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Diet isn't only culprit for high cholesterol

Bryn Mawr Hospital June 24, 2015 General Wellness

HDL-cholesterol being marked off on a formEarlier this year, the nation’s top nutrition advisory panel made a change to its decades-long warning about the risks of too much cholesterol. After years of cautioning people about the dangers of eating too many cholesterol-heavy foods like eggs and shellfish, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee found that too much dietary cholesterol was no longer a public health concern.

With news of cholesterol’s seemingly unimportant role, many might be left wondering: why worry about cholesterol at all?

“Although there isn’t as much of a concern about dietary sources of cholesterol, your cholesterol levels are still important indicators of heart health, and should be regularly monitored and kept under control,” explains Howard Kramer, MD, Lankenau Heart Institute cardiologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

Ignoring your cholesterol levels can put your health at serious risk. Although you may not have to worry about avoiding cholesterol-heavy foods like dairy, meat and eggs anymore, these aren’t the only culprit for high cholesterol. Genetic history, obesity, excessive alcohol intake, smoking, inactivity and diabetes can all increase your risk.

When one or more of these risk factors is present, it can lead to a build-up of cholesterol in your arteries, which reduces blood flow and can cause complications like chest pain, heart attack and stroke.

So, how can you take control of your cholesterol risk? Start by looking outside your diet.

“Quitting smoking, limiting the number of alcoholic drinks you have each week, and exercising regularly are three things you can do to benefit your overall health, including controlling your cholesterol levels,” says Dr. Kramer. “There’s little you can do to change your genetic history, but making lifestyle changes now can reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke later in life.”

And although dietary cholesterol may not be as much of a concern as it once was, don’t look at your diet as a free-for-all. Continue to focus on a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables and lean meats and avoid foods that are high in saturated fat or trans fats, like animal products, cookies and crackers.

Finally, although your genetic risk may not be controllable, you can still manage your high cholesterol with the help of your physician. During annual visits with your cardiologist or primary care physician, monitor your cholesterol levels, and discuss what you can do between visits to help keep your cholesterol levels at a safe and healthy range for you.

With four hospitals and many community cardiology sites throughout the region—including Lankenau Medical Center, Bryn Mawr Hospital, Paoli Hospital and Riddle Hospital—Lankenau Heart Institute‘s team of cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons and sub-specialists seamlessly integrate prevention, diagnostics, treatment, rehabilitation and disease management into one uncompromising service. Visit our website to learn more about the Lankenau Heart Institute.