Cholesterol is a sticky substance that plays an important role in many body functions including metabolism, the process used to convert food to usable energy. Cholesterol can be divided into two types: LDL (low-density lipoproteins) and HDL (high-density lipoproteins). LDL is sometimes called “bad” cholesterol because, while a small amount is necessary for good health, too much LDL can cause plaques to form along artery walls, causing a condition called atherosclerosis and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. HDL is sometimes referred to as “good” cholesterol because it can help break down and remove LDL cholesterol. Having healthy cholesterol levels means making sure you have a good balance between LDL and HDL. High cholesterol is more common among people who are obese, those who consume diets high in unhealthy fats, people who lead sedentary lives and those with a family history of high cholesterol.
High cholesterol refers to elevated levels of LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol. High cholesterol levels are associated with hypertension, cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke and dementia. Ideally, men and women should be screened for high cholesterol by the age of 40.
Low cholesterol refers to a condition where levels of LDL become too low. Remember, while high levels of LDL can be very bad for health, some amount of LDL is necessary for metabolism and other functions. When LDL levels dip too low, those functions can be impaired, and other medical problems can develop including depression, anxiety, cancer and some types of stroke. Having routine doctor visits and cholesterol testing is important for ensuring LDL and HDL remain within normal, healthy ranges and for preventing uncontrolled cholesterol levels.
High cholesterol can be managed with lifestyle changes, like eating a diet low in saturated fats and high in fiber, being more physically active and losing excess weight. When these conservative approaches aren't effective in lowering cholesterol levels, medication can be taken to help lower levels further. Regular blood tests help ensure treatment remains optimized over time.
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