Cholesterol: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly | VA Washington DC Healthcare

September is National Cholesterol Education Month and the Washington DC VA Medical Center is raising awareness about the importance of monitoring your cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in every cell in your body. It does three vital jobs: producing sex hormones (testosterone and progesterone), creating bile to help the liver break down fat into fatty acids, and serving as the building block for human tissue.

To perform essential tasks, your body produces 80% of the cholesterol it needs. The remaining 20% ​​goes through animal by-products like eggs, cheese or meat. Washington DC VA Medical Center director of clinical nutrition, Shraddha Pawar, MS, RDN, said cholesterol is divided into two types, good and bad, to help explain how to manage both through lifestyle choices. .

“Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) circulate in the blood, moving cholesterol to where it is needed for cellular repair. It’s considered bad cholesterol, even though it’s necessary because too much of it can be dangerous,” Pawar said. “High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are considered good cholesterol because they help move bad cholesterol to the liver where it is broken down and flushed out of your body.”

Too much bad cholesterol can cause plaque to build up in the arteries, causing them to narrow and restrict blood flow. It can lead to heart attack, heart disease and more. Understanding what factors cause high cholesterol can help you mitigate your risk of developing these life-threatening conditions.

The most common risk factors for high cholesterol include:

  • Consuming too much saturated fat (found in fatty meat, butter, lard, whole dairy products)
  • Consuming too much trans fat (found in packaged snacks or desserts)
  • A body mass index of 30 or more
  • Lack of exercise (exercise helps improve levels of good cholesterol)
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Family history of heart disease

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that you start monitoring your cholesterol levels early in life, including children and adolescents. If any of the above risk factors apply to you, talk to your doctor about developing a plan to monitor and prevent high cholesterol.

Here are some ways to manage cholesterol levels at home:

  • Increase daily exercise (allow 30-60 minutes)
  • Weight loss if you are considered overweight or obese
  • Stay well hydrated (try to consume 8 glasses of water or sugar-free fluids daily)
  • Adopt a healthier diet
  • Cut our tobacco products

Diet changes can have the biggest impact on your cholesterol levels and improve all of your bodily functions. Pawar recommends seeing a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), to help you gain the knowledge to separate facts from fads and develop a healthier diet you can sustain.

“We have specialized training to provide medical nutrition therapy and we work with your health care team to prevent your risk of disease,” Pawar said. “We can empower you to take charge of your health and live your life to the fullest with a holistic approach to health and evidence-based nutrition information you can use.”

While RDNs are the food and nutrition experts, Pawar reminds veterans that they are still human and understand the challenges that come with lifestyle changes.

“You’re going to have days where you grab a bag of chips or eat too much desert,” Pawar said. I know because I do too. “We have all slipped on our journey to a healthier lifestyle. The important thing is that you get up and keep going. »

To learn more about cholesterol testing and monitoring through your local VA primary care provider, visit: High Cholesterol – National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (

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