The Truth About Cholesterol and Heart Disease

The sheer amount of of information about the relationship between cholesterol and risk of heart disease can be overwhelming and sometimes confusing. Here is a basic look at some of the key points you should know.

Cholesterol Is ImportantCholesterol Is Important

Cholesterol is a waxy substance in your blood that performs essential functions in your body. It helps make the outer coating of cells, makes up the bile acids that work to digest food, and allows the body to make Vitamin D and certain hormones. It is so important that the body actually makes its own cholesterol. There are two types of cholesterol – low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) and high-density lipoproteins (HDLs). LDL is often referred to as the “bad” cholesterol that can clog blood vessels, while HDL is the “good” cholesterol that may lower your risk of heart disease. LDL is truly only “bad” when there is too much of it in your blood.

The Relationship Between High Cholesterol and Heart Disease

When there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it builds up in the walls of your arteries. Over time, this buildup narrows the arteries and restricts blood flow to the heart. When the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off a heart attack results.

Factors that Affect Your Cholesterol Levels

Many factors can affect your cholesterol level. Some of them you can control and others you can’t:

  • The Foods You Eat: Saturated fat and trans fats raise LDL levels. Saturated fats are mainly found in foods that come from animals, such as meat and dairy products. Trans fats are in foods made with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, such as margarine, packaged snacks, fast food, and baked goods.

  • Your Weight: Being overweight is a major risk factor for heart disease and increases cholesterol. Losing excess weight can help lower your LDL and total cholesterol.

  • Regular Exercise: The American Heart Association recommends getting 150 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.

  • Age and GenderSmoking Habits: Smoking is a widely recognized risk factor for heart disease.

  • Age and Gender: For both women and men, cholesterol levels tend to rise with age. Before the age of menopause, women generally have lower total cholesterol levels than men of the same age. After that point, the gap narrows.

  • Family History: High cholesterol and risk of heart disease may be in your genes. Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a hereditary condition that limits the liver’s ability to metabolize or remove LDL cholesterol. As a genetic disorder, FH makes managing cholesterol and risk of heart disease through just eating right, controlling weight, exercising regularly, and not smoking inefficient. Medication is always necessary to manage it.

The last factor may be a surprise to many. In fact, 90 percent of individuals with FH do not know they have the disorder. Individuals with FH have a 20 time higher risk for heart disease compared to individuals without FH, which makes spreading awareness and knowledge about this disorder extremely important.

To learn more about inherited high cholesterol and risk of heart disease, contact the Family Heart Foundation, a patient-centered non-profit organization dedication to education, advocacy, and research of FH, explore our website, or give us a call at 626-465-1234.

Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; The Harvard Medical School Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol

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