High cholesterol is a condition that affects millions of Americans and is a source of heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure. It is one of the conditions that we have control over and be easily changed by altering our life style and our dietary habits. This article will review what are the causes of an elevated cholesterol and what can be done to reduce the level to normal and ultimately extend your life.
Cholesterol is a type of fat made by your liver. Cholesterol is also contained in certain foods that you eat, such as eggs, meat and dairy products. Soon after you eat these foods, the amount of cholesterol in your blood is increased. Foods high in saturated fat can also raise the amount of cholesterol in your blood, because your liver turns saturated fat into cholesterol.
Cholesterol is transported through the blood in different types of packages called lipoproteins: low-density lipoprotein (LDL or bad cholesterol ) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL or good cholesterol).
Too much cholesterol in your blood can raise your risk of a heart attack or a stroke. Extra cholesterol may be stored in your large blood vessels and cause them to become narrow and decrease the blood to an organ or area of your body. If an artery that supplies blood to your heart becomes blocked, you may have a heart attack. If an artery that supplies blood to your brain becomes blocked, you may have a stroke. And also very important for men, if the blood supply to a man’s penis is narrowed because of cholesterol, he may become impotent.
You should start having your cholesterol level checked when you are about 20 years old or sooner if you have a family member that has a history of high cholesterol. After that, you should have your cholesterol checked at least once every five years.
The total cholesterol level is under 200. A level between 200 and 239 means you have slight risk for heart attack or stroke. A cholesterol level of 240 or more means that you have an increased risk for heart disease or stroke.
Lipoprotein levels (HDL and LDL) are also important. If your total cholesterol level is high because of a high LDL level, you may have a higher risk for heart disease or stroke. If your total level is high only because of a high HDL level, you probably do not have an increased risk of heart disease. An HDL cholesterol level of less than 35 puts you at higher risk for heart disease, while an HDL level of 60 or above reduces your risk.
To get the best cholesterol reading possible, there is some preparation involved:
- Do not eat or drink anything other than water for a minimum of 14-16 hours before the test is done
- Do not exercise before blood is drawn
- Get plenty of rest before the test.
Eating healthy food can help lower your LDL cholesterol level, and it may protect you from the damaging effects of cholesterol. You can raise your HDL cholesterol level by exercising, quitting smoking (if you smoke) and losing weight (if you’re overweight).
Eating healthy foods usually lowers cholesterol levels. Here are some tips to lower your cholesterol:
- Eat more fruits and vegetables.
- Eat more broiled or grilled fish and skinless chicken and less fried meats.
- Choose lean cuts (pieces of meat containing little visible fat) when you eat beef, pork and lamb.
- Also, cut down on the amount of meat you eat.
- Eat a variety of fiber-rich foods, like oats, whole-grain breads and apples. Fiber helps reduce cholesterol levels. Fiber-rich foods can also help when you’re trying to lose weight, because they make you feel full.
- Limit your intake of saturated fats, like dairy fats (in ice cream and butter) and palm and coconut oils (in baked goods). It helps to read the labels on food packages. A label may say the food is low in cholesterol, but the food could still be high in saturated fats. When you see these ingredients on the package label: palm oil, coconut oil, partially saturated vegetable oil and hydrogenated vegetable oil, you know that product is high in saturated fat.
- Limit high cholesterol foods, like egg yolks and liver. Eat no more than four egg yolks a week.
- Use low-fat dairy products: skim milk, nonfat yogurt and ice milk.
- Avoid eating fried foods.
If eating healthy, exercising and making other changes in your life (such as stopping smoking) do not lower your cholesterol level after about six months, your doctor may want to discuss using medicine to lower your cholesterol level. This may be a lifelong treatment, so it should be thought about only if healthy habits do not work.
It is true, that most of us spend more time planning a vacation than we do planning on our health and well-being. My take home message is that if you can’t find the time to practice good health, you will have more time than you would like to be trying to restore or regain your health.
This information provides a general overview on lowering cholesterol levels and may not apply to everyone. To find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject, talk to your doctor. It’s fairly easy to lower your blood cholesterol. Just eat more foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol and cut down on high-fat ones, especially those high in saturated fats. Here are some simple daily guidelines:
- Watch your caloric intake by eating a wide variety of foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
- Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
- Eat six or more servings of cereals, breads, pasta and other whole-grain products.
- Eat fish, poultry without skin and leaner cuts of meat instead of fatty ones.
- Eat fat-free or 1% milk dairy products rather than whole-milk dairy products.
- Enjoy 30 – 60 minutes of vigorous activities on most (or all) days of the week.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
For more information, see the American Heart Association cholesterol section.