April 08, 2019
Cholesterol: you’ve heard this word countless times, but how much do you really know about keeping it under control? When a blood test comes back with the dreaded “high cholesterol” result, it’s best to start at the beginning—what exactly is cholesterol?
Your body relies on cholesterol to aid in the production of hormones, assist with digestion, and help form its basic cell structure. It’s necessary for survival, but in high amounts, its waxy makeup can build a fatty plaque in already inflamed vessels. This build-up eventually clogs the arteries, blocks blood flow, and can lead to heart disease, strokes, and heart attack.
Fortunately, the consequences of high cholesterol can be reversed with personal lifestyle changes.
Maintaining a healthy diet is vital when attempting to lower cholesterol. Anyone making dietary changes to lower their cholesterol should focus on eliminating unhealthy and saturated fats. This includes fried foods, fatty meats, and dairy. Consider adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet, which can significantly assist in lowering your cholesterol.
Exercise lowers cholesterol not only by accelerating weight loss, but by increasing the size of protein particles that carry cholesterol through the blood stream — making them harder to squeeze into tiny vessels and arteries. But how much exercise does it really take to make a difference? While the “30 minutes a day” rule is fine, researchers suggest that a more rigorous, lengthy exercise routine is best when trying to lower cholesterol. Adding an extra 10 miles to a standard exercise routine of 10 – 12 miles per week can have a significant impact on your cholesterol levels.
While smoking has negative impacts on all aspect of cardiovascular health, it has the destructive power to lower “good” cholesterol (high density lipoproteins, HDL) and raise “bad” cholesterol (low density lipoproteins, LDL). Researchers found that in subjects who quit smoking, the over presence of dangerous cholesterol dropped to healthy levels. Because smoking cessation can cause weight gain, it’s important to eat well and exercise regularly to reap the full cholesterol benefits of non-smoking.
It’s hard to know if stress is a direct contributor to someone’s high cholesterol, or if it’s how that person copes with stress (overeating and excessive drinking, for example.) Either way, finding ways to relax and minimize mental stress keeps the body’s cortisol and adrenaline levels at bay. Doctors suggest a meditation practice of 15 to 20 minutes a day can help relieve anxiety and stress levels, along with getting six to eight hours of sleep daily.
Natural supplements can be a great way to maximize the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Fish oil, with its high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, can dramatically reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood. One study found that four grams of fish oil a day lowered the amount of fat in the bloodstream of 42 adults, reducing the risk of heart disease and prolonging life expectancy.
Soluble fiber supplements, like psyllium, also lower cholesterol. A four week study of adults found that a five gram psyllium supplement taken twice a day decreased total cholesterol by about five percent.
Sometimes, lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower cholesterol. Doctors may find it more effective to prescribe one or more medications, especially in elderly people or those experiencing obesity. Statins are the primary class of medications prescribed to those with high blood pressure. These drugs work by targeting and blocking liver enzymes from producing cholesterol, in turn lowering a person’s risk for heart disease, stroke, and heart attacks.
These medications may come with side effects, including muscle pain, liver damage, increased blood sugar, and neurological issues). Your doctor will be able to determine whether the benefits of statins outweigh the risks.
To be proactive about maintaining healthy cholesterol and overall health, everyone should be regularly seen by a doctor and have their blood tested. This allows doctors and patients to take action at the first hint of high cholesterol—a potentially lifesaving discovery.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information on this web site is for general information purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or health care provider on any matters relating to your health.