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Understanding Your Cholesterol Numbers

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019 - 7:00am

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University extension service.


Amy Myers: Today we're talking about, understanding your cholesterol numbers. Hello, I'm Amy Myers and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're talking with, Erin Adams. Graduate student and Dietetic Intern at Mississippi State University. Erin, you're really passionate about understanding cholesterol, heart health and nutrition. And my question is, what is cholesterol and what numbers are the best?

Erin Adams: So, many people do hear the word "cholesterol" and immediately think of problems. But, cholesterol is necessary for everyone's body. Cholesterol is a substance our body's make hormones from, vitamin D, bile and even the structure of our cells. Total cholesterol is considered high when it's over 200 milligrams per deciliter. However, it's important not only to focus on your total cholesterol, knowing how much of the total number is made up from HDL and how much is from LDL is beneficial. Ideally, women's HDL should be over 60 milligrams per deciliter and men's HDL should be over 40 milligrams per deciliter. LDL for both men and women should be below 100 milligrams per deciliter.

Amy Myers: HDL is the good cholesterol and LDL is the bad cholesterol, right?

Erin Adams: So, I have heard many people refer to HDL and LDL this way, but I prefer not too. HDL and LDL aren't technically cholesterol, they're transporters of cholesterol. I think of them as the bus drivers on different routes and the cholesterol that they carry are their passengers with different destinations. When LDL leaves your liver, it takes cholesterol to where your body needs it. When HDL leaves your liver, it picks up any extra cholesterol that your body isn't using. So LDL isn't bad. LDL becomes dangerous when there's too much dropping off any extra cholesterol. HDL is not necessarily good, it just becomes dangerous when there's not enough of it picking up extra cholesterol.

Amy Myers: What dangers can form if you have extra amounts of LDL and low amounts of HDL?

Erin Adams: What we all become at risk for when we're not within our recommended numbers is Atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a big word that simply means junk, like plaque, is building up in your arteries. Arteries are the highways that our blood travels on. If too much junk is blocking the highway, our blood can't get to where it needs to be. When our blood can't get to where it needs to be, we become at serious risk for a heart attack, stroke and even death.

Amy Myers: How am I supposed to know if LDL and HDL are within the recommended ranges?

Erin Adams: The best source is your doctor, who can perform a very simple blood test, have your results ... The American Heart Association recommends adults have their cholesterol checked every four to six years, beginning at age 20. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics is now recommending that if a family member has ever had early heart attack or heart disease, children in that family should have cholesterol testing after turning only two years old.

Amy Myers: Why would anyone need their cholesterol checked as young as the age of two? Could plaque possibly buildup in someone's arteries that fast?

Erin Adams: There is a condition called Familial Hypercholesterolemia, I call it FH for short. When someone has FH, LDL levels are very high and difficult to control because their body doesn't know how to take the LDL where it's supposed to go. FH is passed down in families, and can lead to heart attack or stroke at young ages. One case reports that a boy, only four years of age, passed away from FH. According to the National Lipid Association, for every 250 people, one of them has FH and 90% of them are not being diagnosed. When a diagnosis of FH is made, potentially lifesaving therapies can begin.

Amy Myers: That is shocking. What lifesaving therapies are used?

Erin Adams: Many do exist. There's quitting or never smoking to begin with, exercising. But, our emphasis in the medical field has developed many new medicines. My personal emphasis is nutrition, and nutrition can help us improve our cholesterol levels. But please be aware of your cholesterol levels and discuss additional therapies like medicines with your doctor.

Amy Myers: How can nutrition help with cholesterol?

Erin Adams: I have three steps. The first is to eliminate trans fats. Trans fats are found in processed foods with the words "partially hydrogenated" in the ingredients list. The second is to reduce saturated fat and refine carbohydrates like sugars, white pasta, baked goods. Those refined carbohydrates like white pasta and sugars can be replaced with whole grain products and even vegetables. The third is to increase your soluble fiber, unsaturated fats and whole grains. Foods like oat bran, barley, kidney beans and black eyed peas. Avocados, oil based salad dressings, nuts, olives, seeds like pumpkin or sesame and liquid at room temperature margarine's and vegetable oils like canola, olive, peanut and safflower.

Amy Myers: Today we've been speaking with Erin Adams, Dietetic Intern. I'm Amy Myers and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University extension service.

Department: Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion

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