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What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is in every cell in the body and is used to build healthy cells and some vital hormones.

A common misconception is that skinny people have low cholesterol and overweight people have high cholesterol.

HDL — high density lipoproteins— “good” cholesterol is primarily responsible for carrying cholesterol from various organs and tissues to the liver for recycling or degradation.

LDL—low density lipoproteins— “bad” cholesterol is responsible for carrying cholesterol from liver to organs and tissues of the body. LDL is considered “bad” because it is less stable than HDL and contains less protein and more lipids. It is also more prone to break apart. Since LDL doesn’t return cholesterol back to the liver, it tends to “hang out” in the bloodstream.

High cholesterol (over 240) with the LDL over 130 can leave fatty deposits in the blood vessels. Eventually it can make it hard for the blood to pass through the vessels and increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

If you have high or higher cholesterol:

• Attack the fat by cutting the amount of fat out of your diet, especially saturated fat. Check out www.acsm.org for more details.

• No more than one serving of lean meat, fish or poultry per day (three to four ounces—size of the palm of your hand)

• Limit red meat to two or three times a week.

• Choose olive oils, canola oil or liquid vegetable oils like sunflower, corn, safflower oils.

• Avoid organ meats like liver because it has high cholesterol content.

• Boost fiber intake.

• Exercise! Regular exercise can be a positive aid to lower your cholesterol.

With a healthy diet and regular exercise you can often lower your cholesterol within a healthy range. But sometimes that will not be enough, whether it is heredity or an unexplained reason. Medication then is needed to lower your cholesterol.

Talk to your doctor, check all levels of your cholesterol, re-check if not sure or just “double check”, ask questions and remember it is not the size of someone’s body that decides the level of cholesterol.

Ester Hoeben Marsh isHealth and Fitness Director of the JF Hurley Family YMCA.

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