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Cholesterol: not just dad's health problem

Lacey Cheevers-Pelletier | The Argosy | News | February 13th, 2006

SACKVILLE, N.B. (CUP) -- February is National Heart Month, a month to remember and learn how to keep your heart ticking.

Although cholesterol may not seem like the most pertinent subject to students; after all, high cholesterol is something you've heard your mother, father, uncle, grandmother, or elderly neighbour talk about, most figure they have a while before you have to worry about your cholesterol level and exactly what medications may help lower it.

But survey results released in December 2005 by the American medical magazine Circulation should give all students a reason to listen up. According to the study, cholesterol levels in middle-aged and older adults have significantly decreased over the past twenty years. Young adults, however, especially those in their twenties, have not seen any decreases, and the 25-34 age group has seen an increase in cholesterol levels. This has been related to an overall “flattening out” of physical activity in younger adults.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that, along with other fatty substances, begins to build up in your arteries beginning in childhood. There are two types of cholesterol - good and bad - that exist within your body. Bad cholesterol, or LDL, is what sticks to the inside of the arteries, along with other substances, to form a plaque that builds up and can clog the artery.

The good cholesterol, or HDL, is believed to carry LDL away from the arteries and back to the liver where it can be taken out of the body. Optimal levels for total cholesterol for anyone (regardless of age) is less than 200 mg/dL, with total bad cholesterol less than 100 mg/dL and good cholesterol less than 40 mg/dL. If a person's levels are higher than this, the patient is at higher risk for heart disease, heart attack, serious illness, and premature death.

According to the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation, beyond maintaining a healthy diet, exercise and abstaining from smoking and alcohol use, a scheduled cholesterol test is also recommended for everyone starting in young adults at the age of 20, with a follow-up exam every five years, depending on what your levels are.

A cholesterol test involves nine to 12 hours of fasting, followed by having a little bit of blood drawn. It's simple, and knowing your levels now could help prevent serious health problems in the near future.
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