Over seventy million people in the U.S. have unhealthy levels of cholesterol, and of that number, only about 20 million are taking measure to control it. Our bodies need a certain level of cholesterol – in fact, health problems can occur if our good cholesterol levels become too low. Since September is National Cholesterol Awareness month, we’re promoting education around healthy, balanced cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is a wax-like and fatty material, so an abundance of it can foretell a serious issue such as heart disease, stroke or other circulatory disorders. Cholesterol is found in the blood, and when it builds up, it can constrict the arterial walls and reduce the flow of much-needed oxygenated blood to the body and the brain. Twenty-five percent of your body’s cholesterol is found in the brain and is crucial for function. It assists the brain in membrane function, operates as an antioxidant, and provides the basic substance for our bodies to produce essential hormones.
Bad Cholesterol Versus Good Cholesterol
High-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as the “good” cholesterol, comprises between twenty and thirty percent of the total cholesterol in our bodies. HDL transports excess cholesterol from the arteries to the liver to be removed. A good cholesterol test would indicate a high number of this type of cholesterol.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is known as the “bad” cholesterol – when we refer to cholesterol, we often refer to only LDL. This is the cholesterol that will obstruct arteries and other blood vessels. You want to see lower numbers for this type of cholesterol in test results.
While medications can lower cholesterol levels, the best course of action is prevention to avoid high levels of bad cholesterol when possible. Lifestyle and diet together are the best way to control cholesterol, both before it becomes high and as a way to lower it if it begins to climb into dangerous territory.
Lowering Cholesterol with Lifestyle Changes
Avoid all tobacco products, as smoking can cause hardening of the arteries. If there is already too much cholesterol in the blood stream, smoking can exacerbate the problem and diminish any other efforts to lower cholesterol.
The first step to reduce cholesterol is to change your diet. By establishing a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and whole grains, and by avoiding saturated fats found in dairy and red meat, there is a great potential to decrease high cholesterol levels.
The consumption of healthy fats, such as those found in olive oil, nuts, and other foods which contain stanols, assist in reducing unhealthy cholesterol levels. This is why the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in olive oil, is excellent in preventing and fighting high cholesterol.
Assuring that an individual gets exercise daily is another way to correct cholesterol levels considerably. Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous; walking at least 20-30 minutes a day can help with weight loss and the battle with high cholesterol as too much weight can signpost high cholesterol levels
By making minor lifestyle changes, a person with high cholesterol can reduce their bad cholesterol levels and avoid taking medications, thereby preventing the possibility of side effects caused by prescription drugs. For more information on how to control high cholesterol, please visit the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute website here.