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The Basics of Cholesterol for Seniors

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The Basics of Cholesterol for Seniors

Fats, carbs, sugars and fiber. Those are just some words you might come across when you're trying to figure out what diet is right for you. Cholesterol is another one, and you might also have heard about the need to manage your cholesterol level from your medical provider. But with people throwing around terms like good and bad cholesterol — and the outlook on basic foods such as eggs changing many times in a lifetime — seniors might be confused about where they stand with cholesterol.

Residents of the Park Regency assisted living community in Loveland have a major advantage when it comes to dietary concerns. Nutritious meals and snacks are prepared for them by professional staff, making it easier to manage a healthy diet. And staff is on hand to answer questions about nutritional concerns.

But whether you're living a vibrant life in an assisted living community or still caring for each meal yourself, it's important to understand the basics of something as important as cholesterol. Read on to find out what you need to know.

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that's naturally found inside the human body. And as much as it gets a bad rap, cholesterol is actually necessary for your body to function normally. Some things cholesterol helps your body do include:

Digest food

Make hormones that regulate body functions

Make vitamin D

Where Does Cholesterol Come From?

Your body actually makes cholesterol. A healthy body doesn't need assistance getting enough cholesterol, as it will create what it needs to function properly.

Cholesterol is also in some foods, especially those that come from certain animal sources. That's because cholesterol is also naturally found in animal bodies. Yogurt, meat, cheese and eggs are all common foods that contain some cholesterol.

Types of Cholesterol

You have probably heard about good and bad cholesterol. That's a simplification, but the basic concept is that "good" cholesterol helps remove other cholesterol from your body. "Bad" cholesterol, on the other hand, can build up in your bloodstream and lead to plaque. Plague clogs your arteries and can have unhealthy consequences for your cardiovascular system.

But the story on good and bad cholesterol goes a little deeper. Cholesterol moves through your body in the form of lipoproteins, which are combinations of fat and protein. There are three major types: HDL, LDL and VLDL.

HDL is the "good" cholesterol. It carries other forms of cholesterol away, keeping it from building up in your arteries or other areas of your body. HDL carries cholesterol into the liver, and your liver takes it from there to rid your body of the excess cholesterol.

LDL and VLDL, however, are the "bad" cholesterol. They like to hang around areas of your body, forming plaque and clogging up arteries.

To be healthy, you need enough cholesterol in your body to perform critical functions. But you can have too much LDL or VLDL cholesterol. Around 60% of cholesterol in a body is typically LDL, which is the one that most people have to watch.

What Can Increase Your Risk of High Cholesterol?

Some people think cholesterol is only something you have to worry about as you age, and others believe this is primarily a concern for men. The American Heart Association covers several common cholesterol myths and misconceptions. According to the AHA, people of any age and gender can deal with issues surrounding cholesterol. And while diet and exercise play an important role in managing cholesterol levels, heredity, age, weight and other lifestyle choices can also increase your risk.

Here are some things that can increase your risk of high cholesterol but that you have control over and can change.

Smoking tobacco has been shown to lower your natural "good" cholesterol and potentially raise your "bad" cholesterol. That's a bad combination, since it means more of that bad cholesterol will stick around where it's not wanted.

Unhealthy eating is a common reason for high cholesterol. Saturated fat is a big promoter of cholesterol, and it's common in chocolate, baked goods and processed foods such as frozen meals or chips. It's also found in some dairy products and meats. Trans fats are also something that can drive up cholesterol, and they're common in fried foods.

A sedentary lifestyle can lower your "good" cholesterol, making regular exercise important.

Ask Your Health Care Provider About Cholesterol

Many experts recommend that older adults have their cholesterol checked every one to two years. Your doctor can order a lab test that involves a simple blood draw. The results of the test let your provider know whether your various types of cholesterol fall within normal limits. At that time, your doctor can provide you with instructions for best managing cholesterol and let you know if you might be a candidate for medications that help lower cholesterol levels alongside healthy eating and exercise habits.

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