Chances are you’ve heard of cholesterol before. We often hear that it can be good or bad, dangerous, or too high. But how often do we hear about why cholesterol is so important?
Cholesterol Problems Kill Black Americans Every Day
A staggering 24.3% of Black Americans over the age of 20 have high blood cholesterol. This is alarming because high blood cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis, which raises the risk for deadly health conditions, like:
- Heart disease
- - the leading cause of death in Americans.
- the fifth leading cause of death in all Americans.
Black Americans typically have higher total cholesterol levels than Whites. Also, Black Americans between the ages of 18 and 49 are twice as likely to die from heart disease than Whites. Therefore, reducing the incidence of atherosclerosis
What is Cholesterol?
Now that you understand the negative effect that cholesterol has on us as Black Americans, let’s get to the root of the issue. We will start by defining cholesterol and learning about its role in our bodies.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that helps build cell walls in your body. It also plays a part in the production of hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids that help to digest dietary fat. As you may have gathered thus far, cholesterol contributes to the natural functioning of the human body. Without cholesterol, your body would not be able to function effectively.
Digestion and Cholesterol
Once digestion has taken place, fatty molecules are absorbed in the intestines. The fat is then delivered to the rest of the body to be either used immediately or stored in fat cells for future use. The first stop is the liver, where the fat is split into cholesterol and triglycerides.
Once this transformation occurs, the two types of fat are packed into lipoproteins. These vehicles transport the fat throughout the body via the bloodstream.
HDL and LDL: Good vs. Bad Cholesterol
You may have heard of high-density lipoproteins, better known as HDL, and low-density lipoproteins known as LDL. These are different kinds of lipoproteins, or cholesterol vehicles, that help transport fat molecules through your body. In this section, we will fill you in on both types of cholesterol.
LDL is the Problem
When there is an overabundance of LDL in your bloodstream, problems arise. LDL vehicles can deposit cholesterol plaques in your arteries and lead to narrowing blood vessels. This makes it difficult for blood to flow to essential organs. This is called atherosclerosis.
Should cholesterol build up and block the arteries providing blood to the heart, this could result in heart disease or limited blood flow to the brain, causing a stroke.
HDL is the Solution
Not all cholesterol is bad. HDL, commonly known as “good cholesterol,” collects the bad cholesterol and takes it back to the liver. This reduces the possibility of plaque buildup in your arteries. HDL also increases blood flow to essential organs.
What Can We Do?
A normal total cholesterol level for adults is less than 200 mg/dL. In 2015–2016, more than 12% of Black American adults age 20 and older had total cholesterol higher than 240 mg/dL, which is considered risky. Though cholesterol is not the only cause of heart disease, it is a major contributing factor. As a result, Black Americans must do what they can to keep their cholesterol under control.
How are healthy cholesterol levels maintained?
- A healthy, high-fiber diet
- Cardiovascular exercise
- Smoking cessation
A condition like high cholesterol can be managed if a person takes action to reduce risk factors. Consult your physician for more information about lowering your cholesterol levels.