more frequently if your levels are high. Health problems can occur when you have more cholesterol than your body can use. Excess cholesterol can build up on the walls of your arteries, which can damage the arteries and even stop blood flow to the heart and brain. Ask your healthcare provider to review your results with you…knowing your numbers is an important step in preventing a heart attack or stroke.

How Can I Change My Cholesterol Levels?

Most people can lower their blood cholesterol levels by changing their diets to include high-fiber, low-fat, and low-cholesterol foods. Adding exercise to your lifestyle can also help to reduce blood cholesterol levels. Not smoking or quitting smoking is also linked to lowering cholesterol levels. For some people with high cholesterol levels, changes in diet and exercise habits is not enough. In these cases, a healthcare provider may recommend that cholesterol-lowering drugs be used.

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