Cholesterol is a substance found in the blood. We all have some and it is needed for good health; and it is an essential part of the cells in the body. The problem is, people sometimes have too much cholesterol. Compared with people with normal cholesterol, those with high cholesterol have a higher risk of heart attacks, strokes and other health problems. The higher your cholesterol, the higher your risk of these problems.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that comes from two places — your own body and the food you eat. Your liver makes all the cholesterol you need, but it produces a surplus when you eat a diet high in saturated and trans fats, which are found in food like fatty or processed meats, full-fat dairy products and fried food like French fries and donuts.
This excess blood cholesterol can form plaque buildup in your arteries, which makes it more difficult for your heart to circulate blood and can create dangerous, life-threatening blood clots. If a clot blocks an artery to the heart, it can cause a heart attack. If a clot blocks an artery to the brain, it can cause a stroke.
There are different types and if you get a cholesterol test, you might see these listed down:
• Total cholesterol. The sum of the different types of cholesterol.
•LDL cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein is called the “bad” cholesterol because having high LDL levels raises your risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other health problems.
• HDL cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein is called the “good” cholesterol. That’s because people with high HDL levels tend to have a lower risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other health problems.
• Non-HDL cholesterol. Non-HDL cholesterol is your total cholesterol minus your HDL cholesterol.
• Triglycerides. Triglycerides are technically not cholesterol. They are another type of fat that comes from the food we eat, including butter, margarine and oil are in triglyceride form. Excess calories, alcohol or sugar in the body turn into triglycerides and are stored in fat cells throughout the body. Having high triglycerides also seems to increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
To lower or maintain blood cholesterol levels, it’s important to eat a heart-healthy diet that includes a regular intake of plant-based food like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and legumes.
Low-fat dairy and poultry are also important, and unsaturated vegetable oils such as canola or olive oil are good for you, too.
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, flax, flaxseed oil and chia seeds, can also help lower triglyceride levels, another type of blood lipid associated with cardiovascular disease that often accompanies a low HDL. Avocados (high in unsaturated fat), red wine (in moderation) and high-fiber fruits and grains like apples, pears, prunes, and oatmeal are also known to decrease LDL-cholesterol and can help increase HDL levels. Vegetarian dishes also offer a great way to get cholesterol-friendly protein and nutrients without all the meat.
Most importantly, limit or avoid foods that are high in saturated and trans fats like fatty cuts of meat, chips, butter, cakes, cookies and stick or hydrogenated margarine or shortening. These kinds of food can contribute to artery-clogging cholesterol.
Starting a regular exercise program can have many positive effects when it comes to controlling cholesterol. Exercise can help raise HDL, lower LDL and triglycerides, improve blood flow throughout your body, send more oxygen to your muscles and lower your blood pressure.
Even when following a strict diet, some people still need a little extra help controlling their blood cholesterol. In fact, some people have high blood cholesterol simply because of genetics. Some patients might have a form of high cholesterol called familial hypercholesterolemia, a genetic disorder that prevents the liver from removing excess LDL cholesterol from the blood.
For most of these people, cholesterol-lowering medication is a great option. If your doctor prescribes medication, be sure to take it exactly as directed. And when your cholesterol numbers start improving, it’s not a sign to stop taking the prescription. Never skip a dose or stop taking a medication unless your doctor says it’s ok to do so.
Like most things in life, it’s hard to fix a problem if you don’t know it exists. In order to achieve or maintain desirable cholesterol levels, you first have to know where you stand. Your doctor can run simple blood tests that will tell you exactly what your levels are. Talk to your doctor for a personalized plan that will help you maintain or achieve healthy cholesterol levels.