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Making Sense of Your Cholesterol Numbers
by Dr. David Williams

It seems that everywhere we look, we are getting bombarded by information about cholesterol, but many of us don't understand what it all means. Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found in foods of animal origin. After you eat fatty foods, your body breaks down the fats into glycerides, 90% of which are triglycerides, which have been linked to heart disease. Triglycerides are also called free fatty acids. Eventually these triglycerides are broken down into cholesterol. The cholesterol adheres to the inside of your arteries in the form of plaque. This process is called atherosclerosis. Triglycerides in combination with cholesterol speeds up the formation of plaque in the arteries. There are many types of cholesterol but the worst type and most common is low density lipoproteins (LDLs). Everyone has a little bit of plaque in the inside of their arteries and a little bit is not bad for you. If you keep eating fatty foods, more plaque will build up on the arterial wall, resulting in constricted blood flow. This will cause your blood pressure to rise and place additional stress on your heart.

If enough plaque is built up on the arterial wall, the blood vessel may become occluded. Any area of the body that is being supplied by that blood vessel will die because it is not getting the oxygen and nutrients that it needs. If this is in your heart, it will cause you to have a heart attack. If it is in your brain, you will have a stroke.

The good news is that we can prevent this from happening. The easiest way is to eat less saturated fats (fats from animal sources) and eat more fruits and vegetables. The other way is to perform more cardiovascular exercise. Cardiovascular exercise is also called aerobic exercise and includes activities such as walking, jogging, swimming, step aerobics, and biking. When you do aerobic exercise, your body produces a good type of cholesterol called high density lipoprotein (HDLs). HDLs attach to LDLs so that they cannot adhere to the arterial wall. The more HDLs that you have, the healthier you are.

To ensure your continued good health, you should regularly have your cholesterol checked. It requires a finger prick to draw out a small sample of blood and is fairly inexpensive. The blood test should include total cholesterol, HDLs and triglyceride readings. To get the best results, you should fast for 12 hours before the test. If your cholesterol reading is too high, you should consider changing your diet, perform more cardiovascular exercise and consult your physician. A good cholesterol score is under 200 mg/dl of blood. Any score over 200 is too high. A good HDL score is 55 or better and good triglyceride reading would be less than 125 mg/dl. If your blood scores come back normal, you stick to recommended dietary guidelines and regularly perform cardiovascular exercise, you need only repeat the test every 5 years. After you turn 40, you should repeat the test yearly.

If you have any questions regarding fitness and wellness, please feel free to contact me at (817) 648-6999.

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