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Everything you need to know about cholesterol — and how to manage it

SPONSORED — They say life is short, but if your cholesterol is high, it might be shorter than it should be. If you haven’t had your levels checked recently, you’re probably overdue. That’s because cholesterol affects your health significantly. “High cholesterol is a key risk factor for heart disease and stroke, but it usually has no symptoms so it’s important to have your cholesterol checked regularly,” said Dr. Rosemary Peterson, an American Heart Association volunteer with cardiologist at CHI Franciscan Health. Here’s what you need to know about cholesterol – and how to improve your numbers.

Cholesterol is vital, but….

Cholesterol isn’t the enemy. This waxy substance is a crucial component of your body’s ability to create cells. But, according to the American Heart Association, too much can be a problem. Cholesterol can form a thick, hard deposit that can narrow the arteries and make them less flexible. If a clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery, a heart attack or stroke can result.

You might not know you have a problem

You’ve got your twice-weekly spin class down pat and you save booze and butter for dinners out. But if you haven’t had your cholesterol checked lately, you might be surprised to learn that you could be healthier. Believe it or not, 1 in 3 adults has high cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association. What’s more, 40 percent of adults in the state of Washington who have had their cholesterol checked by a medical professional have been told their numbers are high. If it’s been a while since you’ve gotten that little blood draw, you might be surprised what you learn.

It’s not all bad

Cholesterol gets a bad rap, but the truth of the matter is that high levels of good cholesterol actually reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. That’s because high-density lipoprotein helps to remove low-density lipoprotein from your blood, helping to keep your arteries clear of build-up. When you get your cholesterol checked, make sure you’re taking into account your levels for each type of cholesterol – not just the total number.

You should know the source

Your body produces cholesterol for cell regeneration and other functions – a process that occurs in the liver. However, your diet is also adding to your cholesterol levels. Over the years, fats have gotten a bad rap as a nutrient, but you should keep in mind that cholesterol is only found in animal products, which can be high in saturated fat. These include butter, cheese, bacon, steak and even that heavy cream you pour into your coffee. From a dietary standpoint, the best way to lower your cholesterol is to reduce saturated fat and trans fat.

Don’t fear the good fats

The American Heart Association advises that you limit your intake of saturated fats, including those listed above. That said, it’s important not to fear the fat. Unsaturated fats, like those found in fish, nuts and vegetable products, lower not only your rate of cardiovascular mortality but mortality in general as well. They also lower your bad cholesterol and offers your body the essential fats it needs to function. So load up on the almonds and avocado toast.

It’s not all about food

You are what you eat, but your diet isn’t the only factor in your cholesterol levels. Regular exercise not only reduces your cholesterol levels, but it also lowers your risk of heart disease. Additionally, smokers are more at risk for high cholesterol and heart disease, so your arteries are just one of the myriad reasons to quit smoking now. Finally, if your doctor prescribes medication for your cholesterol, be sure you’re taking it as directed.

You’ll find more information and healthy recipes from the American Heart Association and CHI Franciscan Health at heart.org/cholesteroltool.

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