Over 93 million U.S. adults aged 20 or above have high cholesterol. Their arteries can be clogged, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.
What is High Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that circulates in the blood. The body naturally makes some cholesterol, and the rest is added by the food you eat.
However, cholesterol levels can be confusing; the body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. But, if you have extra cholesterol in your blood, it can combine with other blood substances to form plaque. And it’s hard to identify if someone has high cholesterol because it has no symptoms.
Having untreated high cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. A regular blood test can keep cholesterol levels under check.
What Are The Different Types?
- HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein, alsocalled ‘good’ cholesterol because it carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver. Your liver then removes the cholesterol from your body.
- LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein, sometimes called ‘bad’ cholesterol because a high LDL level leads to the build-up of plaque in your arteries.
- VLDL stands for very low-density lipoprotein. Some people also call VLDL a “bad” cholesterol because it too contributes to the build-up of plaque in your arteries. But VLDL and LDL are different; VLDL mainly carries triglycerides, and LDL has mostly cholesterol.
(National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2020)
How To Prevent High Cholesterol
Here are seven tips to keep your cholesterol level in a healthy range and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Eat Healthily: Change food habits
One of the best ways to lower your cholesterol is to reduce your saturated fat intake and trans-fat. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to less than 6% of daily calories and minimizing the amount of trans fat you eat.
Reducing these fats means limiting your intake of red meat, sodium and sugar-sweetened foods, beverages, and dairy products made with whole milk. It also means limiting fried food and cooking with healthy oils, such as vegetable oil.
Certain foods can help either lower LDL cholesterol directly or block your body from absorbing cholesterol. These foods include oats and barley, nuts and seeds, avocados, beans, green tea, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, soy products, fruits like apples, pears, berries, orange juice, margarine, and other products fortified with sterols and stanols.
Keep Your Body Weight in Check
Being overweight tends to raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol. But a weight loss of as little as 5% to 10% can help improve cholesterol numbers. (Heart.org, 2020)
With a combination of weight loss and a healthy diet, it’s possible to lower LDL levels up to 30%, results that are similar to taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Small lifestyle and food changes can lead to weight control. If you drink sugary beverages, switch to regular water. If you crave something sweet, try sherbet or candies with little or no fat, such as jelly beans.
Look for ways to incorporate more activity into your daily routine, such as using the stairs instead of taking the elevator or parking farther from your office. Take walks during breaks at work. Try to increase standing activities, such as cooking, household chores. (Drugs.com 2020)
Physical exercise has a significant impact on triglycerides by lowering them and HDL, the good cholesterol, by increasing it.
At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week is enough to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure. Some of the activities include brisk walking, swimming, bicycling, or doing household chores. (Heart.org, 2020)
Do not engage in any activity that causes chest pain, excessive shortness of breath, dizziness, or light-headedness. Stop if you experience any of these symptoms and consult your doctor if needed.
Quitting smoking improves your HDL cholesterol level. Some of the benefits are quick:
- Within 20 minutes of leaving, the blood pressure and heart rate recover from the cigarette-induced spike
- Within three months of quitting, the blood circulation and lung function begin to improve
- Within a year of quitting, the risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker
(Mayo Clinic Staff, 2020)
Moderate Alcohol Consumption
Different alcohols like beer, whiskey, wine, etc., have different effects on your cholesterol levels. But the heart is more affected by the amount and frequency of consumption than by your choice of beverage.
Moderate drinking, which the NIH defines as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, is the amount of alcohol considered to have a protective effect on the heart.
Reduce stress levels
Some experts suggest that stress and cholesterol are interlinked. Preventing stress may help to prevent high cholesterol caused by it.
Even if you can’t cut any pressure from your life, there are options available to help manage it. People concerned that their stress is hurting their lives should consult a medical professional for the right treatment, including counseling and related medication.
Seek Medical Attention
In some cases, dietary and lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower cholesterol levels. If your doctor recommends medication to lower your cholesterol, take it as prescribed while continuing your lifestyle changes.
Taking charge of your health and being your own health advocate is important in today’s medical world. We rarely see the same doctor twice and insurance has us constantly making changes as plans change. Monitoring your cholesterol requires regular bloodwork, usually done with your annual physical by your primary care doctor. Don’t let this “silent killer” take years from your heart health. Create a lifelong path to health with proactive health screenings.
Mayo Clinic Staff, S. (2020, August 28). Can lifestyle changes benefit your cholesterol? Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/reduce-cholesterol/art-20045935
Top 5 lifestyle changes to improve your cholesterol. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://www.drugs.com/mca/top-5-lifestyle-changes-to-improve-your-cholesterol
Heart.org, T. (2020, November 11). Prevention and Treatment of High Cholesterol (Hyperlipidemia). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/prevention-and-treatment-of-high-cholesterol-hyperlipidemia
Burch, K. (2020, August 27). 5 ways to lower your cholesterol naturally. Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://www.insider.com/how-to-lower-cholesterol-naturally
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, N. (2020, September 24). Cholesterol. Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://medlineplus.gov/cholesterol.htmlhttps://www.healthline.com/health/high-cholesterol/starting-treatment#diet