Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that your body needs, and produces naturally. Cholesterol can also be ingested, found in food derived from animal sources, including meat and full-fat dairy products. By eating a diet high in saturated and trans fats, your liver responds by producing more cholesterol. This excess of cholesterol results in plaque build-up on your artery walls, making it difficult for your heart to properly circulate blood, increasing your risk for heart disease.
There are two types of cholesterol: LDL (low-density lipoproteins) "bad" cholesterol, and HDL (high-density lipoproteins) "good" cholesterol. LDL cholesterol make up the majority of the body's cholesterol, and high levels contribute to a build-up in the arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease. HDL cholesterol assists in removing LDL cholesterol from the arteries by absorbing it and carrying it back to the liver. Healthy levels of HDL cholesterol aid in protecting against heart disease and stroke.
Here are some simple steps you can take to improve your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease:
- Eat a heart-healthy diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish and nuts
- Stay active, just 40 minutes of aerobic exercise three days a week is enough to lower cholesterol
- Avoid smoking, tobacco cessation aids in lowering cholesterol levels
There are no symptoms of high cholesterol. It's important to talk to your primary care physician to check your cholesterol levels and assess your risk. Visit the American Heart Association to learn more about cholesterol and related heart conditions.
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