"The first step in cholesterol education is knowing your own cholesterol numbers," says Jeffrey Bergin, D.C., former dean of clinics at National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, Illinois. "When you know your numbers, then you know whether you are at higher risk for heart disease and can implement simple strategies to bring those numbers down."
Blood cholesterol level is a leading risk indicator for heart disease. "Since heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States, killing about a half million people each year, a lipid profile is one of the most important diagnostic tests you can have," says Dr. Bergin.
High blood cholesterol causes no symptoms itself, but quietly builds up in on arterial walls. This build-up can cause "hardening of the arteries" so that arteries become narrow and blood flow to the heart is slowed or blocked. As blood supply to the heart is reduced, you may suffer chest pains. If the blood supply is reduced significantly, or cut off, the result is a heart attack.
Everyone age 16 or older should have his or her cholesterol measured at least once every five years. "It's best to do a lipid profile, or cholesterol test, after a nine to 12 hour fast. You can schedule your test in the morning and simply wait until after the test to eat breakfast," says Dr. Bergin.
A lipid profile will give you four important pieces of information:
The following guidelines help health professionals evaluate your need for treatment and lifestyle changes to help reduce your cholesterol levels:
Total Cholesterol Level
Less than 200 mg/dL is desirable
200-239 mg/dL is borderline high
240 mg/dL and above is high
LDL Cholesterol Level
Less than 100 mg/dL is optimal
100-129 mg/dL is near optimal
130-159 mg/dL is borderline high
160-189 mg/dL is high
190 and above is very high
Less than 100 is ideal
150-199 mg/dL is borderline high
200 mg/dL is high
There are a number of factors which influence your cholesterol level, including age and gender. As both women and men get older, their cholesterol levels rise. Women have lower cholesterol levels than men, generally, but their levels go up after menopause.
Heredity can also affect how much cholesterol your body makes. "There are also lifestyle factors that affect your cholesterol levels," says Dr. Bergin. "We work with our patients on making lifestyle changes that improve their diet, weight, stress levels and exercise habits. Certain natural supplements have favorable effects on cholesterol levels as well."
National University of Health Sciences' clinic specializes in drug-free health care. "There are many new cholesterol lowering drugs on the market today, but patients should be cautious about seeking a magic bullet for high cholesterol," says Dr. Bergin. "What many patients don't know is that cholesterol medications only work well when accompanied by the same lifestyle changes that help improve diet, weight and exercise habits. Also, cholesterol is only one factor in a patient's risk profile for heart disease. Natural interventions such as proper supplementation, diet, reducing stress and increasing physical activity can also address other risk factors for heart disease at the same time, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity."
New technology at the National University Health Center in Lombard also allows a patient to see his cholesterol numbers in approximately 10 minutes. "You no longer need a second appointment to go over your cholesterol test. We can give you the results at your first appointment and evaluate your need for treatment," says Dr. Bergin.
Take your first step in cholesterol education by knowing your numbers. Call your health professional, or schedule an appointment at a National University of Health Sciences Whole Health Center.