A Guide to Cholesterol Management
According to studies by the American Heart Association, more than 100 million Americans suffer from high cholesterol. If left untreated, this condition can lead to more serious health issues like heart disease and stroke. Managing your cholesterol properly reduces your risk of developing potentially harmful complications and improves your quality of life.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a natural, fat-like substance found in every cell of your body. It is used to help create vitamin D and several other hormones, as well as the gastrointestinal fluids that enable you digest food.
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While your liver produces all the cholesterol that your body needs, the waxy nutrient is also found in a variety of foods, such as poultry, red meat and full-fat dairy products. Plus, some tropical oils, such as palm and coconut oil, can cause your liver to make excess cholesterol. Your body needs cholesterol to help produce new cells. It also helps your brain, skin and other organs function properly. But too much cholesterol can lead to serious illnesses.
Cholesterol is transported through the bloodstream in a structure called a lipoprotein. The two types of lipoproteins are low-density lipoproteins and high-density lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is often referred to as the bad cholesterol. High levels of LDL can cause a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries. Known as the good cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) helps transport excess cholesterol from other parts of your body back to the liver where it is eliminated naturally. While your body needs a healthy amount of both types to function properly, you need higher levels of HDL and lower amounts of LDL.
When your doctor will perform a blood test to check your cholesterol levels, there is a simple way to understand the results. Focus on the “H” and the “L” in the names. You want a high level of healthy HDL and a low amount of lousy LDL.
Signs and Symptoms
High cholesterol is the medical condition that occurs when there is too much of the substance in your blood. You should have your cholesterol levels checked regularly. Since the condition usually does not produce any signs or symptoms, many people do not know that their bad cholesterol is high.
High cholesterol can cause atherosclerosis, a dangerous accumulation of plaque and cholesterol deposits on the interior lining of your arteries. The buildup reduces blood flow resulting in the following complications:
- High blood pressure can result from the increased resistance of clogged arteries.
- Chest pain or angina, may occur when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart is blocked or reduced.
- A heart attack is a possibility if the flow of oxygen is cut off to a section of your heart muscle.
- A stroke may occur if a blood clot or blocked artery stops the flow of blood to your brain.
- A brain aneurysm can be caused when the heart needs to pump harder to push blood past a fatty buildup. The increased pressure can rupture a weakened blood vessel.
Common Treatment Options
Cholesterol levels are checked using a blood test called a lipid panel or lipid profile. This test shows your total cholesterol as well as the individual amounts of HDL and LDL in your blood. Based on these levels, your doctor will determine a course of treatment that may include medications.
The specific type or combination of drugs depends upon several factors, such as your age, current health condition and possible side effects. Doctors commonly prescribe medications, such as:
- Statins to block the creation of cholesterol by your liver. This causes your body to absorb and eliminate the excess cholesterol deposited in other parts of your body, particularly the lining of the arteries.
- Bile acid-biding resins, which make your liver use excess cholesterol to produce more bile acid, a substance required for digestion.
- Cholesterol absorption inhibitors to reduce the amount of cholesterol your body absorbs into the bloodstream through the small intestine.
- Injectable medications to lower the amount of cholesterol in the bloodstream by enabling the liver to absorb larger amounts of LDL.
- Fibrates to reduce your liver’s production of LDL if you also have high amounts of triglycerides.
You can also treat high cholesterol with lifestyle changes that include eating a cholesterol-friendly diet. Cholesterol levels can be reduced by losing excess weight, quitting smoking, and increasing your physical activity.
What you eat can have a direct impact on your cholesterol levels. Use the following tips to manage your cholesterol:
- Avoid the consumption of saturated and trans fats. Red and processed meat along with dairy products is a high source of saturated fat. Trans-fat is found in products like margarine and commercially prepared baked goods and crackers. You should avoid partially hydrogenated oils, which contain trans-fat.
- Eat healthier fat like the monosaturated fat found in canola and olive oil as well as food like almonds, avocados, pecans, and walnuts. Eat fish like salmon that are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Moderate your daily cholesterol intake by eating a diet rich in beans, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Select healthier foods food like berries, oranges, broccoli and spinach.
- Barley, oats and quinoa feature complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber that lowers cholesterol.
- Remove the skin and excess fat from poultry and red meat.
- Opt for lean cuts that are at least 92 percent fat free.
- Look for low- or reduced-fat dairy products.
- Lose weight as excess pounds contribute to high cholesterol. Losing even a few pounds can help lower your levels. Set long-term sustainable weight loss goals.
- Exercise regularly to improve your cholesterol level. Workout for a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes each day. In addition to walking, swimming or riding a bike, you can perform a variety of calisthenics.
- Limit your alcohol consumption. Too much alcohol can raise your total cholesterol level. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation.
- High cholesterol is a controllable risk factor for developing more serious illnesses. A healthy lifestyle and proper medications can lower your cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of life-threatening complications.