BY SHELDON GAINES, M.D., a Family Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Pasadena Clinic

Heart disease, heart attack, and stroke are leading causes of death for African American men and women, but with a healthy lifestyle and regular monitoring, you can help reduce your risk.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that resides in the cell membranes of your body. It comes from foods such as meat, dairy products, and eggs. Your body needs cholesterol to function properly.


There are two main types of cholesterol:

  • High-density lipoproteins (HDL) help your body by producing nutrients and hormones and aiding in digestion.
  • Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) can float around in your blood, build up on artery walls, and harden into plaque that restricts blood flow. This can lead to peripheral artery disease, heart attacks, and strokes.

“There’s no question about it; maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is essential for heart health:’


Too much cholesterol – good or bad – can be harmful to the heart. High blood cholesterol can lead to “hardening of the arteries” and over time cause blood flow to and from the heart to slow down or become blocked, increasing the risk of developing heart disease or stroke.

The only way to know if your cholesterol is unhealthy is to see your doctor and be screened. In the early stages, unhealthy cholesterol levels may not cause any symptoms. Therefore, all adults age 20 or older should have a fasting lipoprotein profile once every four to six years. This is a blood test that typically includes:

• Total cholesterol
• LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind)
• HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind)
• Triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood)


Keeping cholesterol at healthy levels can be challenging. The preferred way is to commit to a healthy lifestyle. This usually entails eating foods that are low in saturated fat, staying active, having regular medical checkups, and, if necessary, taking prescribed medicine to lower cholesterol.