September is National Cholesterol Education Month—a good time for those of us who are concerned about our heart health to make sure we’re doing everything we can to support healthy arteries, control our cholesterol levels, and cultivate a healthy lifestyle.
What is cholesterol, and why should you be concerned about it?
Dr. Bikkina: Cholesterol, a form of fat produced predominantly by the liver, affects the blood and circulatory system throughout the body. When certain types of cholesterol levels are high, the blood vessels can incur damage, and damaged or blocked blood vessels can cause heart attacks and strokes. At normal levels, cholesterol is essential for normal cellular function, particularly certain hormones.
Is all cholesterol bad for you?
Dr. Bikkina: No. LDL (low-density lipoprotein), or “bad” cholesterol, causes plaque to form in the body’s arteries. HDL (high-density lipoprotein), or “good” cholesterol, helps to keep the effects of bad cholesterol under control.
To what extent are our cholesterol levels a result of our lifestyle, and to what extent a result of genetic predisposition?
Dr. Bikkina: Genetic makeup is one of the main factors in cholesterol health. Whether your liver produces more or less cholesterol, and how efficiently cholesterol is broken down in your body, depends upon your genetics. That said, the lifestyle aspect of cholesterol control should not be ignored. Avoiding certain types of fatty foods and carbohydrates, working out regularly, and supporting your overall health also affect cholesterol levels.
Truth or Myth: A low-fat diet is the best way to regulate cholesterol levels.
Dr. Bikkina: Myth. It is actually less about a low-fat diet and more about choosing the right kinds of fat. Perhaps the most common misconception about cholesterol is that the optimal diet is a low-fat, high-carb one, when in fact, not all fats are bad for you. Unsaturated fats, found in foods such as avocados, fish, olives, nuts, and seeds are shown to help lower the risk of heart disease and stabilize blood sugar levels.
Posted September 2018
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