While at a doctor’s appointment last week, I was advised to head to a health fair for a routine blood screening to check my cholesterol levels. Getting past the fact that I do not give blood easily, I thought it seemed a bit hasty to have my cholesterol checked at my age. I am, after all, only 22. The following day my grandmother was treated for a blocked carotid artery. Her procedure was seemingly fast, but far from painless.  She recovered in about four to five days, but still has to walk around with a five-inch long cut on her neck as a reminder of the surgery. After the realization that this could someday be me had set in, I started digging up as much information on the subject as possible.

“Cholesterol comes from two sources: your body and food. Your liver and other cells in your body make about 75 percent of blood cholesterol. The other 25 percent comes from the foods you eat. Cholesterol is only found in animal products.”

According to the American Heart Association website, there are two types of cholesterol. The first is HDL, or the “good” cholesterol. A healthy level of HDL may also protect against heart attack and stroke, while low levels of HDL (less than 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50 mg/dL for women) have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. The second and “bad”  kind of cholesterol is LDL. When too much of this kind circulates, it can clog arteries. This is why it is important to keep a healthy level of HDL, because it is what helps keep the LDL levels down.

LDL cholesterol is produced naturally by the body, but many people inherit genes from their mother, father or even grandparents that cause them to make too much. Eating saturated fat, trans fats and dietary cholesterol also increases how much you have. If high blood cholesterol runs in your family, lifestyle modifications may not be enough to help lower your LDL blood cholesterol.

After I read that statement above, I realized that just because I was an active 22-year-old vegetarian who had never smoked, I wasn’t guaranteed an escape  from the risk of life threatening cholesterol levels. Now I’m definitely reconsidering having my cholesterol levels screened and hope to make others aware of the hidden dangers that lurk inside of us every day.

To ensure healthy levels of cholesterol, the American Heart Association recommends the following:

Lifestyle Changes

Your diet, weight, physical activity and exposure to tobacco smoke all affect your cholesterol level — and these factors may be controlled by: 

  • eating a heart-healthy diet,
  • enjoying regular physical activity, and
  • avoiding tobacco smoke.

Know Your Fats

Knowing which fats raise LDL cholesterol and which ones don’t is the first step in lowering your risk of heart disease.

Cooking for Lower Cholesterol

It’s not hard to whip up recipes that fit with the low-saturated-fat, low-cholesterol eating plan recommended by scientists to help you manage your blood cholesterol level and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Understand Drug Therapy Options

For some people, lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough to reach healthy cholesterol levels. Your doctor may prescribe medication.

Work with Your Doctor

It takes a team to develop and maintain a successful health program. You and your healthcare professionals each play an important role in maintaining and improving your heart health. Know how to talk with your doctor about your cholesterol levels and be sure you understand all instructions. Follow your plan carefully, especially when it comes to medication — it won’t work if you don’t take it as directed. And learn how to make diet and lifestyle changes easy and lasting.

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