New Jersey -- These days, we hear so much about cholesterol and the importance of knowing your “numbers,” but do we really understand what cholesterol is and how it affects our bodies?

In February, Barnabas Health’s Home Health Care Services and Hospice and Palliative Care Centers celebrate American Heart Month — a great time to learn about how keeping your cholesterol in check can keep you and your heart healthy.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in the bloodstream and cells. The amount of cholesterol in the body is based on your genes and the food you eat. Seventy-five percent of cholesterol is produced naturally by the body and is used to fortify cell membranes and serve other bodily functions. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, then your body is more likely to produce a more than normal amount. The other 25% of cholesterol comes from the food you eat. Eating foods with saturated fat, trans fats and dietary cholesterol also increases the amount of cholesterol you have.

There are two types of cholesterol: high density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol, and low density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol. Too much LDL cholesterol can cause build-up in the arteries leading to the heart and brain. This build-up can cause narrowing and hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), which can cause a heart attack or stroke. On the other hand, too little HDL cholesterol can cause harm. Medical experts believe that this “good” cholesterol helps rid the body of “bad” cholesterol.

Too much “bad” and too little “good” cholesterol can cause a host of issues including heart disease — the number one killer of men and women worldwide.

This is why many doctors emphasize the importance of knowing your “numbers,” which include your cholesterol levels along with your blood pressure and triglyceride levels.

The optimal “numbers” for cholesterol are as follows:

  • Total cholesterol: less than 200 mg/dL
  • LDL: less than 100 mg/dL
  • HDL: 50 mg/dL or higher

Understanding these numbers and setting a goal to reach them can keep you healthy and away from heart disease.

Health care professionals from Barnabas Health urge individuals to make the following lifestyle changes to help control and/or lower their cholesterol levels.

  • Eating a healthy and nutritious diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Quit smoking and/or avoid second-hand smoke

Unfortunately, taking these steps may not always solve the problem. Sometimes, people must take medications prescribed by their physician to lower their cholesterol and maintain it at an optimal level.  It is important to get your cholesterol screened and discuss with your doctor the steps you can take toward lowering your cholesterol.

Barnabas Health’s Home Health Care Services and Hospice and Palliative Care Centers provide comprehensive post-acute care services, including exceptional care for individuals recovering from or coping with an end-stage cardiac illness. For more information, please visit www.barnabashealth.org and choose the “Extended Care” tab.