We have all heard of the term “cholesterol.” It is that white, insoluble, fat-like substance that’s found in every cell in our bodies. Cholesterol is produced by the liver and is also made by most cells in the body. Lipoproteins carry it around in our blood as it is used in the production of hormones, fat-soluble vitamins, such as Vitamin D, and bile acids to help digest our food. Our bodies can produce its own cholesterol, so none is actually needed from our diet. There are two types of Lipoproteins – LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein).
LDL cholesterol is called the “bad” cholesterol because when its level in the blood is high, it can stick to our arteries causing coronary artery disease. HDL is the “good” cholesterol as it helps remove excess cholesterol out of our cells.
Our risk for high cholesterol can be affected by our age, family history, genetics, race, ethnicity, or gender. These are factors that we cannot control. But, we can control our diet, weight, smoking habit, and exercise.
What are the risk factors you cannot control?
Age, Gender, Family History
- Men aged 45 years or older. Women aged 55 or older.
- Women’s LDL (bad) cholesterol goes up after menopause.
- If your father or a brother was affected by early heart disease before age 55 or your if mother or sister was affected by heart disease before 65, your risk of high cholesterol may increase.
You can make lifestyle changes to improve your cholesterol.
- Reduce saturated fats which are in red meat and full-fat dairy products.
- Eliminate trans fats which are sometimes listed as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” often used in margarine, and store-bought cookies, crackers, cakes.
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, mackerel, herring, walnuts, and flaxseeds. These foods can also reduce blood pressure.
- Increasing your soluble fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Foods such as oatmeal, kidney beans, brussels sprouts, whole grains, apples, and pears are some excellent selections.
- Add whey protein which is found in dairy products. Studies have shown that whey protein given as a supplement, can lower both your LDL (bad) cholesterol and total cholesterol as well as your blood pressure.
- Moderate physical activity can help raise your good HDL cholesterol and eliminate your bad LDL from your body.
- Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week or more vigorous exercise, such as aerobic activity for 20 minutes three times a week.
- Add physical activity as often as you can in your day. To help with motivation, find an exercise buddy or join an exercise group.
- Quitting smoking can improve your HDL (good) cholesterol level.
- Benefits of quitting occur quickly. After 20 minutes, your blood pressure and heart rate recover, after 3 months, your blood circulation and lung function begin to improve, and after one year, your risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker.
- Even a few extra pounds can contribute to high cholesterol.
- Making even small changes can help. Drink water instead of soda, eat popcorn or pretzels instead of chips.
- Drink alcohol in moderation. Guidelines are up to one drink a day for women of all age and men older than 65. For men age 65 and younger, up to two drinks a day.
The benefits of a healthy diet and regular exercise will also improve your mood, your energy level, and help promote sleep as well as improve your health and immune system. If for some reason your cholesterol levels do not improve, your doctor can start you on a cholesterol-reducing medication.