Your cholesterol numbers show how much cholesterol is circulating in your blood. Your HDL (“good” cholesterol) is the one number you want to be high (ideally above 60). Your LDL (“bad” cholesterol) should be below 100. Your total should be below 200. (1) Unhealthy cholesterol levels are often caused by lifestyle habits, such as unhealthy eating patterns, in combination with the genes that you inherit from your parents. Bad cholesterol is the culprit that makes plaque form in your arteries. Having too many LDLs can lead to heart disease over time.
Why are my cholesterol numbers important?
If your doctor has told you that you need to lower your cholesterol, failing to do so could adversely affect your health, so you need to take action. Or, perhaps you haven’t been told that your cholesterol is too high but you’re worried that it might be, and very sensibly you want to reduce the risk of developing health issues as you get older. Either way, you’ll be pleased to know there are simple steps you can take to resolve the problem.
Good and bad cholesterol
More than 1 in 3 Americans (2) has high cholesterol, or hypercholesterolemia. There are many reasons you may have high cholesterol. High cholesterol can be inherited, but it’s often the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices, which make it preventable and treatable. A healthy diet, regular exercise and sometimes medication can help reduce high cholesterol.(3)
Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) is regarded as bad cholesterol because it sticks to the sides of the blood vessels. That means your blood can’t flow as freely as it should. As a result, oxygen isn’t transported around the body efficiently, which can make you feel tired all the time and everything from exercise to normal walking takes greater effort. In a worst-case scenario, if not enough oxygen reaches your brain, you could suffer a stroke. Because the heart has to work much harder to move blood through any clogged arteries, you will also face a higher than average risk of having a heart attack.
High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) is good cholesterol because it helps to flush any bad cholesterol out of your system. Different kinds of cholesterol are contained in various food types. If you have a total cholesterol assessment it also takes into account triglycerides, other types of fat that can build up in the bloodstream. Having high triglyceride levels is bad for you.
How much is too much?
In adults, the ideal situation is to have bad cholesterol under 200mg per deciliter of blood, with good cholesterol over 40mg and triglycerides under 149mg. If bad cholesterol is 160mg or higher and triglycerides are 200 or higher, you can expect to eventually experience problems with your health as a result. (4)
A high level of bad cholesterol is less dangerous in children than in adults, but children who have other health problems should be monitored. If a child has bad cholesterol over 13mg, or triglycerides over 100 (in children under ten), or 130 (in children over ten), it should be a cause of concern.
Some factors can cause bad cholesterol to increase suddenly, such as eating a diet with a lot of soft, fatty foods when a patient is recovering from surgery to the throat. When this happens, the levels usually start to decrease once everything else returns to normal, but it’s a good idea to check them on a monthly basis in case extra help is needed.
Having your cholesterol tested
Finding out your cholesterol levels is easy. You don’t need to pay a lot of money for a doctor’s visit if your insurance doesn’t cover it many clinics and even on line testing services can provide a cholesterol blood test at a cheaper rate, and in a way that fits more conveniently around your schedule. You should make a morning appointment because you will need to avoid eating anything for at least eight hours before your test (if you need to take medication, do so as usual but tell the nurse about it when you arrive). A blood sample will be taken from your arm. It doesn’t take long and isn’t very painful. Your results may take a few days to be ready, after which you can talk to an expert about what they mean.
Lowering bad cholesterol with your diet
The simplest way to start lowering cholesterol is to make a few changes to what you eat. Red meat, dairy products, egg yolks, shellfish, coconut oil and products containing trans fats can increase your bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels. (5)
Omega-3 fatty acids can help boost your good cholesterol levels and reduce bad cholesterol. They are contained in cold water fish, olives (including olive oil), almonds and walnuts. Other sources of good cholesterol include beans, garlic, avocados, apples, strawberries, citrus fruits and whole grains. Starting the day with a bowl of oatmeal is a big help, especially if you use soya milk to make it. You can even lower your cholesterol while indulging yourself ? red wine made from Tempranillo grapes has been shown to help, and dark chocolate (not milk chocolate) helps clear clogged-up blood vessels.
Remember that even though these fats are good for you, they are still fats, and eating too much of them can cause you to put on weight, which can have other negative health consequences.
Cholesterol and exercise
Another great way to lower your cholesterol is to engage in plenty of vigorous exercises. Whether it’s brisk walking, dancing, cycling, swimming or playing a game like football or basketball, anything that gets your heart racing will help. That’s because when your blood is moving faster, it washes out some of the fatty deposits in the vessels it passes through, so it will flow more easily. When you’re reducing cholesterol, you’ll be amazed by how quickly exercise becomes easier as you do more of it. Unless your doctor says otherwise, you should aim to exercise vigorously enough to speed up your heart rate and make you out of breath. Exercise for at least half an hour on at least five occasions every week. You don’t have to be amazing at it, what matters is that you push your limits. If you’re disabled or have another kind of difficulty with moving around, ask your doctor about kinds of exercise that could still work for you. (6)
Can medicine help?
If you are unable to make enough progress in lowering your bad cholesterol level by yourself, there are drugs that can help. The most effective, in most people, are statins, but they’re not suitable for everyone, and they can cause stiffness, joint aches, and feelings of fatigue. Drugs should always be considered a last resort when there are other good options available.
You can live for many years with high cholesterol and not even know it. That’s why it’s essential to get your cholesterol numbers checked on a regular basis. If your cholesterol numbers are too high (hyperlipidemia), that’s a red flag for you and your healthcare provider. High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease. But catching it early gives you a chance to make changes and get your cholesterol to a healthy level.
by Craig Gustafson