WOMEN & CHOLESTEROL
The good, the bad, the solution
The good, the bad, the solution
A woman’s health is certainly multifaceted as there are many components which keep her body healthy and strong.
One of the more commonly known aspects to keeping in optimal health is managing appropriate levels of cholesterol. The name is plastered on health-conscious food items, television commercials and mentioned in any comprehensive health-care plan, but it’s important to understand why it matters and the function it serves.
According to the American Heart Association, cholesterol is a waxy-like substance that comes from either your body or your food – such as meat or fullfat dairy products. It circulates through the bloodstream by way of lipoproteins and can be of both good and bad nature. The risks involved with having an excess of bad cholesterol are what make managing this component of health so significant. Bad cholesterol, also known as LDL cholesterol, is when build-up contributes to plaque in the arteries, which can clog and make them less flexible. When arteries become clogged, a clot may form, leading possibly to a heart attack or stroke.
HDL cholesterol, or good cholesterol, works to help remove LDL cholesterol and pass it back to the liver, where it can be broken down and leave the body. The key to HDL cholesterol is to have the appropriate amount, as having good levels helps to prevent heart attack, heart disease and stroke while too low of levels increases risk. For women, managing healthy levels of cholesterol can be a different task as compared to men.
“Women produce estrogen that is somewhat protective for a woman’s heart during her younger childbearing or premenopausal years,” said Dr. Donna Wyatt with CHRISTUS Primary Care South Bossier. “This hormone tends to increase good cholesterol levels.
As women age and gain weight, their cholesterol, usually triglycerides, tends to increase. Hormone replacement does not protect against heart disease.”
Managing cholesterol levels for women can mean paying particular attention to diet and lifestyle. However, there are other factors that contribute to the amount of good and bad cholesterol a body contains and that may mean a multifaceted approach to treating and managing.
“LDL is bad cholesterol, and HDL is good cholesterol,” Wyatt said. “These are made by the liver and are in the foods we eat. Eating saturated fats and trans fats increase LDL levels, but genetics also plays an important role in these levels. Diet and lifestyle may not be enough to get these to optimum levels, so medications like statins may be necessary and have proven to decrease events like heart attacks and strokes in patients at higher risk for these.”
Because the risks and effects of unhealthy cholesterol are so devastating, the importance of taking control of one’s health is even more significant – particularly for women, and the steps involved can prove to be a challenging task.
“Cholesterol is a controllable risk factor for heart disease, heart attack and stroke prevention,” Wyatt said. “Many women do not know their cholesterol is high because there are usually no symptoms. This is why it is important to see your doctor and have it checked. Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in women and men in the United States. While lifestyle changes are one of the most important actions a woman can do for her heart health, they can also be the most challenging.”
Lifestyle changes can be a difficult feat, especially when it means doing a major overhaul on eating habits and physical activity. While they play a big role in managing cholesterol levels, sometimes they still may not be enough. This is another reason consulting with your physician is key, as treatment may need to be tailored to each individual.
“A diet low in saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, salt, added sugars and high in fruit, vegetables, fiber and lean meat like fish, along with maintaining a healthy weight at appropriate BMI [body mass index], not smoking and getting an average of 40 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity three to four times per week are important to get cholesterol to healthy levels,” Wyatt said. “However, sometimes medications are necessary when these measures are not effective or genetics play more a role in cholesterol levels than diet and weight.”