Keep an eye on your cholesterol levels at all ages

Published On: Sep 27 2012 08:46:42 AM PDT   Updated On: Oct 09 2012 11:32:40 AM PDT

By Pure Matters

Before you become overwhelmed by the pumpkins and candy corn already overflowing at your local grocery store, it’s important to bring up something even scarier than most Halloween movies–high cholesterol. September is National Cholesterol Education Month and a great excuse to brush up on some information, health tests, and diet reassessments as we gear up for the coming months of candy, turkey, and cookies shaped like little men.

Now you may be saying, “hey, not all cholesterol is bad,” and you’re right, it isn’t. High Density Lipoprotein, also known as HDL, is “good cholesterol,” which is known for taking bad cholesterol out of the blood and keeping it from building up in your arteries. Ideal HDL levels for both men and women is 60 mg/dL and above and has been shown to help lower one’s risk for heart disease. Low levels range around 50 and under for women and 40 and under for men.

Last year, I had a whole host of blood work done as part of a “I’m not getting any younger and should probably start seeing a doctor” sort of thing. When they did my cholesterol tests they found that my HDL levels were high, which was great to hear. But, they also found my LDL, or Low Density Lipoprotein, was high too -- WHAT?!? LDL is the bad cholesterol. It’s called that because it’s a waxy plaque that builds up on the insides of your arteries and slows blood flow to the brain and heart, which can lead to a stroke or heart attack. Basically, LDL sucks.

At the time I was 23 and only two years removed from being a Division I athlete in college. While I admit a few pounds had found their way to my midsection since I’d hung up the spandex and oar, I was still under the delusion that I was years away from having to worry about that kind of stuff. The results were an eye opener and have since planted that little annoying voice in the back of my head that won’t shut up every time I even consider reaching for a peanut butter cup. I bring this up because I think it speaks volumes to the level of awareness people have for what goes on in our bodies. Just because we look “healthy” doesn’t guarantee that our insides are and that goes especially for young people just crossing the double decade line.

Since receiving these results, I’ve been trying to take steps, albeit sometimes little ones, towards undoing some of the damage caused during my years of naïveté. Having a burrito for lunch every day or eating red meat five nights a week isn’t okay any more (not that it ever was), but back then I could burn it all off before my bedtime snack. Now it’s all about healthy choices and compromise. High fiber, low fat foods are essential in reducing LDL and increasing HDL. Things like vegetables, nuts, fish, and whole grains are perfect for this in addition to exercising regularly and not smoking.

At this very moment, more than 102 million Americans age 20 and older have high cholesterol. It’s severely important to get tested now to dictate how you can take action and ensure a better and healthier life down the road. Knowledge is power, and in this case, a life saver.

–Tom Caruso