Cholesterol is often negatively portrayed in eyes of the public, but it’s not all bad! Everyone needs cholesterol to live; and it is both good and necessary, in the right quantity, much like everything else in our bodies.
Cholesterol is important for brain and nerve function and is the building block of all our hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen. However, cholesterol does have a downside. Because it is a waxy substance, it can build up in blood vessels and cause lots of problems with heart, brain and arteries. This can lead to high blood pressure and even erectile dysfunction.
Here’s what you need to know about testing and risk factors to help maintain a healthy level cholesterol:
Although healthcare providers test for cholesterol levels if patients have high blood pressure or issues with their heart, it is recommended that individuals start testing cholesterol levels between the ages of 25 to 35 years (for men) and ages 35 to 45 years (for females).
Testing is usually done first thing in the morning, prior to an 8 hour period without eating, or “fasting lipid panel.” Tests measure total cholesterol, triglycerides, low-density lipids and high-density lipids. Here are a few ideal measurements:
- Total cholesterol should be below 200.
- Triglycerides should be less than 150.
- Low density lipids (LDL) are known as “lousy” lipids and should be low. High density lipids (HDL) are “happy” lipids and are beneficial when they are up. Note: HDL’s help clean up when there is excess cholesterol in the blood, which is why the ratio of HDL to LDL is a predictor of good health.
Testing is recommended if an individual has a family member with high cholesterol or heart problems. Also, men and women who smoke and/or have diabetes have an increased likelihood of having high lipids and should be routinely tested. Each individual is different and may require additional testing every 3, 5 or 10 years.
Although individuals may not be able to eat their way to a perfect cholesterol score; there are select cholesterol lowering foods that can help! These include walnuts and almonds (raw and unsalted), strawberries, apples, bananas, grapefruit, carrots, dried beans, garlic, cold-water fish, salmon and olive oil. Foods to keep to a minimum include: coffee, meats, dairy, fried foods and fast-food. Exercise also helps keep the body and cholesterol levels under control.
As always, talk to your individual healthcare provider about risk factors and testing.
J.D. Eiman, PA-C is a physician assistant at the OCH of Gravette Clinic. J.D. sees patients of all ages for primary care needs and is also certified to perform DOT physicals. She received her education and training from Texas A&M University and Harding University and is currently a member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, Arkansas Association of Physician Assistants, Christian Medical and Dental Association/Fellowship of Christian Physician Assistants and the California Association of Physician Assistants. To contact J.D. at the clinic, call (479) 787-5221.