What is it?
Cholesterol is a necessary part of our diet. As a compound found in animal tissue that we consume, it is involved in the formation of the protective layers in the skin and the covering for nerve cells, it serves as a detoxifier in the blood, and it is also the precursor for many of our natural steroids. Of course we also know that it can form deposits in our blood vessels and organs that constrict blood flow and can break off and get stuck in smaller vessels as they travel through the blood stream.
How do I know if I have it?
We all need some cholesterol for our bodies to function. The more important question is whether the level in your body is too high and how long it has been too high. Simply speaking, we have bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides that we want to be fairly low and good cholesterol (HDL) that we want to be fairly high. Genetics (good or bad), diets high or low in animal fat, smoking, drinking alcohol and exercise are some of the major factors that play a role in your cholesterol levels.
How can I get tested for it?
Getting tested is as easy as getting a blood test after an 8 to 12 hour fast. The numbers that I look for as a goal depend on the patient's particular medical history such as if you are diabetic, if you have a personal history of heart issues, if you have a family history of heart issues, as well as your current lifestyle choices. The good and bad values and their relation to each other are generally what is used to determine if your cholesterol is at a desirable level or if it needs some work.
How is it treated?
Once cholesterol is determined to be above the optimal levels for an individual, we first embark on changes in the diet. Sometimes it is just a particular food that is being consumed regularly like red meat, eggs or shrimp that can be decreased to lower the bad cholesterol. Sometimes we can improve the good cholesterol by just increasing the exercise frequency and intensity. Many people do require medication, but many could avoid it or use lower doses with some minor changes in diet and exercise. Cholesterol medication, when needed, should complement the lifestyle choices and not battle against them.