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How to lower your cholesterol

Genetics, activity patterns, medical conditions among factors that weigh into high cholesterol

Man on a run.
Man on a run.

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When Americans hear the word cholesterol, they often think it’s a bad thing, but that’s not always the case.

Cholesterol is a fat that is naturally found in body tissues. It’s essential in building cells in the body and is needed to make hormones and vitamin D. In other words, it is an essential component for normal body function.

Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs, but additional cholesterol is introduced through foods from animal sources, such as meat, eggs and cheese. Sometimes, because of varying factors, too much cholesterol accumulates in the body and can cause numerous health problems.

Inside cholesterol

Inside the waxy substance of cholesterol are lipoproteins. These are a combination of fat and protein, and the different types of lipoproteins serve different purposes:

  • High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is often called good cholesterol. It transports cholesterol from other parts of the body to the liver, where the organ removes cholesterol from the body.
  • Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, delivers cholesterol through the body, but it is often called bad cholesterol because high levels of LDL create plaque in the arteries.
  • Very low-density lipoprotein, or VLDL, is also often called bad cholesterol because too much of it can lead to plaque in the arteries. However, while LDL carries cholesterol through the body, VLDL mainly carries triglycerides, which are a different type of fat.

Healthy vs. unhealthy cholesterol levels

Too much cholesterol can lead to the buildup of plaque in the arteries. This buildup narrows the arteries and slows or blocks the blood flow to the heart, which can lead to heart disease or a heart attack.

Maintaining a healthy level of cholesterol is important for long-term wellbeing. You can’t feel if your cholesterol is high, but your doctor can test your blood with a cholesterol panel to determine your levels. Here are a few things worth knowing when it comes to cholesterol levels:

  • A total cholesterol level of 200 or less is desirable.
  • An LDL less than 100 and HDL more than 50 are considered optimal.
  • Triglycerides should be less than 150.

What contributes to high cholesterol?

Several factors can cause high cholesterol, including:

  • Diet, exercise or activity patterns.
  • Being overweight or obese.
  • Genetics.
  • Certain medical conditions and medications.

Cholesterol levels also vary with age and gender. Apart from lifestyle, certain genetic conditions can put a person at risk for higher cholesterol levels.

Preventing and lowering high cholesterol

The steps to prevent high cholesterol are similar to the ones needed to lower it. Diet plays a very important role in preventing high cholesterol levels. Foods rich in fats and refined sugars can increase cholesterol levels.

Reducing saturated fat and trans-fat can improve cholesterol levels. Omega 3 fatty acids are considered heart healthy.

Increasing fiber in the diet also can improve cholesterol levels.

To prevent high cholesterol, eat a diet rich in vegetables, fiber, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean meat. The Mediterranean diet is considered one of the heart healthy diets.

In addition, regular exercise helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

Controlling risk factors like obesity and overweight status, as well as diabetes, can help one maintain healthy cholesterol levels. If all else fails, medical intervention will likely be needed, especially in those whose high cholesterol is due to genetic factors.

If you already have high cholesterol, a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat or no-fat dairy, plant-based protein or lean meat naturally lowers cholesterol. Regular physical exercise is an important component for maintaining ideal cholesterol levels and can help control or reduce the additional risk factors of obesity and diabetes.

Just because you can’t feel high cholesterol, it can still be there, potentially damaging your body. If you have high cholesterol, talk with your medical professionals about how you can get and keep your cholesterol at a healthy level.

For more information visit OrlandoHealth.com/HealthyHeart.