Firefly Stories

The Many Health Benefits of Fiber

by Firefly team

Published April 1, 2024

It gets a bad rap, but cholesterol isn't always the villain. Your body actually needs cholesterol to survive and perform essential functions, such as building cells and making hormones. But, as is often the case, too much of a good thing can be bad for your health. Because high cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, we’re breaking down the facts on cholesterol below.

What is cholesterol, anyway?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made in the liver and found in certain foods from animals, such as dairy products, eggs, and meat. But not all cholesterol is bad! Here are some terms your clinician might mention if you get a cholesterol test:

  • Total cholesterol: The total amount of different types of cholesterol in your blood
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): This is the "bad" cholesterol. LDL transports cholesterol particles throughout your body. Think of your blood vessels like pipes. If you have too much LDL cholesterol in your blood, you can develop fatty deposits in the walls of your blood vessels. These blockages clog your arteries, making them hard and narrow and prevent blood from moving freely throughout your body. What’s more, cholesterol deposits can break off suddenly, forming a clot that causes a heart attack or stroke.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL): HDL, or "good" cholesterol, picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to your liver.
  • Triglycerides: While triglycerides are not cholesterol (they’re actually another type of fat), they often get measured when cholesterol is measured. Having high triglycerides also seems to increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and pancreatitis.

It’s important to ask your clinician what your cholesterol numbers should be because it differs from patient to patient. In general, people who do not already have heart disease should aim to have:

How do I know if I have high cholesterol?

High cholesterol doesn't have any symptoms, so you may not know if you have it. To get a handle on your cholesterol levels, your doctor will need to perform a simple blood test called a lipoprotein profile, or cholesterol panel. Most healthy adults should have their cholesterol checked every 4 to 6 years. If you have either a personal or family history of heart disease or diabetes, you will need to get your cholesterol checked more often.

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Stop it before it starts.

When it comes to high cholesterol, the best treatment is prevention. Since high cholesterol is often the result of your lifestyle choices, there are ways you can help keep it in check by simply making healthy lifestyle choices.

The best treatment for high cholesterol is prevention. This includes eating healthy foods, moving your body, and managing stress.

Research has also shown that some dietary supplements, like red yeast rice and omega-3 fatty acid supplements, might help lower cholesterol, but there is little evidence showing that supplements can help prevent heart attacks, strokes, or any of the problems caused by high cholesterol. Always talk to your clinician before starting any new supplements to ensure that they’ll be an effective treatment and that they won’t interact with your existing medications.

While cleaning up your diet and certain supplements can improve cholesterol levels, some people can’t manage their cholesterol through lifestyle changes alone. That’s when medications may be necessary. The most commonly prescribed medications for high cholesterol are commonly called “statins”. These block your liver from producing more cholesterol. For people who cannot take statins, medications called cholesterol absorption inhibitors are another option.

Consult your Firefly team

Virtual primary care allows you to take back control of your health at your convenience, including managing your high cholesterol. Be sure to reach out to your care team with any questions through the Firefly app.