Part 3 of 7 Essentials of Heart Health: Cholesterol

As we continue to discuss how we can reduce our chances of having a heart attack or stroke, our topic today is cholesterol. This is a very complex discussion, but I will keep it simple, in-line with the initial "7 essentials" as listed by the American Heart Association several years ago. Total cholesterol should be <200 mg/dL to be able to claim success with this essential.

Cholesterol is needed in your body, but we just don't need as much as some of us have. We acquire cholesterol in 2 ways: 1) our body (liver) makes cholesterol and 2) certain foods that we eat contain cholesterol. Total cholesterol represents different type of cholesterol particles - some are good, some are bad and some are extremely bad. It's important to know the break-down of what kind that you have. 

Your cholesterol level is dependent on both your genetics (family history) as well as environment (what your are eating and how much you exercise). There are some genetic situations which necessitate the use of medications to keep your cholesterol at goal. But even in these situations, how well the medications work is directly dependent on how healthy your diet is and how regular you exercise. 

Cholesterol can accumulate in the wall of the artery forming what we call 'plaque' which can narrow the artery preventing blood from getting to its destination. If the wall of the artery develops a crack, then a blood clot can form. This is how even tiny plaques can cause a major heart attack or stroke. Therefore, you can't tell if your cholesterol is elevated by how you feel, until something major happens. This is why it is important to know your numbers.