When was the last time you had your cholesterol checked? I'm sure 5 years ago when you had blood work done you were in the clear but as you age it is so important to schedule regular check ups to see where you stand. Think of it as a brand new car. When it is fresh off the lot we drive it until the wheels fall off or until the maintenance light comes on.
But as that car gets older it is important to make sure everything under the hood is in tip top shape more often. So instead of going to the mechanic every 6 months, you go every 3 months. While nothing can ever replace proper advice from a physician about how to manage cholesterol, there are a few well-known changes that can be made through diet and lifestyle that can help with overall maintenance of healthy cholesterol levels.
How is cholesterol made?
The body produces some cholesterol while some of it comes from the foods you eat. Your liver cells and other cells in your body make about 75 percent of cholesterol. The rest comes from foods, especially animal products such as shellfish, meat, butter, and eggs.
Once cholesterol enters the blood stream, carriers called lipoproteins transport it to cells. There are two types of lipoproteins: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
LDL cholesterol molecules are composed mostly of cholesterol with a small amount of triglycerides and protein and work to deliver cholesterol to cells. Too much of LDL cholesterol can cause buildup in the inner walls of your arteries resulting in decreased blood flow to the heart and brain. A complete block of the artery, or a clot, can result in a heart attack or stroke.
HDL is the “good” cholesterol. HDL cholesterol molecules are composed mostly of protein with only small amounts of cholesterol and triglycerides. HDL molecules pick up excess cholesterol and deliver it back to the liver to be excreted from the body. High HDL levels have been linked to decreased risk of heart disease, possibly because they assist in the removal of buildup in arteries.
When there is too much cholesterol (a fat-like substance) in your blood, it builds up in the walls of your arteries. Over time, this buildup causes "hardening of the arteries" so that arteries become narrowed and blood flow to the heart is slowed down or blocked. The blood carries oxygen to the heart, and if enough blood and oxygen cannot reach your heart, you may suffer chest pain. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by a blockage, the result is a heart attack.
Your total cholesterol count is a combination of LDL and HDL along with triglycerides and a lesser known genetic variation of LDL cholesterol known as Lp(a) cholesterol. The desired total blood cholesterol count for adults is below 200 mg/dL.
What do statistics say about having high cholesterol?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, about one in six adults in the US have high cholesterol, putting them at a higher risk for heart disease. Heart disease is the number one killer of women and men in the United States. Each year, more than a million Americans have heart attacks, and about a half million people die from heart disease.
How can you lower “bad” cholesterol, increase “good” cholesterol?
- Participate in regular physical activity: Engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (brisk walking) or 75 minutes of intense aerobic physical activity (running, jogging) per week is touted by the American Heart Association to support health cholesterol levels.
- Include soluble fiber in your diet: A diet high in soluble fiber (such as from oats, nuts, beans, apples, and blueberries) is shown to help reduce cholesterol levels. When ingested, soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance and can bind with cholesterol and reduce the amount absorbed into your bloodstream.
- Get enough healthy fats: Replace saturated and trans fats with healthy fat sources. People who follow a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have healthier blood lipid levels. Olive oil, flaxseed, hemp seed, and fish such as salmon are good sources of omega-3s. You can also supplement your diet with omega-3s. A good rule of thumb: eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day for a healthy individual and less than 200 milligrams per day for someone with an increased risk of heart disease.