Our bodies need healthy levels of cholesterol to function. Cholesterol is a fatty substance made by the liver and distributed throughout the body. It allows our bodies to make vitamin D and hormones. High cholesterol means you have a lot more cholesterol in your blood than you need. Most people who have high cholesterol don’t have any obvious symptoms. A simple blood test can tell you if you have high cholesterol.
Cholesterol moves through your bloodstream via lipoproteins. There are two kinds of lipoproteins, and we need them both. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) transport cholesterol around to where it’s needed. If there’s too much cholesterol, it may be deposited into the arteries. LDL is commonly referred to as “bad cholesterol.” High-density lipoproteins (HDL) take the extra cholesterol from your tissues and cells and return it to your liver for repurposing. That’s why HDL is called “good cholesterol.”
The job of the arteries is to move blood from your heart to other parts of your body. Too much LDL and not enough HDL makes it more likely that your arteries will develop plaque, a hardened mixture of cholesterol, fat, and other elements.
What causes high cholesterol?
Heredity: Genes may influence how the body metabolizes LDL (bad) cholesterol. Familial hypercholesterolemia is an inherited form of high cholesterol that may lead to early heart disease.
Weight: Excess weight may modestly increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol level. Losing weight may lower LDL and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
Physical activity/exercise: Regular physical activity may lower triglycerides and raise HDL cholesterol levels.
Age and sex: Before menopause, women usually have lower total cholesterol levels than men of the same age. As women and men age, their blood cholesterol levels rise until about 60-65 years of age. After about age 50 years, women often have higher total cholesterol levels than men of the same age.
Alcohol use: Moderate (1-2 drinks daily) alcohol intake increases HDL (good) cholesterol but does not lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. But, drinking too much alcohol can damage the liver and heart muscle, leading to high blood pressure, and increased triglyceride levels.
Mental stress: Several studies have shown that stress raises blood cholesterol levels over the long term.
What can you do?
In addition to lowering LDL “bad” cholesterol, regular physical activity can raise HDL “good” cholesterol by up to 10%. The benefits come even with moderate exercise, such as brisk walking.
Avoid saturated fat:
Doctors used to think that the key to lowering high cholesterol was to cut back on eggs and other cholesterol-rich foods. But now it’s clear that dietary cholesterol isn’t the main culprit. One of the first things to do when you’re trying to lower your cholesterol level is to take saturated fat down. The second thing to do is to start eating more smart fats such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds.
Eat more fiber:
Fruits and vegetables, including whole grains, are good sources not only of heart-healthy antioxidants but also cholesterol-lowering dietary fiber. Soluble fiber, in particular, can help lower cholesterol. It acts like a sponge to absorb cholesterol in the digestive tract. Good sources of soluble fiber include dried beans, oats, and barley.
Fish and fish oil are full of cholesterol lowering omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil supplements can have a profound effect on cholesterol and triglycerides. The American Heart Association also recommends fish as the preferable source of omega-3s, but fish oil capsule supplements can be considered after consultation with your physician.
Moderate consumption of alcohol can raise levels of HDL “good” cholesterol by as much as 10%. Doctors say up to one drink a day makes sense for women, up to two a day for men. Given the risks of excessive drinking, the American Heart Association cautions against increasing your alcohol intake or starting to drink if you don’t already.
Extensive research has demonstrated that regular consumption of nuts can bring modest reductions in cholesterol. Walnuts and almonds seem particularly beneficial. But nuts are high in calories, so limit yourself to a handful a day, experts say.
Smoking lowers levels of HDL “good” cholesterol and is a major risk factor for heart disease.
Lifestyle modifications make sense for anyone with elevated cholesterol. But if your cardiovascular risk is high, you may also need to take a cholesterol-lowering drug. At Core Medical Group we like to take a natural approach to lowering Cholesterol when possible. The natural ingredients in Cholcheck have been shown to lower total cholesterol as well as LDL, the bad cholesterol, without the negative side effects of statins.
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