Cholesterol and Women: Debunking the Myths
Author: Moriah Shemer
Cholesterol is a waxy fat found in the human body and transported in the blood. About 80% of cholesterol in humans is made internally by the liver, while the other 20% comes from consumption of foods.
In the body, cholesterol combines with protein to create lipoproteins. These include high-density lipoproteins (HDL), considered "good" cholesterol, and low-density lipoproteins (LDL), considered "bad" cholesterol. High amounts of this bad cholesterol clog up the blood vessels, often leading to heart disease and stroke.
Just as affected
Many women believe that cholesterol is a man's problem and should not be of great concern to them. However, according to the American Heart Association, more than 51 million women have high cholesterol. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in American women, killing more women than all cancers combined.
The myth may stem from fact that women generally possess high levels of high-density lipoproteins before menopause. As the healthy cholesterol, HDL carries excess low-density lipoproteins from the blood system to be excreted in the liver. The female sex hormone estrogen raises the HDL level, making heart disease less likely for premenopausal women. However, this advantage is lost as they reach menopause. Older women should consider themselves just as much at risk as men, especially if they are overweight and/or physically inactive.
Hormone replacement not a solution
The fact that estrogen increases HDL and lowers LDL led many to believe that hormone replacement therapy could be a viable anti-cholesterol tactic. However, in recent years this view has continuously been challenged. Studies such as the Estrogen Replacement and Atherosclerosis Trial and the Heart and Estrogen/progestin Replacement Study have shown that hormone replacement is less effective than statin drugs in improving cholesterol levels. Results also showed that there is no clear cardiac benefit and that in the first year, this treatment may in fact increase the chance of heart disease.
Hormone replacement therapy is not considered safe and has been additionally linked to cancer. As of now, there is absolutely no compelling reason to use it to fight cholesterol. Other remedies should be chosen.
Danger of heart attacks
Another element that goes unrecognized among some women is the deadliness of heart attacks. Many men have heart attacks earlier in life than women and recover, which may have led to the formation of this myth. However, statistics show that 38 percent of women are likely to die in the year following their first heart attack, compared to 25% of men. Women are also twice as likely to become disabled or suffer a second attack within six years.
Your cholesterol profile
A fourth myth lies behind the focus on lowering the harmful LDL, while little attention is paid to maintaining high levels of the helpful HDL. In fact, studies have shown that for women, low HDL levels are the biggest indicator of future problems with cholesterol. Many women with reasonable LDL levels have found themselves facing cholesterol-related conditions due to lack of HDL to clean the blood vessels. Women are generally encouraged to maintain an HDL level of 50 mg/dL.
It is also important to watch the level of triglycerides, another form of fat found in the body that can be just as detrimental as LDL. Triglycerides are particularly powerful in women and have frequently been overlooked. Women should make sure to follow their full blood fat profile, including the HDL and LDL levels, the ratio between the two and the triglyceride level.
It's up to you
Today's diagnostic tests for clogged vessels are less effective for women, since they look for large blockages. Women tend to have plaque spread more evenly along the vessel walls. They also often lack some of the traditional, more noticeable symptoms of clogged arteries, such as chest pain and difficulty breathing.
Preventive action is vital for those who want to stay healthy. Women must aggressively pursue information and testing. They must take care to avoid foods that are rich in saturated fats and trans fatty acids, and they must keep active. Half an hour of walking or swimming a day goes a long way.
Lifestyle factors are said to account for 80% of heart disease among women. Equipped with an understanding of the dangers of cholesterol and a proactive commitment to avoiding them, women should be well on their way to a healthier, longer life.
About the author:
Moriah Shemer works for Chris & Tal's Better Foods, a food innovation company focused on crafting no compromise, guilt-free versions of your favorite foods. By combining lean meat with high-grade textured soy protein, our products deliver the best of both worlds. Visit us at http://www.betterfoods.ca.
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