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Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance (lipid) found only in foods that come from animals. It is also manufactured by the body in the liver.

Although it's often discussed as if it were a poison, you can't live without it. It is essential to your body's cell membranes, to the insulation of your nerves and to the production of certain hormones. It's used by your liver to prepare bile acids, that is very important for the digestion of food.

When you have too much cholesterol in your bloodstream it is called hypercholesterolemia, or high cholesterol. Hypercholesterolemia increases your risk of heart disease.

The American Heart Association reports that cardiovascular disease still kills almost 1 million Americans each year. This is more than all cancer deaths combined.

Many of these deaths occur because of narrowed or blocked arteries (atherosclerosis). Cholesterol plays a significant role in this largely preventable condition.

Atherosclerosis is a silent, painless process in which cholesterol-containing fatty deposits (plaques) accumulate on the walls of your arteries.

Cholesterol is not a deadly poison, but a substance vital to the cells of all mammals. There are no such things as good or bad cholesterol, but mental stress, physical activity and change of body weight may influence the level of blood cholesterol. Your body produces three to four times more cholesterol than you eat. The production of cholesterol increases when you eat little cholesterol and decreases when you eat much. This explains why the “prudent” diet cannot lower cholesterol more than on average a few per cent.

In general:

-The higher your total cholesterol level, the greater your risk of cardiovascular disease.

-The higher your cholesterol level, the greater your chances of dying of cardiovascular disease.

-You can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering your cholesterol level.

The good news we now know is that cholesterol is largely controllable. We can bring menacing levels down through dietary reforms, exercise and other modifications in life style.

How does high cholesterol occur?

The most common cause of high cholesterol is eating foods that are high in saturated fat or cholesterol.
Other possible causes are:

-an inherited disorder in which cholesterol is not metabolized properly by the body

-a disease that raises the cholesterol level (for example, diabetes mellitus, kidney disease, liver disease, or hypothyroidism).

What are the symptoms?

Hypercholesterolemia is a silent disease. There are no symptoms until complications have already developed, such as the chest pain of a heart attack or calf pain with walking, caused by narrowed or blocked arteries to the legs.

How is it diagnosed?

The doctor will order a blood test to check your cholesterol level. These lab tests usually measure your total cholesterol level as well as the levels of LDL, HDL, and triglyceride in your blood.

Why is it important to treat hypercholesterolemia?

For every 1% reduction in cholesterol level, the risk of heart disease is reduced 2%.

How is it treated?

A diet high in soluble fiber and low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol can help to lower cholesterol levels. Follow these guidelines for a healthy diet:

-Increase the soluble fiber in your diet by eating fruits and vegetables (especially leafy vegetables and fresh fruits), peas, dried beans, and whole grains.

-Choose poultry, fish, or meatless entrees more often than you choose red meats.

-Remove the skin before cooking chicken or turkey.

-Use lean cuts of meat and trim off all visible fat. Keep portion sizes moderate.

-Limit the amount of nuts you eat, especially nuts high in saturated fat. Examples of nuts that are especially high in saturated fat are cashews, pistachios, and Brazil and macadamia nuts.

-Replace whole milk dairy products with nonfat or low-fat milk, cheese, spreads, and yogurt.

-Eat no more than four egg yolks per week. Use egg substitutes.

-Avoid fatty desserts including ice cream, cream-filled cakes, cheesecakes, etc.

-Choose fresh fruits, nonfat frozen yogurt, Popsicles, etc.

-Reduce the amount of fried foods, vending machine food, and fast food you eat.

-Look for low-fat or nonfat varieties of the foods you like to eat, or look for substitutes.

How to avoid hypercholesterolemia?

In addition to changing your diet, you can help lower your cholesterol by the following:

-Get more exercise, especially aerobic exercise.

-Ask your doctor about an exercise prescription.

-Start slowly to avoid injury. Exercise helps raise HDL levels, improve circulation, decrease body fat, and tone muscles.

-Don't smoke.

-Maintain a normal weight.

-Have your cholesterol levels and weight checked by your doctor.

Women Live Longer than Men:

Life expectancy for men is 75 years of age - 6 years less than for women

Men see GPs around 20% less often than women

The life expectancy of men is significantly shorter than that of women. The average life expectancy for an Australian man is 75 years of age compared with around 81 years of age for Australian women.

A key reason why men don’t tend to live as long as women is the length of time they wait before seeking treatment for their illnesses.

Statistics show that although men and women have similar health needs, Australian men see GPs around 20% less often than women (5.8 consultations per year for men compared with 7.4 consultations per year for women).

Even if men live longer than expected, their quality of life is often lower than that of women due to a higher rate of long-term disability.

The Leading Men's Health Problems:

Heart disease
Prostate cancer
High blood pressure
High Cholesterol
Erectile dysfunction
Enlarged prostate

And remember . . .
The issue of cholesterol and cardiovascular health is important, but by no means simple. Just knowing your total cholesterol level is not enough. Understanding how your other blood fat levels and your cardiovascular disease risk factors influence this number is essential. Only with this knowledge can cholesterol assume its proper place in the cardiovascular disease puzzle.

Live healthier, live longer.