Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is present just about everywhere in the body. It is vital to a range of life-sustaining functions. The liver is the organ responsible for regulating cholesterol. In addition to producing about 80% of the cholesterol in the body, it also eliminates excess cholesterol from the body. About 20% of the cholesterol in our blood comes from the foods we eat. Having too much cholesterol in the blood increases the risk of blocked arteries, which can, over time, be dangerous. Problems therefore come from excess cholesterol that promote cardiovascular disease and embolism.
Cholesterol does not travel alone through the bloodstream; it is carried by lipoproteins. There are two main types of lipoproteins: LDL and HDL. LDL carries cholesterol from the liver to other parts of the body. LDL is the cholesterol that tends to settle in the arteries and to block them. It is commonly referred to as “bad” cholesterol. For its part, HDL carries cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver. It is commonly referred to as “good” cholesterol.
A blood test is the only way to detect high cholesterol. It will, among other things, measure HDL and LDL levels.
Preventing heart disease
It is a well known fact that high cholesterol increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke, etc.). Cholesterol however, is not the only risk factor. Age, having a family history of heart disease, being male, diabetes, high blood pressure, inactivity, obesity, smoking and reduced kidney function are other factors that can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Many of these risk factors however, can be modified, meaning that you can control them by making lifestyle changes. Making a few simple lifestyle changes can help you reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Such changes include:
• Quitting smoking
Quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
• Developing healthy eating habits
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (at least 5 portions a day), whole grains, fish and fibre.
Avoid foods that contain trans fats and limit your intake of foods that contain saturated fats and that are high in cholesterol (e.g., fatty meats, eggs, baked goods, cookies, crackers, butter, fried foods).
Limit your intake of sugar and sweets.
Eat low-fat dairy products.
Nuts, chickpeas, lentils and other similar products are also part of a healthy diet.
Healthy eating habits can significantly decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease even though they may only have a modest effect on lowering your cholesterol levels.
• Achieving your ideal body weight
• Exercising regularly
Regular exercise will help you stay healthy and prevent cardiovascular disease.
According to current guidelines, adults should engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity for at least 2.5 hours a week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more (e.g.,30 minutes per day). Muscle-strengthening exercises are also recommended at least twice a week.
• Managing your stress
It has been proven that stress is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Seek professional help if you need it.
• Limiting alcohol consumption
The recommendation is 1 to 2 drinks per day.
Based on your risk factors and your bad cholesterol levels, your doctor may decide to prescribe cholesterol-lowering medication. For treatment to be effective, it is important that you take your medication regularly, even if you do not feel its beneficial effects. These medications are prescribed as a complement to healthy lifestyle habits but will not replace them.
Your doctor will schedule regular follow-up appointments and you will probably have to go for blood tests. It is very important that you comply, so that the health care professionals who are trying to help you can monitor your progress.
For more information or support:
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada: www.fmcoeur.ca
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The patient information leaflets are provided by Vigilance Santé Inc. This content is for information purposes only and does not in any manner whatsoever replace the opinion or advice of your health care professional. Always consult a health care professional before making a decision about your medication or treatment.