September is National Cholesterol Education Month; know the health facts

Published 12:04 am Thursday, September 21, 2023

September is National Cholesterol Education Month, and CHRISTUS Health is spreading awareness about the importance and dangers of cholesterol and its impact on cardiac health and overall health.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that comes from two sources: Your liver and food. The liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs, but eating fatty foods can cause an increase.

Cholesterol circulates in the blood, and excess levels of cholesterol can lead to blockages, contributing to heart disease and stroke, said Dr. Hector Ceccoli, cardiologist with CHRISTUS Heart and Vascular Institute.

“In patients with cardiovascular disease or those that are high risk, we are more aggressively treating cholesterol because lowering cholesterol has been shown to significantly decrease incidents of heart attacks and strokes,” Ceccoli said.

He added that it is important for people to understand that cholesterol comes in two forms – the “good” HDL and the “bad” LDL.

HDL cholesterol carries LDL away from arteries and back to the liver. Too much LDL contributes to buildup in the arteries.

Foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and seafood contain “good” cholesterol, while full-fat dairy products, sugary drinks and red meat contain “bad” cholesterol.

“It really is that simple: We want to increase the good and decrease the bad,” Ceccoli said.

“There is no surgical option for cholesterol, so we really emphasize lifestyle changes like exercise, diet and weight loss, and if necessary, medications.”

Dr. Hong Vu, an internal medicine physician with CHRISTUS Trinity Clinic, encourages adult patients to have their cholesterol checked every five years.

He recommends that patients with a family history of heart disease or diabetes, and patients battling obesity, get checked more often.

“Most people who have high cholesterol experience no symptoms. You may not even know it is an issue until something bad happens,” Vu said. “That is why it is so important to get screened, so we can start to treat the problem before it becomes a bigger problem.”

In addition to lifestyle changes, medications like statins can be prescribed to treat high cholesterol. Statins disrupt the production of cholesterol by blocking a specific enzyme inside cholesterol-producing liver cells. This results in less cholesterol being released into the bloodstream.

Patients are encouraged to speak with their health care provider about cholesterol and treatment options.

To find a provider, visit christushealth.org.