Figuring Out Cholesterol

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May 06, 2010

Your first step to outsmarting cholesterol is understanding what your numbers mean
Reaching a healthy cholesterol level-and staying there-is one of the most powerful steps you can take to guard against heart attack and stroke. But in a world loaded with products and information designed to help you cut cholesterol-from foods, supplements and drugs to books, magazine articles and, yes, websites-it would be easy to assume that cholesterol, in and of itself, is a very bad thing.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Fact is, you need some cholesterol. Your body produces this soft, waxy substance (imagine tiny blobs of soft candle wax) and uses it to build cell walls everywhere-including inside your brain, nerves, muscles, skin, liver, intestines, and heart. Cholesterol is also used to produce hormones, and to make the bile acids that help digest food. It takes only a small amount of cholesterol in the blood to meet these needs.

Trouble comes when there's too much bad cholesterol-and not enough good cholesterol. "Bad" cholesterol, known as LDLs, can pump artery walls full of dangerous plaque, which raises the risk of heart attack and stroke. "Good" cholesterol, known as HDLs, help sweep out those nasty LDLs-but only if you have lots of it.

Your age, gender, and genes all affect your cholesterol levels in ways you cannot control. But there's good news. You can take control these important cholesterol-raising or lowering factors: your diet, physical activity, and body weight.

The first step? Ask your doctor for a fasting cholesterol test, also known as a lipoprotein profile.

Just-Right Cholesterol Levels

The goal isn't zero cholesterol-its healthy, balanced cholesterol. Prevention follows national guidelines for healthy cholesterol levels. On the following pages you will find descriptions of these different kinds of cholesterol, and what they mean for your health.

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