Know Your Numbers Cholesterol 101

cholesterol-101While cholesterol isn’t the most exciting topic on the planet, it is an important discussion with regards to black women’s health. Heart disease kills 50,000 Black women a year. Furthermore, 49% of black women over the age of 20 have heart disease. One of the primary indicators and drivers of heart disease is a high total cholesterol level. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, 33.6% of black women have high total cholesterol compared with an average 32% among white, black and Mexican Americans. As black women bear the brunt of the health care disparities in America, it’s imperative that we know our numbers and know what they mean.

Understand Cholesterol’s Role In The Body

We hear about cholesterol, but what is it exactly? Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that’s found in the blood and most tissue in the body. Its primary purpose is as a building block for some hormones and is an important element in cell membranes. It is produced in the liver but is also comes from foods we eat. There’s some debate about which foods contribute to cholesterol levels. However, the liver is meant to meet the body’s complete cholesterol needs.

Cholesterol, also referred to as lipids, is measured by total, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and triglycerides. LDL and HDL are responsible for distributing cholesterol throughout the body. LDL is considered bad and HDL is considered good.

Know Your Cholesterol Numbers

Cholesterol is determined via a blood test that shows LDL, HDL, Total, a ratio and triglyceride levels. The current recommendation is to check levels every five years. However, the test is quick and relatively cheap there’s no reason not to have it checked every year as part of an annual health check. You want the LDL to be as low as possible and the HDL to be high. While your total level might be high, if the ratio of good to bad is okay that means your body is keeping the bad in check. The body converts calories it doesn’t need into triglycerides and stores them in fat cells. Once energy is required the triglycerides are released. A high triglyceride level is thought to be most associated with the risk of heart disease.

Genetics plays a big role in cholesterol levels. Some people are genetically predisposed to a high total level but their ratio is excellent and triglycerides normal. The recommended ranges for each are: Total = less than 200 mg/dL; LDL = less than 100 mg/dL; HDL = 60 mg/dL or higher; triglycerides = less than 150 mg/dL.Cholesterol chart in mg/dl units of measure

Managing High Cholesterol

The good news is cholesterol is highly responsive to lifestyle changes such as diet and physical activity. A regular healthy diet will have a positive impact on cholesterol levels. There has long been a debate on whether consuming animal fats (dietary cholesterol) contributes to body cholesterol levels. As an example, for a long time, people were told to avoid eggs. Later, researchers found there wasn’t a strong link between eggs and high cholesterol. However, if a person doesn’t regularly consume animal fat, eating it may, in fact, raise their body levels.

Mainly stick to a diet high in fiber, plenty of fruits and vegetables. The idea is to keep the LDL/HDL ratio in check and Triglycerides low. Exercise also helps by burning glucose and triglycerides.

There are medications to help control cholesterol. One in four Americans over age 45 are prescribed statin drugs as a means to help prevent heart disease as a result of high cholesterol. The reality is these drugs only benefit one percent of the population and chances are as a black woman, you’re not one of them. In fact, researchers reported that statins increased the rates of cancer, cataracts, diabetes, cognitive impairment, musculoskeletal disorders, and trigger the very heart disease it’s meant to prevent (Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology report). Remember, drugs are treatments they don’t cure. Always consult a physician about your specific case.

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Nile Harris
Nile Harris, the Chief Chick, is a word weaver and dream believer with 20 years of experience in healthcare, finance, and education. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action. Her views are her own.
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