February is American Heart Month

Nearly one in three American adults have high cholesterol which puts you at an increased risk for heart disease and stroke. Heart disease can happen at any age and is becoming more frequent in the younger population (ages 35-64). Half of all Americans have one of the top three risk factors for heart disease (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking). 2018 statistics show heart disease as the leading cause of death among American Indians and Alaska Natives.  

There are two types of cholesterol: LDL cholesterol which is knowns as “bad” cholesterol & HDL cholesterol which is referred to as “good” cholesterol. There is also a fat in your blood called triglycerides. High triglycerides in combo with having too much LDL or not enough HDL will increase your risk that fatty cholesterol will build-up in the walls of your arteries. These hard, fatty plaque build-ups make your blood vessels less flexible and can ultimately block the blood flow from your heart to other organs.  

Several factors play a role for increased risk of high cholesterol. Many are improved with lifestyle changes however some are uncontrollable such as your genetics, age, gender & family history. Having health conditions such as type II diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity will increase your risk for heart disease. Smoking, lack of physical activity, excess weight, and a diet high in saturated and/or trans fat are also contributing risk factors for heart disease. Around 25 percent of all deaths from heart disease and stroke are preventable by making necessary lifestyle modifications to improve your overall health.

How can you help prevent or improve high cholesterol?  

  • Follow a balanced diet including whole grains, fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, and lean proteins
  • Limit saturated fat from animal products (cheese, dairy, fatty meat)
  • Limit refined carbohydrates (sugar, sweets, high sugar beverages)
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Participate in regular physical activity
  • Quit smoking
  • Limit alcohol

Since high cholesterol has no signs or symptoms, it is important to see your healthcare provider regularly to get your cholesterol levels checked and your 10-year heart disease risk factor assessed.