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For Your Health: Knowing your numbers

by Sabrina Beck | September 20, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
Sabrina Beck

September is recognized as cholesterol education awareness month. Cholesterol can be a confusing subject for some. What is cholesterol? What does it do?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 38 percent of American adults have high cholesterol. High cholesterol can be a silent ailment. Some people may know they have it, and they may even take medication for it but never experience symptoms.

High cholesterol increases an individual's risk for stroke and heart disease, two leading causes of death in the United States. Therefore, an important part of staying healthy is having your cholesterol levels checked routinely.

The American Heart association recommends adults 20 and older have their cholesterol checked every four to six years, although some individuals may need to have it checked more often depending on their risk factors, like a family history of high cholesterol. It is highly encouraged you talk with your provider about screening and your risk for high cholesterol.

There are many factors that play into high cholesterol. The good news is there are ways you can help reduce your cholesterol with a few lifestyle changes.

Our bodies already do a great job of supplying all the cholesterol it needs. We do not need to consume cholesterol through foods, such as those high in saturated fats and trans fats. Focus on limiting cheeses, dairy desserts, palm oil or fatty meats as these animal products are typically in high in saturated fat. Instead, try to add lean meats; seafood; low-fat or fat-free cheeses, milk and yogurt; vegetables and fruits; and whole grains that are usually low in added sugars, sodium (salt), and saturated and trans fats. It is also good to consume foods naturally high in fiber such as beans or oatmeal.

Maintaining a healthy weight is important in reducing your cholesterol and reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke. Being overweight or obese contributes to high levels of cholesterol. When we have excess body fat, this can slow down your body's ability to remove the "bad" cholesterol from your blood and ultimately affects how your body uses cholesterol. It is important to talk to your doctor about what a healthy weight looks like for you.

Participate in regular physical activity. You can make physical activity a part of your daily routine. This may look like taking a brisk walk midday or on a lunch break, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, doing squats or lunges during a commercial break, or parking farther away from your destination to get some extra steps in. There are ample opportunities to fit physical activities into your day, you just have to be willing to do them!

Limit alcohol consumption and don't smoke. Smoking exponentially increases risk for heart disease because of the damages it does to your blood vessels. If you smoke, it is important to talk to your provider about ways to help you quit. Alcohol has also been known to raise cholesterol levels. The CDC recommends men have no more than two alcoholic beverages per day and women should have no more than one.

You can have your cholesterol checked by your health care team with a simple blood test. Cole County Health Department offers lab draw services during walk-in clinic hours. With a physician's order, we can draw this blood test for you. Our office hours for lab draws are 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Thursday, no appointment needed.

It's important to remember your numbers alone do not tell the whole story. It is vital to discuss associated risk factors with a licensed health care provider. This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice.

Sabrina Beck is a registered nurse and Worksite Wellness Coordinator at the Cole County Health Department. She earned her nursing degree from Columbia College in 2018.

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