If someone told you that as a Latino that you had a 50/50 chance of winning the Powerball, you would probably drop what you were doing and pay attention? How about, instead of Powerball and mega riches, someone told you that as a Latino you had a chance of having high—even dangerously high—cholesterol levels and they could cause a heart attack? Would that get your attention?
You might want to put Powerball on the back burner and focus on cholesterol for a moment because knowing your cholesterol numbers could save your life. September is National Cholesterol Month. It’s a Centers for Disease Control-sponsored month intended to get everyone focused on an issue that most people don’t think about. So, let’s try and understand what it is and how it impacts our health.
First, we all have cholesterol in our bodies. It’s a fat, also known as a lipid. Fats come from our diets. Think of them as fuel. Like gasoline powers cars, fat powers us with energy. But cholesterol is a fat that the body doesn’t use as a fuel.
There are two major types of cholesterol: Low-density lipoprotein or LDL, known as “bad” cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein or HDL, called “good” cholesterol. LDL is the main source of the formulation of artery-clogging plaque. HDL, however, works to clear cholesterol from your blood.
There is another kind of fat in your blood called triglycerides, and research implies that high levels of triglycerides, like levels of LDL, contribute to heart disease.
High cholesterol leads to a health condition known as atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries, affecting blood flow. The body’s arteries are blood vessels that carry blood from the heart throughout the body. These arteries are lined with a layer of cells known as the endothelium. The endothelium keeps the inside of the arteries smooth to keep blood flowing. Atherosclerosis starts with damage to the endothelium. Many contributing causes include high blood pressure, smoking, and/or high cholesterol. That damage leads to the formation of plaque.
This condition is the typical cause of heart attacks, strokes and peripheral vascular disease, collectively called cardiovascular disease.
High cholesterol may also be, unfortunately, inherited and/or a result of a bad diet. There are solutions to lower your cholesterol and maintain good artery flow.
Diagnosis and treatment
Know your numbers! Your cholesterol levels should be measured at least once every five years in everyone over age 20. The screening test performed is a blood test called a lipid profile.
Abnormal levels of LDL cholesterol or HDL cholesterol are treated with exercise a balanced and low-fat diet, and medications called statins.
Adjustments to your lifestyle, like quitting smoking, adjusting your diet, (i.e., omitting processed foods which have a high trans fat content), and exercising regularly can substantially lower your cholesterol numbers.
A high percentage of Latinos have high cholesterol due to their diet and/or lack of exercise. Becoming aware of your cholesterol numbers is essential to a first step in understanding how to control those numbers. It could save your life!