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High cholesterol


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Cholesterol (koh-LESS-tur-ol) is a waxy, fatlike substance found in all parts of the body. It comes from two sources: your body and the food you eat. Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs. Eating too much cholesterol, which comes from animal foods like meats, whole milk dairy products, and egg yolks, can make your cholesterol go up. Being overweight and lack of physical activity also can make cholesterol go up. Too much cholesterol in the blood blocks it from flowing easily through your body. The higher your cholesterol, the more likely you are to get heart disease. Triglycerides (treye-GLIH-suh-ryds) are another kind of blood fat that travels with cholesterol. Too high levels also can raise heart disease risk.

High cholesterol has no symptoms. Everyone 20 and older should have their cholesterol levels checked at least once every five years. Ask your doctor how often you should have your cholesterol levels checked.

Women need to know their cholesterol levels and what they mean. Your total cholesterol level actually comes from two different types of cholesterol: HDL and LDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is "good." It helps protect your heart. So, you want to keep it high — above 40 md/dL. But LDL cholesterol is really bad for your heart. So, you want to keep it low — below 130 mg/dL. You have borderline high cholesterol if the total is 200–239 md/dL. You have dangerously high cholesterol if the total is 240 md/dL or more. A triglyceride level greater than 150mg/dL is considered high.

Nearly half of African-American women have a total cholesterol level that is too high. Here are some things you can do to improve cholesterol levels:

  • Keep a healthy weight.
  • Eat healthy. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit fats, especially saturated fats and trans fats. Eat chicken, turkey, and lean meats. Avoid organ meats, egg yolks, whole milk dairy products, fats like butter or lard, and packaged or processed foods. Limit sodium (salt).
  • Make physical activity a habit. Health benefits are gained by doing the following each week:
    • 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity
      or
    • 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
      or
    • A combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity
      and
    • Muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days of the week
  • If needed, take medicines to lower cholesterol as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Don't smoke. If you smoke, try to quit. For help along the way, check out our Quitting Smoking section.

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Content last updated: May 18, 2010.

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