American Heart Month | Keeping Your Cholesterol in Check


February is American Heart Month, and having healthy cholesterol levels is an important part of having a healthy heart. So what is cholesterol and why is it important?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in all of the cells of your body and in certain foods. Your body needs some cholesterol to function and makes all of the cholesterol it needs. Cholesterol is found in meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products. If you eat too much cholesterol it can build up in your bloodstream, eventually causing plaque to form in your arteries (the blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body).

When your doctor measures your cholesterol, he or she is looking at three main components: LDL (bad cholesterol), HDL (good cholesterol) and triglycerides. Having high levels of LDL and triglycerides are linked with a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. Conversely, having high HDL levels can help protect against heart attack and stroke. This is why knowing your cholesterol levels is essential.

It’s key to remember that cholesterol is only one factor that can determine heart health; other factors include high blood pressure, tobacco use, age and sex. Taking steps to lower your blood pressure and quit smoking are beneficial for heart health as well.

If you have high cholesterol, there are lifestyle changes you can make to improve heart health. Cholesterol can be managed with exercise and a heart-healthy diet. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week. A heart-healthy diet includes a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, non-tropical vegetable oils and lean sources of protein (low-fat dairy products, chicken, fish, nuts and legumes). Losing weight can often impact your cholesterol levels as well. If you are overweight, aiming to lose 10 percent of your body weight can make a big improvement in your heart health.

If your cholesterol cannot be managed solely by lifestyle changes, your doctor may prescribe medication. There are many types of cholesterol drugs, including statins (which are the most common) and PCSK9 inhibitors. Talk to your doctor about which cholesterol medication is best for you.

American Heart Month is a great reminder of the importance of living a heart-healthy lifestyle and managing your cholesterol. If you’re looking to learn more about cholesterol or need some healthy recipe ideas, I advise reading through the American Heart Association’s cholesterol resources.

Meet the Author

Teresa Kelley leads the Amber Specialty Pharmacy team in Omaha. Before joining Amber Specialty Pharmacy and moving to California, Teresa managed a Hy-Vee pharmacy in Iowa. She received her Pharm.D. from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in 2008 and recently received her Masters in Healthcare Administration from Des Moines University. When she’s not busy caring for patients, she spends time with her husband and two children. She also enjoys traveling and spending time outdoors.

This information is intended for educational purposes only. The material is not a substitute for professional help or medical diagnosis. It is important that you consult a medical professional if this information leads you to believe there is a concern for you or your patient(s). The diagnosis and treatment of all physical and/or psychological disorders requires a trained professional.

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