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The Silent Enemy

Por Ana C. López, Nutrition Counselor, MyDiet™ Team -
The Silent Enemy

Unlike most diseases, high cholesterol produces no symptoms. This "silent enemy" of your heart can lead to stroke if you don't take the necessary steps to  control its levels. 

What is cholesterol? 

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is produced in the body and, in appropriate proportions, fulfills important functions, such as forming hormones and cell structures. 

Do we need to eat cholesterol? 

No. Since our own body produces cholesterol, it's not necessary to get additional amounts through food. Animal origin  foods are natural sources of cholesterol. However, even the saturated fats present in meat, cheese,  dairy products, eggs, and palm and coconut oils may become cholesterol inside the body, so you should eat them in moderation. 

Why do people talk about a "good" and a "bad" cholesterol? 

In the bloodstream, cholesterol is taken from one place to another by means of specialized "carriers." 

Cholesterol that is transported in molecules known as LDL ("bad cholesterol") is carried from the liver to other parts of the body, and this type of cholesterol is more easily deposited on the artery walls. Cholesterol forms "plaques" that cause atherosclerosis and may lead to heart diseases and stroke, because it becomes increasingly difficult for the blood to pass through the arteries that are "blocked" with cholesterol plaques. 

On the other hand, cholesterol that is transported in HDL ("good cholesterol") molecules is taken from different parts of the body to the liver, so we can see HDL cholesterol as the one that "cleans up" the arteries, so they don't become obstructed by cholesterol plaques. This is why it is recommended to maintain high levels of this type of cholesterol, since it has protective effects on the  heart.

How is cholesterol measured? 

To measure cholesterol levels, all it takes is a blood test, known as "lipid profile". This test will show your total cholesterol level (the sum of the different types of cholesterol in the blood), as well as LDL and HDL cholesterol. 

What are the appropriate levels for blood cholesterol? 

In the following table, you will find the recommended levels for total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol: 

Cholesterol Type

Recommended Level

Total Cholesterol

< 200 mg/dL

LDL Cholesterol

< 100 mg/dL

HDL Cholesterol

>60 mg/dL

Source:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2007). Cholesterol. Retrieved on January, 2009 from  http://www.fda.gov/

 

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