Cholesterol

LDL (bad) cholesterol is produced naturally by the body, but many people inherit genes from their mother, father or even grandparents that cause them to make too much.

Eating foods with saturated fat or trans fats also increases the amount of LDL cholesterol in your blood. If high blood cholesterol runs in your family, lifestyle modifications may not be enough to help lower your LDL blood cholesterol.

The female sex hormone estrogen tends to raise HDL cholesterol, and as a rule, women have higher HDL (good) cholesterol levels than men. Estrogen production is highest during the childbearing years. This may help explain why premenopausal women are usually protected from developing heart disease.

Older women tend to have higher triglyceride levels. As people get older, gain weight or both, their triglyceride and cholesterol levels tend to rise.

At one time, it was thought that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) might lower a woman’s risk of heart disease and stroke. However, recent studies have shown that HRT does not reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke in postmenopausal women, and the American Heart Association recommends it not be used for cardiovascular prevention.

The American Heart Association recommends LDL (bad) cholesterol-lowering drug therapy for most women with heart disease. Drug therapy should be combined with a diet low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars and rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber-rich whole-grain  foods, and fat-free and low-fat dairy. Fish (such as salmon, trout or herring) should be eaten twice a week. In addition, women should manage their weight, not smoke and get an average of 40 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity 3 or 4 times per week.

What Can Cholesterol Do?

High cholesterol is one of the major controllable risk factors for coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

As your blood cholesterol rises, so does your risk of coronary heart disease. If you have other risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure or diabetes, this risk increases even further. The greater the level of each risk factor, the more that factor affects your overall risk. Your cholesterol level can be affected by your age, gender, family health history and diet.

When too much LDL (bad) cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain. Together with other substances, cholesterol can form a thick, hard deposit called plaque that can narrow the arteries and make them less flexible. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. If a clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery, a heart attack or stroke can result.