The Baby Boomer Heart: Cholesterol Rising
People between ages 45-60 years are at risk for high cholesterol. High cholesterol can build up even in trim, active people.
If you are active and young enough to think that "middle age" begins at 60, you're probably a baby boomer who never thought you'd need to worry about high cholesterol. That's something that happens to "older" people, but not you!
The truth is, if you're 45 to 60 -- or even younger -- you're at risk. The American Heart Association reports that some 107 million Americans have borderline high or higher cholesterol levels. And experts say that ignoring even slightly elevated cholesterol levels may be a setup for disaster.
"There are few things in modern medicine clearer than the link between high cholesterol and heart disease," says Harlan Krumholz, MD, professor of cardiology at the Yale University School of Medicine, and author of The Expert Guide to Beating Heart Disease.
In at least one major worldwide study of some 29,000 men and women, researchers found that an elevated cholesterol level was among the top risk factors for heart attack.
But Krumholz tells WebMD that you don't have to fall prey to statistics. "Studies also show that lowering your cholesterol can reduce your risk of having a heart attack by as much as 40%."
Understanding Cholesterol: What You Must Know
Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance produced in the liver. How much cholesterol you produce is affected by your genes and by what you eat. And at least some cholesterol is essential for good health.
"It's necessary for producing cell membranes as well as certain hormones, and it plays an intrinsic role in a number of key bodily functions," says James Underberg, MD, director of the Lipid Research Center at Bellevue Medical Center in New York City.
Here are a few basic facts. Cholesterol comes in two main forms:
- Low density lipoprotein or LDL -- the "bad" cholesterol which can build up in artery walls, causing inflammation and clot formation.
- High density lipoprotein or HDL -- the "good" cholesterol that helps remove LDL and carry it to the liver, where it's processed and eliminated.
You'll also hear about total cholesterol levels, which are made up of LDL, HDL, and other blood fats. You also have triglycerides, another blood fat, which are also linked to heart disease and stroke.
These numbers can get confusing. The bottom line? You want high HDL and low triglycerides and LDL.
"When HDL levels are high and LDL levels are low your body is likely maintaining just the right amount of cholesterol necessary for good health," says Krumholz.