ASK THE DOC: Is high cholesterol really something to worry about?

QUESTION: Is high cholesterol really something to worry about?

ANSWER: Well…let’s try to understand what cholesterol is first. It is naturally produced in the liver but also comes from the food we eat, specifically from animal sources like meat, poultry, and dairy products.

Cholesterol travels in our bloodstream through lipoproteins. Particles that are made of fat (lipid) and protein. Two types that carry cholesterol in the body: the “good” cholesterol, and “bad” cholesterol. The first type is known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL is considered the “good” cholesterol and plays an important role in functions of the human body by helping to maintain the structure of cells and blood vessels. HDL also assists the body in hormone production. It plays a vital role in the body with weight, sex, digestion, bone health, and mental health. Furthermore, HDL cholesterol helps the liver make bile, which helps us digest the food we consume. The second type is low-density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL is considered “bad” cholesterol because too much of it can lead to the formation of plaque in artery walls. Plaque formed by bad cholesterol can eventually constrict the flow of blood to the brain, heart, and other organs, which increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

What you should worry about are foods that are high in trans fats. You can find this on your food labels as hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Those types of fats do tend to raise cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease.

You should look for trans-fat and saturated fat on labels at the grocery store. The American Heart Association recommends limiting dietary saturated fats and focusing more on eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean animal protein or plant protein.

While high cholesterol should be monitored and managed by individuals with a history of heart disease or other risk factors, A balanced approach to overall health including diet and exercise is vital in reducing the risk of heart disease. 

Other factors besides cholesterol that contribute to heart disease risk such as smoking, obesity, and lack of exercise. Therefore, just focusing on lowering cholesterol levels is not enough, a holistic approach to your health is key.

This question from a reader was answered by Mina Botross, DO. He practices at Robert C. Byrd Clinic in Lewisburg.


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