September is National Cholesterol Education Month, an ideal time to have your blood cholesterol checked and to take action to lower it if it is high.

High blood cholesterol affects more than 65 million Americans and is a major risk factor for heart disease, the No. 1 killer of women and men in the United States. Many people don’t know their cholesterol is high since the condition usually doesn’t have any symptoms. However, a simple blood test can determine your cholesterol number.

If your cholesterol is too high, you can lower it by incorporating lifestyle changes that will lessen your risk for developing heart disease and reduce the chance of having a heart attack or dying of heart disease. If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, medication can help.

“Right at Home of Santa Barbara encourages you to have your blood cholesterol checked,” owner Larry Kreider said. “Your cholesterol number will tell you whether you should change your diet or become more active so you can continue to lead a long and healthy life.”

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance your body needs to function normally. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs, so when there is too much of it in your blood, it builds up on the walls of your arteries, causing them to narrow and slow blood flow to the heart. If enough blood, which carries oxygen, cannot reach your heart, you may suffer chest pain. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely blocked, the result is a heart attack.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends that you have your cholesterol checked every five years with a blood test, called a fasting lipoprotein profile. Compare your results with the following information:

» Total cholesterol — Less than 200 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood is desirable.

» Low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) — Less than 100 mg/dL is best. LDL is the main source of cholesterol buildup in the arteries; the higher your LDL level, the greater your chance of getting heart disease.

» High-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good” cholesterol) — 60 mg/dL or more is optimal. HDL helps keep cholesterol from building up in the arteries; the higher your HDL level, the lower your chance of getting heart disease.

» Triglycerides — 150 to 199 mg/dL is borderline high and 200 mg/dL is high. Triglycerides are another form of fat in your blood that can increase the risk of heart disease; if your level is borderline high or high, you may need treatment.

You can lower your cholesterol number by making these lifestyle changes:

» Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, which are low in fat and high in fiber.

» Maintain a healthy weight.

» Be physically active for 30 minutes on most, if not all, days.

» Don’t smoke, or quit if you smoke.

Factors you can’t control but also can affect your cholesterol number include:

» Age — Cholesterol increases with age.

» Gender — Before menopause, women have lower total cholesterol levels than men of the same age. After menopause, women’s LDL levels tend to rise.

» Heredity — Your genes partly determine how much cholesterol your body makes. High blood cholesterol can run in families.

— Larry Kreider is the owner of Right at Home of Santa Barbara. For more information, click here, call 805.962.0555 or e-mail