It's National Cholesterol Education Month. Do you know what you should about cholesterol—how to keep it at a healthy level to help prevent heart disease?
These 5 must-know facts about cholesterol can help you get started.
1. Your body needs cholesterol. This waxy substance is found in every cell in the body and aids in many vital functions, including digestion, hormone and vitamin D production.
Cholesterol can cause problems when your body has too much of it, though. It can build up in arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke.
2. There are good and bad types of cholesterol. Low-density lipoproteins, or LDL, are the bad cholesterol. The higher the level of LDL in your blood, the higher your risk of heart disease.
HDL, or high-density lipoproteins, are known as the good cholesterol. HDL is beneficial because it carries cholesterol from other parts of the body to the liver, where it can be removed. Higher levels of HDL mean you have a lower chance of getting heart disease.
3. Testing is the only way to know if your cholesterol levels are within a healthy range. There are no signs or symptoms that let you know if your cholesterol levels aren't what they should be. But a simple blood test can let you know where you stand.
4. Even young people should keep tabs on their cholesterol levels. Unhealthy cholesterol isn't a problem just for older adults.
The American Heart Association recommends that everyone 20 years and older, who hasn't been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease have his or her cholesterol levels checked at least every four to six years.
And the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children and teens have their cholesterol tested once between the ages of 9 and 11 and again between the ages of 17 and 21.
5. To help control your cholesterol, cut down on foods high in saturated and trans fats, which include fatty meats; baked goods (like cookies and cakes); and whole-milk dairy products and solid fats, such as butter. You should also get plenty of exercise, reach and maintain a healthy weight, and not smoke.
Your doctor may also recommend medications to help you achieve optimal cholesterol levels.
Additional sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Institutes of Health