September is National Cholesterol Education Awareness Month

More than 102 million American adults over the age of 20 have total cholesterol levels at or above 200mg/dL. which is above the healthy level. More than 35 million of these known individuals have levels above 240 mg/dL. which puts them at significant risk for heart disease.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance that is found in many foods. Your body needs some cholesterol and manufactures all that you need to function normally. Too much cholesterol can build up in the interior of your arteries, causing blockages and narrowing, which puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke.

Unfortunately, high total cholesterol levels don’t usually manifest in overt symptoms. As a result, many people do not realize that their levels are high. A simple blood test taken at your doctor’s office can determine your levels and simple lifestyle changes can usually control your levels as well.

High cholesterol is a primary cause of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S.

The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that adults aged 20 or older have their cholesterol checked at least every five years. Preventative guidelines for screening among young adults differ, but experts agree that young adults who have other factors which place them at risk for heart disease such as; obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and a family history should get their levels checked regularly.

The simple blood test called a lipoprotein profile can measure the total cholesterol levels, the good cholesterol (HDL) and the bad cholesterol (LDL) as well as the triglyceride levels.

The healthy levels for adults are as follows: total cholesterol should be less than 170 mg/dL. LDL should be less than 110mg. dL. HDL should be 35 mg/dL. or higher, and triglycerides should be less than 150 mg/dL.

Hyperlipidemia is the medical term for high cholesterol. It simply means that your blood has too many fat (lipids) such as cholesterol and triglycerides in it. High Density Lipo-proteins (HDL), the good cholesterol, actually can help remove cholesterol and therefore plaque from your arteries.

Children and teens can also have high cholesterol and the risk increases as the individual’s unhealthy weight increases. In the United States, more than 20 percent of youth aged 12 to 19 have at least one abnormal lipid level.

It is important for children over the age of 2 to have their cholesterol checked if they are obese or overweight, have a family history of heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or chronic kidney disease, congenital heart disease or other chronic conditions.

There are natural ways to reduce your cholesterol by making healthy lifestyle changes.

Choose low-fat and high-fiber food such as fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grains. Reduce the amount of saturated animal fat in your diet. This means reducing the amount of whole milk products and red meat, and limiting fried foods. You also want to reduce the amount of sugary foods and drinks and use fiber to reduce your cholesterol load.

Get at least 2 1/2 hours of exercise a week. The WHO (World Health Organization) recommends at least a half hour a day of aerobic exercise which will lower your bad cholesterol and at least two one-hour sessions of resistance training a week, which will help elevate your good cholesterol.

Don’t smoke. Smoking lowers the levels of HDL the good cholesterol, as well as compounding the risks of high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Another important strategy in the fight against high cholesterol is maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese tends to raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol. Even a weight loss of 10 percent can lower or even reverse your risk of high cholesterol.

Statins are a class of drugs that are often prescribed to help lower cholesterol levels in the blood. There are significant side effects from these drugs such as: headaches, difficulty sleeping, flushing of the skin, muscle aches or weakness, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, abdominal cramping or pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and rashes.

Some statins also warn that memory loss, mental confusion, high blood sugar and type 2 diabetes are possible side effects.

Statins may also interact with other medications that you take. Some very serious side effects of statin drug usage include myositis — inflammation of the muscles, increased CPK which is a muscle enzyme which, when elevated, causes muscle and weakness, and rhabdomyolysis which is extreme muscle inflammation and damage.

In severe cases, the damaged muscles release protein which collect in the kidneys and then the kidneys become damaged, leading to kidney failure.

If your doctor has prescribed stains and you experience any muscle or joint pain or weakness, you should call your doctor immediately.

Since their arrival on the market statins have been among the most prescribed drug in the U.S. with about 17 million users.

I hope you will try to modify your lifestyle to avoid high cholesterol and follow an active healthy lifestyle.

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Dr. Jane Riley, EdD., is a certified personal fitness trainer, nutritional adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at janerileyfitness@gmail.com, 212-8119 cell/text, and www.janerileyfitness.com.

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