According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 102 million American adults have high cholesterol. Of these, 35 million have cholesterol levels that are at 240 mg/dL or higher, which puts them at risk for heart disease.

Even though we see ads all the time about ways in which we can lower our cholesterol, many of us still don’t know a lot about how it works.

For example, did you know that there’s good cholesterol and bad cholesterol? Or, what about genes? Is high cholesterol genetic?

If you’re looking to learn more about cholesterol, you’ve come to the right place.

Read on to learn the answers to the top FAQs about cholesterol

1. What is Cholesterol?

First things first, what exactly is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty-like substance that is found in the body as well as in some foods. While your body needs cholesterol to function properly, too much cholesterol can lead to clogged arteries.

After a while, these cholesterol deposits can narrow the pathways in your arteries, putting you at an increased risk for heart disease and stroke.

2. How Do You Know if You Have High Cholesterol?

Many Americans have no idea that they have high cholesterol levels. This is because high cholesterol typically doesn’t have any symptoms.

However, your doctor can perform a simple blood test to check your cholesterol levels. If you do find out that you have high cholesterol, you can control your levels through lifestyle changes (ie, diet and exercise) as well as medication.

Because high cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, it’s very important that you get your levels checked.

3. How Often Should You Get Your Cholesterol Checked?

The American Heart Association recommends that you get your cholesterol levels checked once every five years if you are age 20 or older.

Additionally, you should get your cholesterol checked more frequently if you have one of the following risk factors for heart disease:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of high cholesterol

The blood test your doctor administers is called a lipoprotein profile. This test will measure your levels of LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) and HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol).

4. Is High Cholesterol Genetic?

We know that there are certain risk factors that can lead to high cholesterol, such as smoking and high blood pressure. But, is high cholesterol genetic?

While 1 in 3 people have high cholesterol, only 1 in 300 people have what’s known as familial hypercholesterolemia. This is a rare condition that allows your cholesterol levels to build up regardless of your weight, diet, and exercise.

Anyone who has the 1 of 1500 gene variants that cause this condition has a 50 percent chance of passing the gene onto their children. If you do inherit this condition, it begins at birth. If left untreated, you could experience a heart attack at an early age.

Luckily, this condition is very treatable. In fact, the treatment for the condition is the same as the treatment for anyone with high cholesterol. That is, you should follow a low-fat diet, exercise regularly, and take medication if necessary.

However, even if you don’t have this genetic condition, you can still inherit a predisposition for high cholesterol or for its developing risk factors. Additionally, you may pick up your parents’ lifestyle habits that promote high cholesterol, even if it’s not in your genes.

5. Good vs Bad Cholesterol: What’s the Difference?

So, what’s the difference between good cholesterol and bad cholesterol?

Bad cholesterol is referred to as LDL, or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Good cholesterol is referred to as HDL, or high-density lipoprotein.

LDL cholesterol is considered bad because it leads to the build-up of plaque in your arteries. As we mentioned earlier, if there’s too much plaque build-up, your arteries will become constricted, which may lead to a stroke or heart attack.

HDL cholesterol is considered good because it removes LDL cholesterol from your blood and blocks it from building up in your arteries.

It’s important to get both your LDL and HDL levels tested. In general, healthy cholesterol levels are below 200 mg/dL.

For LDL cholesterol, anything about 190 is considered a risk factor for a heart attack. For HDL, anything below 40 is considered a risk factor. Ideally, you want your HDL levels to be above 60.

6. What Can I Do to Lower My Cholesterol Levels?

As we mentioned earlier, simple lifestyle changes can help you lower your cholesterol levels. Here are some things you can do:

  • Eat foods with less cholesterol, saturated fat, and fat
  • Take off the skin from poultry, meat, and fish
  • Avoid fried foods and instead opt for foods that have been broiled, baked, roasted, or poached
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables each day
  • Eat whole-grain versions of cereal, pasta, rice, and bread
  • Get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day
  • Lose weight if you’re overweight
  • Quit smoking
  • Take cholesterol medication as prescribed by your doctor (you can learn more here about medications that can treat high cholesterol)

Additionally, you should eat red meat, egg yolks, and whole milk dairy products sparingly, as these can cause your cholesterol levels to go up.

7. Can Children and Adolescents Have High Cholesterol?

Adults aren’t the only ones who have to worry about high cholesterol levels. Children and adolescents can also experience high cholesterol.

In fact, in the US, over 20% of children between the ages of 12 and 19 have at least one abnormal lipid level. Your child should have their cholesterol checked starting at the age of 2 if:

  • They’re overweight or obese
  • There’s a family history of high cholesterol
  • There’s a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or other chronic conditions

Luckily, just like adults, children and adolescents can lower their cholesterol levels through proper diet and exercise.

Are You Ready to Get Your Cholesterol in Check?

Now that we’ve answered the question, “Is high cholesterol genetic?”, it’s time to focus on getting your cholesterol in check.

Be sure to check back in with our blog for more healthy living tips and tricks.

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