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High cholesterol basics
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Expert Opinion: Cholesterol
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High cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease, one of the leading causes of death in Canada. But effective cholesterol treatment saves lives. Whether you want to learn more about high cholesterol, have high cholesterol but do not take medication, or have high cholesterol and take medication, you've come to the right place!
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What is high cholesterol?

Basically, high cholesterol means that the cholesterol level in your bloodstream puts you at an increased risk of developing heart disease.

How high is too high? This depends on your risk of developing heart disease. For people at a low risk of developing heart disease, cholesterol levels higher than 5 mmol/L (or 194 mg/dL in American units*) are considered high enough to require treatment. People with a higher risk of developing heart disease may need treatment at even lower cholesterol levels.

Talk to your doctor about whether you need treatment for high cholesterol, and if so, which treatment is right for you.

* To convert from Canadian to American units, multiply Canadian values by 38.7 to get American values. To convert the other way, divide the American units by 38.7 to get the Canadian values.

Where does cholesterol come from?

Our liver makes about 80% of the cholesterol that appears in our blood; the rest comes from our diet.

Many foods contain small amounts of cholesterol, but saturated fats and trans fats in our diet have the greatest impact on blood cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are usually found in meat and dairy products. That's why it is important to look not only at cholesterol levels in foods, but also at how much saturated fats the foods contain.

Although a small number of people can eat a diet high in saturated fats and keep their cholesterol levels under control, most people need to eat foods lower in fat to keep cholesterol at a healthy level.

The production of cholesterol in your liver is affected by your family history (genetics) and how your liver functions. This means that your diet and lifestyle are not the only things causing high cholesterol levels. Your risk of high cholesterol also increases with age.

Is cholesterol all bad?

Your body needs some cholesterol for healthy functioning. Cholesterol is used to make the building blocks of the body (cells) and hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers that help the body's cells communicate. For example, the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone are made in the body from cholesterol.

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