According to the CDC, nearly 71 million Americans have high cholesterol. While that clearly means that high cholesterol is common to both people with and without diabetes, individuals with diabetes have an increased risk of heart disease, making it that much more important that we control our blood cholesterol. But what does that mean? We’ve all heard of cholesterol, but do we really understand it?
Let’s take a look.
So, what is cholesterol anyway?
Cholesterol, put simply, is a waxy, fat-like substance found in blood. However, there’s a little more to it than that. Cholesterol is composed of a group of fats called lipoproteins, which are essential components of your body’s metabolism.
It’s not all bad! In fact, High-density lipoproteins (HDL) actually help reduce the presence of cholesterol in the body. They keep arteries clean and clear, which lowers your risk of heart disease. If you’re a woman, you should shoot for an HDL level of at least 40 mg/dl, and if you’re a man, at least 50 mg/dl.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are the bad guys you’re always hearing about. Having elevated levels of LDL cholesterol, over a prolonged period of time, can actually lead to a buildup of plaque (fatty deposits) on your artery walls. This plaque can damage, and even block, your arteries, raising your risk of heart disease and stroke. Additionally, this plaque can rupture and form blood clots, increasing artery blockage. You should aim to have an LDL level lower than 100 mg/dl.
And The Ugly:
Triglycerides are the most common type of fat found in the body. However, if these levels get too high they can actually stop HDL from disposing of LDL. These artery blocking fats are also a source of increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Your goal should be to have your triglyceride level at less than 150 mg/dl.
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What can I do?
Well, for starters, the American Diabetes Association recommends a fasting-lipid profile done when you’re diagnosed, then every 5 years after. You should also have your cholesterol checked yearly, at least. This will allow you to monitor your heart health, so a problem doesn’t sneak up on you. But what if you know you have high cholesterol? What can you do to lower the bad stuff and raise the good stuff?
- If you smoke, quit.
- Aim to exercise at least 30 minutes/day, 5 times/week. Remember: this time can be broken down into periods of 10 minutes or more.
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat a well-balanced, heart-healthy diet (fruits, veggies, whole grains, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids)
- Reduce your consumption of saturated fats and oils, trans fats, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils
- If diet and lifestyle choices aren’t enough, your doctor may prescribe medication