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February 28, 2006 > Cholesterol: One of Many Puzzle Pieces in Determining Risk for Heart Disease

Cholesterol: One of Many Puzzle Pieces in Determining Risk for Heart Disease

Get a Quick and Easy Screening at Your Local Clinic

by Washington Clinic

Over the years, cholesterol has developed a bad reputation, but most of us aren't exactly sure why it's bad. In fact, until the last couple of decades, researchers weren't quite sure how cholesterol worked either.

As it turns out, cholesterol as a whole isn't bad for you. It's more complex than that. But by educating yourself and taking the appropriate steps to manage your cholesterol levels, you may be able to reduce your chances of both heart disease and stroke. That's why it's a good idea to get your cholesterol checked and discuss it with a physician.

"Cholesterol is a normal substance that is produced in the body," explains Dr. Derek Jue, M.D., a family practice physician at Washington Clinic/Newark. "Our bodies produce cholesterol, but we also ingest it. We use it to produce certain essential hormones, but when there's an overproduction of cholesterol it can increase the chances of coronary heart disease."

Heart disease, which often affects the elderly, accounts for more deaths per year than any other disease, according to Dr. Jue. But the disease is not limited to the elderly and there are ways to help prevent it, allowing people to live longer, healthier lives.

Understanding cholesterol
When watching TV programs about cholesterol or heart health, you may hear medical professionals refer to "good" cholesterol and "bad" cholesterol. Your total cholesterol level is actually a combination of different fractionations or components, including low density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and triglyceride, according to Dr. Jue.

LDL, known as the "bad" cholesterol, can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain if there is too much present in the blood, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Together with other substances, it can form plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog those arteries, a condition called atherosclerosis. If a clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery, it can cause a heart attack or stroke.

"Your LDL level is the most significant factor we use to monitor your risk for heart disease," Dr. Jue says. "This is all about preventative medicine. Having your cholesterol checked is a simple procedure. We want to reduce a patient's chance of heart attack. If you reduce your bad cholesterol, you can reduce your chance of heart attack and stroke."

About one-third to one-fourth of blood cholesterol is carried by HDL, which is known as the "good" cholesterol because a high level of it has been shown to protect against heart attack, according to the AHA. The levels of both HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in the blood are taken into consideration when physicians like Dr. Jue are evaluating a patient's risk of having a heart attack.

Another vital component to measuring blood cholesterol levels is triglyceride, which is a form of fat that comes from food and is also made by the body. People with high triglyceride levels often have an elevated total cholesterol level, a high LDL ("bad") cholesterol level and a low HDL ("good") cholesterol level, the AHA states. Many people with heart disease also have high triglyceride levels. People with diabetes or who are obese also are likely to have high triglycerides.

Who's at risk?
So who needs to worry about their cholesterol levels? Since high cholesterol in itself has no outward symptoms, it's important that everyone be aware of their cholesterol levels. But those with two or more positive risk factors - those which increase a person's chances of having high cholesterol - including age, high blood pressure, a family history of heart disease or heart attack and smoking should talk to their physician about getting checked regularly. Monitoring heart health is especially important to those with diabetes, who are at an increased risk for heart attacks, according to Dr. Jue.

"There are a lot of things that help determine a person's cholesterol," Dr. Jue notes. "The two major ones are diet and genetics. Some people have a genetic predisposition to producing more cholesterol. Additionally, lack of exercise allows more cholesterol stay in the body."

After determining a patient's cholesterol levels, Dr. Jue counsels him or her about altering diet and exercise habits. If after a few months, a patient's cholesterol levels have not improved Dr. Jue may discuss different types of medicine that can help reduce cholesterol.

Find out more
"It's a good idea to know what your risk is for a heart attack," according to Dr. Jue. "By measuring different components, including cholesterol levels, your physician can measure your chances of suffering a heart attack."

If you would like to find out more about your heart health or would like to have your cholesterol levels checked, call Washington Clinic/Newark at (510) 797-7535 for an appointment. The clinic is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and is located at 35500 Dumbarton Court, Newark.

For more information about Washington Hospital's primary care clinics, located in Warm Springs, Newark and the newest in Union City, visit, click on "Our Facilities," and select "Washington Hospital Clinics" from the drop-down menu.

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