Monitoring Your Cholesterol Numbers
Eugene Valsky, MD, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth
About a third of Massachusetts residents have high blood cholesterol levels. Managing cholesterol can be tough, especially when you find yourself in the supermarket trying to remember the difference between good and bad cholesterol and why it even matters. We spoke with Eugene Valsky, MD, a cardiologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth, to learn the important basics of cholesterol management and simple ways to reduce cholesterol numbers.
Q: Why is knowing my cholesterol numbers important?
Heart disease is the biggest killer in the U.S., and it affects both men and women. There are several risk factors for heart disease that we cannot control, such as age and family history. We can, however, manage cholesterol levels. This can dramatically reduce a patient’s risk of heart attack and stroke. Doctors can control cholesterol levels by prescribing certain medications. But there is also a lot that patients themselves can do to lower cholesterol just by adopting certain lifestyle changes.
Q: We hear a lot about good and bad cholesterol. What’s the difference?
Knowing the difference and achieving the right balance between good and bad cholesterol is important. Fat is transported throughout the body by lipoproteins. These proteins have different structures depending on their type. High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) is the good cholesterol, because it scours cholesterol from arterial walls and carries it back to the liver. High levels of HDL have been shown in several studies to protect patients from heart attack. Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL), the bad cholesterol, works the opposite way. LDL builds up in the coronary walls, creating a sludge that narrows and hardens the arteries. This condition, known as atherosclerosis, can lead to heart attacks, stroke and peripheral artery disease.
Q: What are some simple things I can do today to lower my cholesterol levels?
The first thing you should do is see your doctor to find out what risk factors you have for arterial disease. Based upon these risk factors and your cholesterol numbers, your doctor may chose to start you on a cholesterol reducing medicine.
There are also lifestyle modifications that can lower cholesterol naturally. These include adopting cooking techniques, such as grilling/sautéing instead of frying. Patients should also reduce their intake of saturated fats and simple carbohydrates. For some patients, alcohol in moderate can also reduce one's cardiovascular risk.