High Cholesterol

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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High cholesterol is a medical condition affecting between 40 and 45 million Americans. Another 60 to 65 million are at risk. In a population of some 270 million, these numbers are significant. You don't want to part of them. What is at risk is the heart. Fortunately, however, controlling high cholesterol is very much in your own hands. Diet, exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are the first and most important factors affecting it. Genetic predisposition to high cholesterol, however, is best addressed with medications by a physician.

As adults we should check our cholesterol levels at least every five years. Men older than 45 and women older than 55 should do this more frequently. We can do this at home or at the doctor's office, but we must do it.

What High Cholesterol Means

High cholesterol refers to too many lipoproteins in the bloodstream and body. Despite elevated levels being unhealthy—too much of anything is not good—cholesterol is still very important. Too little might mean malnutrition, which is just as dangerous as clogged arteries, if in a different way.

There are two types of cholesterol, high density, known as HDL, and low density, known as LDL. These are both manufactured in the liver and ingested in the diet. They work together and are closely linked to cardiovascular health.

The ideal level for total cholesterol—HDL and LDL combined—is approximately 200 mg/dL or less, with an LDL-HDL ratio of approximately 3 to 1. Less than 200 mg/dL is desirable and means—other factors aside—relatively little risk of heart attack. From 200 to 240 mg/dL is considered borderline high risk. About a third of Americans fall into this category. Higher than 240 mg/dL is high risk for both heart attack and stroke.

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