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Learn about cholestrol
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Home >> Learn About Cholestrol  

 Learn About Cholestrol

Each one of us should be concerned about our level of cholesterol, more so when you have been diagnosed with heart disease. Most people with heart disease have some type of cholesterol problem. So if your cholesterol level is too high, you need to lower it. First, you should know exactly what cholesterol is, and how too high levels contribute to heart disease. The more understanding you have, the easier it is to take action. A pearly, fat like substance, cholesterol is an essential component of your body. It is found in the membranes of your cells, used in the formation of the bile acids that digest your food, and even contributes to sex hormones. You need cholesterol in your blood to live. However, too much cholesterol is dangerous.

When we first learned about the importance of cholesterol levels, knowing your total cholesterol "number" was stressed. But today we know that it is a little more complicated than that. What you need to know is the levels of components that make up that total cholesterol figure. This is called your cholesterol profile. The components which make up the total cholesterol include: High density lipoprotein, also called HDL-cholesterol Low density lipoprotein, also called LDL-cholesterol Triglycerides LDL-cholesterol is the so called 'bad' cholesterol. This substance contributes to the development of heart disease by depositing itself in the arterial wall, forming the fatty streaks that can progress to the narrowing of the arteries. On the other hand, HDL-cholesterol, the so-called 'good' cholesterol, reduces the accumulation of cholesterol by transferring it away from the artery and blocking the initial steps in plaque formation. In a sense, it is like having a drain cleaner cleansing your arteries. Triglycerides are fatty compounds found in combination with LDL-cholesterol, and are increasingly implicated in contributing to coronary artery disease.

If your blood cholesterol level is undesirable, your doctor will most likely recommend you try changing it through diet and exercise. If it is severely high, or cannot be controlled this way, your doctor will probably prescribe one of the cholesterol-lowering drugs on the market.

Does a low fat diet really reduce cholesterol?

The low-fat, low-cholesterol diet is the bedrock of modern heart-health. You cannot go through a day without hearing on the television or radio something about how to eat a low-fat diet. Yet this diet is the bane of both doctors and those afflicted with cholesterol problems. After the stern, requisite lecture from your doctor, you may find that after eight to twelve weeks of really serious trying, your LDL-cholesterol has hardly budged, and the HDL-cholesterol, which is often lower than desirable to start with, actually goes down (the wrong direction!). If this is the case, why bother with the diet at all?

Research shows that if you have a severe cholesterol problem, a low-fat diet and a cholesterol-lowering drug in combination is the most effective way to lower your cholesterol; for many people, it is better than either alone. Cholesterol-lowering drugs, such as lovastatin, do most of their work inside the cells of the liver, where the drug interacts with your body's cholesterol. This process, experts believe, is activated by low-fat intake and depressed by diets high in fat. So, if you eat a high-fat diet, the drug is far less effective.
What is the impact of lowering your cholesterol? Since you have a heart disease, the stakes are high. According to studies, if you have a total cholesterol level of 300 and reduce it just to 270 (a 10 percent reduction), you have reduced your risk of heart attack by 20 percent!

You wonder if you should take advantage of the cholesterol tests done in shopping malls and other public places. Do not bother. These 'fingerstick" tests most often look at the total cholesterol level only and studies show the results can vary widely with the technique used.

Some people play a cat-and-mouse game with their cholesterol number. They are careful about what they eat before they go to the doctor and cheat afterwards. This does not work, because it really takes several weeks for LDL and HDL levels to change. If you have a cholesterol problem, adopt long-range eating strategies you can live with.

What you can do is to find out from your doctor what your current cholesterol profile is and compare it to the level your doctor recommends. Do this each time your cholesterol profile is taken and use it to gauge your success on the programme your doctor has designed for you.

Guidelines for Cholesterol Levels

Level                                                  Classification
Total Cholesterol (mg/dL)
200 or less                                          Desirable
201-239                                               Borderline-to-high
240 or more                                        Too high
LDL-Cholesterol (mg/dL)
130 or less                                          Desirable
131-159                                               Borderline-to-high
160 or more                                        Too high
HDL-Cholesterol (mg/dL)
35 or more                                           Desirable


As noted, some cholesterol exists normally in your body. But your body also gets cholesterol from the foods you eat. Only foods of animal origin — for example meat, milk, and egg yolks have cholesterol. Organ meats (liver, kidney, sweetbread, and brain) have the highest amounts of cholesterol. There are two types of dietary fat: saturated and unsaturated. All foods that contain fat have a mixture of these two types.

Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol more than anything else you can eat. Animal fats that are solid at room temperature contain high amounts of saturated fats. Some vegetable oils can also be saturated or hardened by hydrogenation. Examples of saturated fats, the most important to stay away from include butter, lard, meat fat, shortening, and hydrogenated oils such as palm and coconut oil, palm kernel oil and cocoa butter.

Now what about margarine? Many people were confused when studies came out which focused on the unhealthful effects of margarine. Most of us turned to margarine years ago, when butter was condemned as unhealthy. Well, the problem with margarine is that it is 'hydrogenated' or hardened. This process produces trans fatty acids, which some studies have also linked to an increased risk of heart disease. If you are participating in heart-smart eating, margarine is still better than butter and soft margarines are better than hard stick forms. Choose margarine with no more than two grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. On the other hand, eating unsaturated fats, in moderation, in place of saturated fats can lower your blood fat levels. Oils from plant products that are liquid at room temperatures contain unsaturated fats. These include sunflower, soybean, sesame, cottonseed and corn oils. Fats high in monosaturated fats include canola oil and peanut oil.

Here are suggestions on how to lower the amount of cholesterol you are eating.
Choose dairy products, like skimmed or low-fat milk, non-fat or low-fat yoghurt and cheese containing three grams of fat or less per ounce, if you intend to eat an ounce serving.

Be a label reader. Limit those products that contain oil and fat as the first ingredient. Avoid foods that do not specify the type of vegetable oil used. These oils could be coconut, palm kernel, or palm oil which are more saturated.

When buying meat, choose from poultry, fish, and lean meats such as chuck or tenderloin. Choose 'select' and 'choice' grades of meat instead of the 'prime' cuts which have fat marbled into them. Remember, even poultry, fish and lean meats contain some fat and cholesterol, so eat them moderately.
What you can do is to educate yourself. Read labels and become a smart consumer.

To lower blood cholesterol levels:

  • Limit cholesterol to 300 mg or less a day.
  • Eat less fat, especially saturated fat.
  • Replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats.
  • Eat more complex carbohydrates and fibres.
  • Achieve and maintain a good body weight.
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