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Cholesterol Awareness - The Silent Killer

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What does it mean when someone says, “I am watching my cholesterol?”  Who is at the greatest risk for high cholesterol?  What is the difference between good and bad cholesterol?  How do you control your cholesterol numbers?

These questions are asked by people of all ages.  It is important to understand how cholesterol levels affect your health.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics indicate that approximately one in every six adults or 16.3% of the U.S. adult population has high cholesterol.  High cholesterol doubles your risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S.

In conjunction with September being nationally recognized as Cholesterol Awareness Month, Memorial Medical Center - Livingston is answering many of the questions area residents have about cholesterol.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance produced by the liver.  Most cholesterol is made in the body.  Only a small portion comes from the food we eat.  However, the amount of cholesterol produced by the liver is related to the type of foods we eat.  Animal-based foods such as meat, eggs and dairy products are high in saturated fat which increases production of cholesterol.  Fruits, vegetables, grains and any plant type foods do not contain cholesterol or cause your body to produce more cholesterol.

Although we need high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol for our bodies to function properly, too much low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol excessively circulates in the blood clogging blood vessels and increasing the risk for heart disease and stroke. 

Commonly, HDL is referred to as the “happy” cholesterol number.  Healthy levels of HDL protect against heart attacks and stroke.  “We want to see high levels of HDL in the blood,” said Dr. Sandra Hutchison, Family Practice Physician for Memorial Multi-Specialty Center.  “Exercising or 30 minutes of physical activity per day is the best way to increase HDL levels.”

LDL is known as the lousy cholesterol.  Patients with a LDL level over 160 are at increased risk for health complications such as heart attack, stroke, peripheral artery disease and loss of vision, along with others.  A reduction in this number comes from dietary changes; or, sometimes medication is the only option in controlling the levels.

“Health status and hereditary genetics may vary cholesterol levels as to what is appropriate for the individual patient.  Ideally, a person’s total cholesterol should remain below 200 ml/dl (milligrams per deciliter),” stated Dr. Hutchison.

Many factors determine a person’s risk of developing high cholesterol levels.  More women than men have high cholesterol.  In men, the age group with the largest percentage is 35-54 years old.  However, the majority of women tend to be older, 55-74, before experiencing cholesterol issues.  Cholesterol can be hereditary and genetic make-up can determine cholesterol levels.

All adults should have their cholesterol levels checked once every five years.  A simple blood test for a patient who is at least 8 hours fasting is the only way to determine cholesterol levels.

Education and healthy choices are making a difference in reducing the number of Americans living with high cholesterol.  The 21st century averages 16.3% of adults with increased cholesterol which is down from 33% during the 1960’s.  The H.C. Polk Education Center at Memorial is a good resource for education on the relationship between elevated cholesterol levels and diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease.  Programs such as the Memorial Cooking Innovations, which can be viewed online at, offer patients education on proper food selections and preparations.

“Along with genetics, daily eating and activity habits dictate our health.  Abnormal cholesterol levels can mean lifetime lifestyle changes, whether it’s changing eating habits, the types of food or the way it is prepared, or needing medications.  Once patients begin treatment with cholesterol medication, they must take it for life.  Elevated cholesterol is not something that can be fixed and then return to former habits.  Controlling cholesterol is important for reducing life-threatening health risks,” stated Dr. Hutchison. 


About Memorial Health System of East Texas

As the largest health care system in the deep East Texas area, Memorial Health System of East Texas is a private, not-for-profit hospital that provides care to almost a quarter of a million patients each year.  Since its inception in 1949, Memorial Health System has paved the way for quality, innovative health care in East Texas.  In fact, Memorial consistently ranks among the nation’s best for exceptional health care and patient satisfaction. 


Memorial Health System of East Texas is comprised of four hospitals—Memorial Medical Center—Lufkin, Memorial Medical Center—Livingston, Memorial Medical Center—San Augustine, and Memorial Specialty Hospital, the only rural long-term acute care facility within the area.  Memorial offers a wide array of services, including the newly renovated Arthur Temple, Sr. Regional Cancer Center, which has earned another three-year accreditation with commendation from the Commission on Cancer.  Additionally, Memorial is a regional cardiac care center affiliated with the Methodist-DeBakey Heart Center in Houston.  The hospital also is known for providing the area’s only comprehensive diabetes center—The Horace C. Polk Regional Diabetes Center.  Other centers of excellence include the Temple Imaging Center that offers some of the most advanced procedures in the area, including PET/CT scanning for cancer and Alzheimer’s, 64 Slice CT scanning, Open Bore MRI, 4D Ultrasound, and digital mammography. Other specialty areas include Orthopedic care, Women’s Services, Inpatient and Outpatient Rehabilitation, Homecare, Wound and Hyperbaric Therapy, Kidney & Diabetes Treatment, Sleep Disorders Treatment, and Express Lab. Memorial Health System of East Texas—founded and funded by the people it serves. 

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