The most accurate test to determine your cholesterol requires fasting for 12 to 14 hours before a blood sample is taken. Fasting is necessary because triglyceride levels--one component of your total cholesterol count--can change dramatically after a meal. Some health-care professionals say you can drink black coffee and water during a fasting period. Others say water only during fasting. Ask your health-care professional. Or to be on the safe side, stick with water.
Testing Your Cholesterol Level
A blood test is used to determine your cholesterol level. There are several different tests that can be run, but a fasting blood test is considered by many to be the most accurate. In a fasting blood test, your total cholesterol, HDL and triglycerides are measured directly and your LDL is calculated using a formula. Fasting for 12 hours is necessary because it eliminates the effects of a single meal on your test results. Proper fasting means no food or alcohol for 12 hours, only water and possibly black coffee with no cream or sugar. There are no widely published data on the effects of drinking black coffee within the 12-hour fasting period on cholesterol test results.
Your Cholesterol Count
High-density lipoprotein or HDL is a protein that carries cholesterol in the bloodstream to the liver. It is then passed harmlessly from the body. HDL is known as good cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein or LDL is the protein that can deposit cholesterol in artery walls. It is often referred to as bad cholesterol. Triglycerides, another component of your total cholesterol count, are a form of fat that is typically associated with high bad cholesterol.
Understanding Your Test Results
The American Heart Association publishes recommended levels for total cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglycerides. However, it's important to understand the results of your cholesterol test in the context of your overall health and hereditary risk factors. Your physician can explain your test results in light of your family health history and recommend an appropriate treatment, if any.
Why High Cholesterol Can Be Dangerous
Cholesterol is manufactured by your body's liver and carried in your bloodstream to cells throughout your body by proteins. While it's important to your health, the body makes all the cholesterol you need. Your cholesterol level can be too high if you are eating foods with lots of cholesterol, mainly foods with high levels of saturated fats such as red meat, dairy and eggs. When your cholesterol level is too high, it can build up in the walls of your blood vessels and may eventually restrict blood flow causing a heart attack or stroke.
Lowering Your Cholesterol
Adopt a healthy lifestyle--that's the first step to take to lower your cholesterol. Limit the amount of saturated fat that you eat. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Exercise regularly. Maintain a healthy weight. In three to six months, a healthy lifestyle change may lower your cholesterol. If it doesn't, your physician may recommend medication to manage your cholesterol.
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