Patients who suffer from high cholesterol often report feeling like they are walking a tightrope in a death-defying stunt routine. Indeed, they are in a way doing just that. Cholesterol is necessary for the human body. Without it, we cannot live. On the other hand, uncontrolled high cholesterol places these patients at an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
The most dangerous part is that many patients don’t know that they suffer from this condition until they have health concerns. Patients literally don’t experience any symptoms. Therefore, unless a doctor orders a test as part of a routine annual physical, it can go undetected until the occurrence of a cardiac event or stroke. Have a conversation about this with your physician and request this test when you get that yearly wellness exam.
Two Types of Cholesterol
Cholesterol is found in the body in two varieties. In fact, you’ve probably heard people talk about their good cholesterol and bad cholesterol counts. The “good cholesterol” is referred to in medicine as HDL (high-density lipoproteins). The “bad cholesterol” is called LDL (low-density lipoproteins). All the cholesterol in our bodies is oil-based. As mentioned earlier, it’s necessary for survival. In fact, cholesterol has four important functions:
- Produces the bile acids in our intestine for proper elimination
- Serves as a building block in every cell wall in our body
- Aids in the production of Vitamin D
- Assists our brain in producing hormones serotonin and dopamine
Without cholesterol supporting these functions, we’d not live. So how do we balance the benefit of good cholesterol vs. the harmful effects of bad cholesterol? The key to proper cholesterol management is to focus on producing HDL while lowering LDL.
Eat a high-fiber diet that helps lower LDL
There are a handful of high-fiber foods that help to aid in the reduction of bad cholesterol in your body. Because cholesterol is oil-based, these foods act as a sponge and help you eliminate it through the digestive process. Some examples of these powerful LDL-lowering foods are:
- Whole grains
- Sunflower or canola oil
- High-fiber fruits such as apples, grapes, and oranges
- Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and mustard greens
Banish foods that increase HDL levels
Eating those healthy fiber-filled foods are essential. However, you also need to banish those foods that contain saturated fats that increase your HDL levels. These include:
- Full-fat milk or cream
- Full-fat cheese
- Hydrogenated oils (margarine, cooking fats)
- Deep fried foods such as potato chips, French fries, and onion rings
- Processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, and sausage
- Sugary treats and snacks and baked goods
Commit to losing weight
The connection between high cholesterol and being overweight is well-known throughout the medical community. Being overweight is most often caused by an unhealthy diet. This leads to not only high cholesterol, but also to increased blood pressure. This creates a perfect storm for a heart attack or stroke.
To get on track to weight loss, commit to making small changes at first. Make those healthier food choices, focusing on lean proteins, fewer processed foods, and healthy grains. Reduce your portion sizes and focus on eating more slowly and savor the flavors. Drink a full glass of water 30 minutes before your meal. Finally, take some exercise every day. You can increase your activity levels as you start to feel better. The small successes will encourage to keep on track to your weight loss.
Kick your cigarette habit
Cigarette smoking changes your body chemistry. It increases your LDL and bad fats called triglycerides. As a result of these increases, arterial plaque begins to form in your arteries. This narrows the tunnel through which the blood flows and impedes your circulation. Cigarette smoke lowers your HDL levels; HDL can help prevent the formation of arterial plaque. Bottom line? Quit smoking right away. You can ask your doctor for nicotine patches to help you step down or quit cold turkey. Either way will help you manage your cholesterol.
Start an exercise routine to increase overall wellness
A daily exercise routine will help to lower your LDL and increase your HDL levels. This goes hand in hand with the weight loss. In fact, the experts at the American Heart Association cite heart attack as America’s top killer. Their suggestion? Exercise for at least 30 minutes on 5 days of every week. The more vigorous the exercise, the more benefit you’ll gain. Start slowly and build up. If you’re unsure that you can safely start an exercise program, check in with your doctor for suggestions.
Optimally, a fitness program should be a blend of aerobic activity, strength training, and flexibility exercise. You’ll see improvements fairly quickly and feel better sooner than you think if you commit to this type of program. High cholesterol can go undetected in your body. This can cause you to have a heart attack without any prior warning. When combined with other complications such as high blood pressure, it becomes an even more serious condition. Be sure to discuss your risk factors with your family doctor and ask for a blood test to determine your cholesterol levels. Lose weight (or maintain a healthy weight) by making smart food choices, controlling portion sizes, and exercising regularly. Managing high cholesterol, yes, is a balancing act. But it’s one you can master by making these lifestyle changes.