The Basics of Cholesterol
What Factors Affect Cholesterol Levels?
A variety of factors can affect cholesterol levels. They include:
- Diet. Saturated fat and cholesterol in the food you eat increase cholesterol levels. To lower your cholesterol level try to reduce the saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet.
- Weight. In addition to being a risk factor for heart disease, being overweight can also increase cholesterol. Losing weight can help lower your LDL and total cholesterol. And it can also increase the level of HDL.
- Exercise. Regular exercise can lower LDL and raise HDL. You should try to be physically active for at least 30 minutes on most days.
- Age and Gender. As you get older, cholesterol levels rise. Before menopause, women tend to have lower total cholesterol levels than men. After menopause, though, women's LDL levels tend to rise.
- Diabetes. Poorly controlled diabetes increases cholesterol levels. Having control of your diabetes can cause your cholesterol levels to fall.
- Heredity. Your genes partly determine how much cholesterol your body makes. High blood cholesterol can run in families.
- Other Factors. Certain medications and medical conditions can cause high cholesterol.
How Much Cholesterol Is Too Much?
Everyone over the age of 20 should get their cholesterol levels measured at least once every five years.
Your doctor may recommend a non-fasting cholesterol test or a fasting cholesterol test. A non-fasting test will show total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. A fasting test, called a lipid profile or a lipoprotein analysis, will measure your LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol. It will also measure triglycerides.
Knowing your cholesterol numbers is important because they are one part of an equation that helps your doctor determine your risk of having a heart problem or a stroke over the next 10 years. Once that risk is known, you and your doctor can work together to come up with a plan for reducing it. Part of that plan may include lowering your level of cholesterol.
How Can I Lower My Cholesterol and Risk of Heart Disease?
A few simple changes can help lower your cholesterol and your risk for heart disease:
- Eat low-cholesterol foods. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your average daily cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams. If you already have heart disease, you should limit your daily intake to less than 200 milligrams. You can significantly reduce the cholesterol in your diet by avoiding foods high in saturated fat and foods with large amounts of dietary cholesterol.
- Quit smoking. Smoking lowers HDL ("good") cholesterol. This trend can be reversed if you quit smoking.
- Exercise. Exercise increases HDL in some people. Even moderate-intensity activities, if done daily, can help control weight, diabetes, and high blood pressure -- all risk factors for heart disease.
- Take medication your doctor prescribes. Sometimes making changes to your diet and increasing exercise is not enough to bring cholesterol down. You may also need to take a cholesterol-lowering drug.