Cupid is Worried About Your Cholesterol - Are You?

Nearly 40% of adults have high cholesterol that can lead to heart disease and stroke.

Author: Sherry Farney

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 38% of American adults have high cholesterol. Too much cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death in the United States. High cholesterol has no signs or symptoms, so the only way to know if you have it is to get your cholesterol checked.

Cholesterol is a type of lipid fat which is very useful for many things in our body,” said Patrick Gramith, DO, board-certified family medicine physician at McLaren Flint - Fenton Community Medical Center. “It is used to make cell walls, sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen, vitamin D, and bile acids to absorb other fats from our diet.”

Low density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) are different ways that the body packages fat. We consider LDL to be the bad cholesterol because it deposits into our arteries and contributes to clots, which can cause strokes and heart attacks. HDL is the good cholesterol because it helps shuttle fat from our arteries back to our liver. 

When your body has too much LDL cholesterol, it can build up on the walls of your blood vessels. This buildup is called plaque. As your blood vessels build up plaque over time, the insides of the vessels narrow. This narrowing blocks blood flow to and from your heart and other organs. When blood flow to the heart is blocked, it can cause chest pain or a heart attack.

Cholesterol goals change depending on your personal risk factors, but in an average person, a LDL over 190 is considered high and likely needs cholesterol medication. If you have had a previous heart attack or stroke however, your cholesterol goal for LDL is significantly less.

“There are many things patients can do to lower their LDL or bad cholesterol, and some things to raise their HDL or good cholesterol,” said Dr. Gramith. “LDL can be lowered through less saturated fat and trans fats in meals like fried foods, and instead eating more foods rich in omega 3 acids like fish, eating foods rich in fiber like oatmeal, beans and apples. If you are overweight, LDL can be improved with weight loss.

“If your risk of heart issues is significant enough or if lifestyle changes aren't enough, medications called statins are very effective in helping lower LDL cholesterol. On the flip side, HDL can be raised through quitting smoking (if you smoke) and increasing exercise.”

If you are in need of a primary care physician, a list of doctors accepting new patients can be found here.