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Dr. Glenn Davison, St. Luke's Hospital

Managing cholesterol is important in order to prevent heart disease

When you hear the term "heart disease," what is your first reaction? Like many women, you may think, "That's a man's disease." But here's the truth... Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. It is also a leading cause of disability among women.

Coronary heart disease is the most common form of heart disease. Usually referred to simply as "heart disease," it is a disorder of the blood vessels of the heart that can lead to a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when an artery becomes blocked, preventing oxygen and nutrients from getting to the heart.

It is important to realize that heart disease is a lifelong condition; once you get it, you'll always have it. What's more, the condition of your blood vessels will steadily worsen unless you make changes in your daily habits. That's why it is so vital to take action now to prevent this disease.

The good news is that heart disease is a problem you can do something about. One of the risk factors women have some control over is cholesterol. Women are good producers of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), at least in their childbearing years, which helps. HDL is called "good" cholesterol because it helps remove cholesterol from the blood. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is often called "bad" cholesterol because too much LDL in your blood can lead to blockages in the arteries - and a possible heart attack. The higher your LDL number, the higher your risk for heart disease.

As women get older and enter into their postmenopausal years, their overall levels of cholesterol tend to rise as well as their risk for heart disease. There are a number of ways to lower your cholesterol including through your diet. Some foods deliver high amounts of fiber, which binds to cholesterol and helps remove it from the body, while others contain sterols and stanols, which help the body defend against cholesterol. Try eating more oats, whole grains, beans, nuts, apples, grapes, strawberries, citrus fruits and fatty fish to help defend against high cholesterol. Women should also limit their intake of saturated fats and trans fats when possible. And, of course, try to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.

Dr. Glenn Davison is a cardiologist at St. Luke's Hospital. For more information on a lipid management program that helps manage cholesterol, call 314-205-6060.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on April 5, 2012.