More than 102 million adults in the United States have cholesterol above the optimum levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 35 million of these Americans have levels high enough that their doctors consider them to be at special risk for heart disease. A blood test is the only way to tell if your cholesterol is at its optimum level.
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A typical cholesterol test reports several components of blood chemistry associated with cholesterol, including total cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglycerides. Each of these components plays a different role in how cholesterol and other fats move throughout the body and how they affect the progression of heart disease. Doctors use the different components of cholesterol screening to assess your risk for suffering cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, and to develop a treatment plan that addresses each component.
You do not have to understand each component included in a cholesterol test to find out if you have high cholesterol. Your total cholesterol levels should measure less than 200 mg/dL. A person whose total cholesterol is between 200 and 239 mg/dL has a borderline risk for heart disease, while a person whose total cholesterol measures 240 mg/dL or more has a significant chance for cardiovascular problems.
Maintaining an optimum cholesterol level reduces your risk for heart disease. Every one percent drop in your cholesterol reduces your risk for heart disease by two percent, according to Cleveland Clinic. Scientists link high cholesterol with other diseases like Alzheimer's. The Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation cites a study by Kaiser Permanente, which associates mildly elevated cholesterol levels in midlife with Alzheimer's in later years. Excess cholesterol accumulates in your bloodstream and builds up along the walls of blood vessels. Cholesterol and other fatty substances then harden into plaque in a condition known as atherosclerosis, which injures arteries and reduces the space blood has to flow through veins and arteries.
Keep your cholesterol at optimal levels by eating a low-fat diet that is high in fiber. Twice a week, exchange meals containing saturated fat, like a bacon double cheeseburger and fries, for a meal including fish with omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon or mackerel. Eat plenty of whole grains, like whole wheat bread and oatmeal, fruits and vegetables. Choose olive or canola oil over butter or shortening when preparing food. Exercise for at least 30 minutes five days a week, to keep your weight and your cholesterol levels in check.
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- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: September is National Cholesterol Education Month; August 26, 2010
- Cleveland Clinic; High Blood Cholesterol; What You Need to Know; 2009
- Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation; Mildly Elevated Cholesterol at Midlife is Linked to Alzheimer's; January 20, 2010