Understanding Cholesterol Problems: The Basics
What Are Cholesterol Problems? continued...
Since no one can predict with certainty which people with high cholesterol will develop heart disease, play it safe and keep your cholesterol levels in check. The American Heart Association recommends that you eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day. Dietary control alone does not work for everyone; some people will also need to take medication to reduce their cholesterol levels.
Another factor to consider is triglycerides -- the form in which your body transports fat. In fact, the bulk of your body's fat is triglycerides. It's not clear whether high triglycerides alone increase your risk of heart disease, but many people with high triglycerides also have high LDL or low HDL levels, which do increase the risk of heart disease.
Having low cholesterol levels is not immediately harmful to the body, but it may indicate the presence of another medical condition that needs treatment (like hyperthyroidism, malnutrition, pernicious anemia, or sepsis).
Who Develops Cholesterol Problems?
Most cholesterol problems are determined largely by luck of the genetic draw. Some families are genetically blessed with low total cholesterol or high levels of HDL ("good cholesterol"), regardless of diet or lifestyle. Other families inherit genes that increase their risk for high cholesterol. In these people, eating a diet high in saturated fat can significantly raise cholesterol levels. Stress can also raise blood cholesterol levels, especially since stress can lead to poor eating habits that may increase cholesterol intake.
On the positive side, vigorous exercisers -- such as long-distance runners -- tend to have high HDL cholesterol levels. Before menopause, women tend to have higher HDL cholesterol than men their age.