Approximately 44 percent of women over the age of 20 have elevated or high cholesterol. Although many of us are well-versed in the benefits of maintaining a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and keeping up to date with doctors’ visits, cholesterol is often an afterthought. In fact, 76 percent of women say they don’t even know what their cholesterol values are.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that’s found in cells throughout the body. It circulates through blood by binding to substances called lipoproteins. Cholesterol is either produced by the liver or from food sources—often animal products.
Our bodies need a certain amount of cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids that help us break down food. But when cholesterol levels get too high, this can be problematic and contribute to health problems such as coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis.
When we talk about cholesterol, we often hear the terms HDL and LDL, both of which are lipoproteins. Here’s what you need to know about each.
This stands for high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol. HDL carries cholesterol from the arteries to the liver, then it’s removed from the body. Healthy levels of HDL may protect your body against heart attack and stroke, but HDL levels that are too low can increase the risk of heart disease.
This stands for low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol. High levels of LDL can contribute to harmful plaque accumulation in your arteries, which can narrow your blood vessels, lead to blood clots, and raise your risk of stroke, heart attack, and other harmful conditions. Ideally, aim for LDL levels under 100 mg.
Is Cholesterol a Concern Among Women?
It’s a common misunderstanding that only men need to worry about their cholesterol levels, but this isn’t true. In fact, cholesterol levels often rise among women around menopause.
Before menopause, estrogen often plays a protective role in terms of raising HDL or “good” cholesterol levels. But the picture changes when menopause arrives—typically HDL (or “good”) cholesterol levels drop, and LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol levels rise, along with overall cholesterol levels. It’s important to have your cholesterol levels checked if you are going through menopause or nearing it so that you can be aware of these changing levels. This is important even if other factors in your life—like diet and exercise—remain consistent. Cholesterol levels are assessed with a blood test. Levels can often be managed with a healthy diet, exercise, not smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight, and/or medication.
If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Women’s Health Arizona. As Arizona’s largest ObGyn group, we’re trained and solely dedicated to delivering the best ObGyn experience in convenient and comfortable settings around Phoenix.