September is National Cholesterol Education Month

cholesterol researchAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the number one leading cause of death in the U.S. More than one million Americans have a heart attack each year and about 500,000 die of heart disease. High blood cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease, causing heart attack and stroke.

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in your blood. Your body, specifically your liver, makes all the cholesterol you need. The rest comes from what you eat, namely foods high in saturated and trans fat, such as meat, poultry, full-fat dairy products, and tropical oils such as palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil. Saturated and trans fats cause your liver to make more cholesterol than it normally would. When there is too much in the bloodstream, it builds up in the walls of the arteries and, over time, they become narrower and blood flow to the heart slows down or becomes blocked. A few other things can affect cholesterol levels, too, including:

• Being overweight
• Inactivity
• Being older (cholesterol levels natural rise as we age)
• Relatives with high cholesterol
• Smoking

Cholesterol levels are checked through a blood test called a “fasting lipoprotein profile.” This test provides four measurements:

Total Cholesterol                                                          Triglycerides
Goal is to be less than 200 mg/dL*                           Goal is to have less than 150 mg/dL

Low Density Lipoprotein                                           High Density Lipoprotein
(LDL, or “bad” cholesterol)                                         (HDL, or “good” cholesterol)
Goal is to have a level lower than 100 mg/dL         Goal is to have a level greater than 60 mg/dL

*Milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood.

The higher the LDL level, the greater the chances are of getting heart disease. The higher the HDL level, the lower the chance for heart disease. According to the CDC, 71 million American adults have high LDL cholesterol, yet fewer than half get treatment, perhaps because they have no symptoms. For these reasons, the American Heart Association recommends all adults age 20 or older have their cholesterol checked every four to six years, and to seek treatment if your numbers are out of range.

The main goal of any treatment for high cholesterol is to lower the LDL level enough to reduce risks. Depending upon several risk categories, a type of treatment will be recommended by your doctor. These can include a cholesterol-lowering diet, changes in levels of physical activity, weight management, or starting a regiment of medication. The primary medication for high cholesterol is a class of drugs called statins, such as Lipitor and Crestor. Statins block an enzyme inside liver cells to disrupt cholesterol production, thereby reducing the amount being released into the bloodstream. Some also reduce the inflammatory process in the vessel wall, stopping plaque formation inside the artery.

Not everyone can tolerate statins well, and some patients may need more hep than they can provide. There are a few other medications available, such as resins, selective cholesterol absorption inhibitors, and lipid-lowering therapies such as fibrates, nicotinic acid, and others. Each of these have their own levels of success and risks for side effects.

Research is critical to improving the prevention and treatment of high cholesterol and heart disease in general. Meridien Research is conducting on cholesterol and high triglycerides at several of our locations. For more information or to see if you or someone you know may qualify to participate, please contact us today at 1-888-777-8839.