Your Monthly Check-Up: September is National Cholesterol Education Month

Cholesterol. A funny word with a bad reputation. A waxy, fat-like substance that floats around in your blood. Sounds icky, but it’s something your body actually needs. The problem is, too much of it can cause serious problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

There are two kinds of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL is also called "good" cholesterol. LDL is called "bad" cholesterol. When we talk about high cholesterol, we are talking about "bad" LDL cholesterol.

Seventy-one million American adults have high cholesterol, but only one-third of them have the condition under control…Too much cholesterol in the blood is one of the main risk factors for heart disease and stroke—two leading causes of death in the United States. One way to prevent these diseases is to detect high cholesterol and treat it when it is found.

High cholesterol has no symptoms so you won’t know if you have it until you get a screening. A simple blood test will tell you what your good and bad cholesterol levels are and doctors recommend people ages 20 and over get their cholesterol screened every five years.

Sometimes, if certain risk factors are at play, your doctor may recommend more frequent cholesterol screenings. For example, if your total cholesterol is 200 mg/dL or higher, you’re a man older than 45 or a woman over 50, your HDL is lower than 40 mg/dL or you have other risk factors for heart disease or stroke, your doctor might want to check your cholesterol more often.

The good news is that if you have high bad cholesterol or low good cholesterol, there are things you can do to get yourself more in balance. Making a few lifestyle changes will help lower your LDL. These include:

  • Eating more fiber and avoiding saturated and trans fats
  • Engaging in moderate exercise for 2.5 hours weekly
  • Losing weight
  • Quitting smoking

Coincidentally, making these changes to help lower your LDL can also help raise your HDL. It’s like a two-for-one with regard to your health! According to the Mayo Clinic, incorporating healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats – the fats found in olive, peanut and canola oil – can also help raise your HDL, as well as drinking alcohol in moderation – up to one drink per day for women or two for men. However, if you don’t drink, it’s not a good idea to start just for the purpose of raising your HDL. Go for the many other options instead! Additionally, if you are on cholesterol-controlling medication, take as directed according to your doctor.

See? Cholesterol isn’t all bad – and you’re required to eat fats to keep it in check! Why not celebrate your health this month by adopting a few of these healthy habits and treating yourself to a cholesterol screening? Your heart will thank you, and you’ll no doubt start to see other positive changes, as well!

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Your Monthly Check-Up: February is American Heart Month

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, there’s no better time to celebrate American Heart Month than February. Heart disease in the US has reached epidemic proportions; it is now the leading cause of death for both men and women, according to the CDC. While about 715,000 people suffer a heart attack each year, only about 27 percent of people who recognized chest pain as a symptom could recognize other major symptoms.

The good news is that heart disease is both preventable and controllable. In her article “Reading the Signs” in the January/February issue of “Healthy Living Made Simple,” Dr. Joanne Foody outlines the warning signs, risk factors and ways to prevent heart disease in yourself and your loved ones.

“A heart attack usually occurs when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood through an artery that feeds blood to the heart, causing permanent damage to the heart muscle unless treated quickly,” Dr. Foody explains in the article. While the most common cause is atherosclerosis, other causes can include very low blood pressure, a tear in the heart artery, drug use or small blood clots or tumors that form elsewhere in the body and travel to the heart.

While severe chest pain is the most commonly associated symptom of a heart attack, there are other important symptoms that should not go overlooked. “Shortness of breath and pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, arms or jaw,” are common especially for men. “Conversely, women often experience atypical heart attack symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, inability to sleep and breaking out in a cold sweat,” according to Dr. Foody.

However, she says that because every case is different and everyone experiences varying degrees of symptoms, it’s easy to ignore certain ones, like indigestion and fatigue. “The key is to listen to your body and seek immediate medical treatment if you experience symptoms of a heart attack,” she says.

But how do you know if you’re at risk in the first place? Factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and lack of exercise can all play into the potential for a heart attack. “Simply put, the more cardiovascular risk factors you have, the greater your risk,” Dr. Foody says. “The key is knowing your numbers and addressing any risk factors you may be living with to help prevent ever having a heart attack.”

Recognizing a heart attack early can greatly reduce long-term damage caused to the heart muscle. If you think you are having a heart attack, do not hesitate in calling 911 and take an aspirin to reduce blood clotting. If you see someone else having a heart attack, CPR can help deliver oxygen to the brain, even if it’s hands-only.

“It can’t be repeated enough: Always call 911 when you begin to have any symptoms of a heart attack,” says Dr. Foody. “Don’t be concerned about having a ‘false alarm’ or bothering others.” Heart attack survivors may suffer from damaged tissue resulting in abnormal heart rhythms. They are also at increased risk for future heart attacks.

Besides monitoring blood pressure, cholesterol and getting plenty of exercise, getting a good dose of omega-3 fatty acid can help protect you from heart disease. But you don’t have to get your omega-3s from fish oil alone anymore. Krill oil is relatively new and developed from a small crustacean. It is delivered as a phospholipid as opposed to the traditional triglyceride form. Early studies have indicated that the body may be able to utilize smaller amounts of the phospholipid krill oil to achieve the same results as triglyceride sources, according to the article.

Why not celebrate American Heart Month by getting your numbers checked and being proactive about one of the most important muscles in your body? You won’t regret it, and your family, friends and loved ones will thank you!

Read the full article here.

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