Without a doubt, cholesterol is not a new term. You must have heard it in school or on social media, or your doctor may have mentioned it to you at some point. Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy compound found in blood. The substance plays a vital role in maintaining the structural integrity of human body cells and keeping them healthy. Cholesterol is also crucial in the synthesis of bile acids, vitamin D, and steroid hormones, all of which serve critical bodily functions.
Nevertheless, an excessive amount of this substance in the blood (referred to as hypercholesterolemia) is dangerous for one's health. Over time, high cholesterol levels accumulate fatty deposits along arterial walls, causing plaque formation that narrows the arteries and blood vessels. These deposits raise an individual's risk of severe chest pain (angina), a life-threatening cardiovascular event and traveling clots. Therefore, cholesterol management could very well save you from an untimely demise.
What Are the Symptoms of High Cholesterol?
Now that the mention of an untimely demise has certainly caught your attention, the question ringing through your mind must be, "What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?" As any healthcare professional would be correct to point out, high cholesterol typically has no noticeable symptoms. This reason is why medics describe it as a silent killer alongside uncontrolled systolic-diastolic numbers.
All the same, the following are signs that could direct your doctor towards ordering a lipid profile as part of your lab work, this being the blood test that confirms high cholesterol levels:
Also known as angina, results due to inadequate blood flow to the heart due to narrowed vessels. Angina may start as mild pain but soon progresses to severe pain.
Shortness Of Breath
Medically known as dyspnea, this sign results from inadequate blood flow to the lungs.
Cramps In One's Legs
Pain, weakness, and cramps during physical exercise or other activity could be due to narrowed arteries in your legs. When severe, it is known as peripheral artery disease.
Fatty Deposits Underneath The Skin
Medically known as xanthomas, these bumps mostly occur on the arms and legs and present themselves either in a pink or yellow color. In some individuals, they match one's skin color.
Fatty Deposits Around The Eyes
The medical term for these deposits is xanthelasma, and they are mostly yellow. Xanthelasma may be harmless by themselves, but it is a sign that can lead to hypercholesterolemia, which is cause for serious concern.
What Are the Causes of High Cholesterol?
For effective cholesterol management, one must first know what causes high cholesterol. More specifically, what ought to pique your interest are the levels of the type widely referred to as "bad" cholesterol.
As you may or may not already know, two types of lipoproteins are involved in transporting cholesterol to and from the cells: low-density lipoproteins, otherwise known as LDL, and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). LDL is bad cholesterol, and, on the other hand, HDL is good cholesterol.
The American Heart Association says the human body naturally produces LDL cholesterol. Ideally, this amount is just enough to sustain relevant bodily functions. Unfortunately, most of the population leads an unhealthy lifestyle, and consequently, their bodies end up overproducing the bad type of cholesterol.
Unhealthy feeding habits take the number one spot when it comes to bad lifestyle choices. Lack of physical activity, otherwise known as leading a sedentary lifestyle, follows closely, as do smoking and excessive alcohol intake. A family history of high cholesterol levels may also predispose you to the same.
How to Lower Cholesterol Naturally?
Given what we've just discussed, it goes without saying that changes in lifestyle habits are the foolproof method of naturally lowering the body's cholesterol levels. But if we're being honest, making these changes is easier said than done. At the same time, though, would you sleep soundly knowing there could be a silent killer lurking right within your body? Knowing this, taking the following actions will provide the desired results:
Change In Diet
A few tweaks to your diet could go a long way in ensuring proper cholesterol management and improving your cardiovascular health. Instead of foods rich in sugar, sodium, and saturated fats, go for those that are high in fiber, low in saturated fats, and even lower in sodium levels.
As most healthcare professionals will confirm, regular exercise and increased physical activities lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol. Before embarking on this change, though, be sure to consult your doctor. They'll give you one of two options: vigorous exercise for 20 minutes three times a week or a moderate workout of 30 minutes five times a week.
In all honesty, the best thing you can do to improve your body's HDL cholesterol is to give up your smoking habit. Although it will be hard to achieve, your heart rate and blood force values will improve, you will be less likely to suffer from a runaway clot, and in a year's time, your risk of heart disease will have greatly reduced.
Focus On Losing Weight
Being overweight speaks to unhealthy blood cholesterol levels. Of course, reversing this reality has a positive impact on previous hypercholesterolemia. Doing away with sugary drinks and replacing them with water will aid in the process, as will an increase in physical exercise and switching to a healthier diet.
Check Your Alcohol Intake
If you are able to completely eliminate alcohol use, then by all means, do so. But if you must, proceed with moderation. By moderate intake, we mean a drink a day for women (regardless of their age) and men aged 65 and older. The recommended intake for men younger than 65 is a maximum of two drinks a day.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What Does High Cholesterol Mean?
So, what does high cholesterol mean? In a nutshell, this speaks to having an elevated level of low-density lipoproteins in your blood. Also known as LDL cholesterol, an elevated level of this type of lipid predisposes you to vascular plaque, peripheral artery disease, heart disease, or a clot reaching the brain.
Some symptoms of a high cholesterol level include fatty deposits underneath the skin and around the eyes, chest pain (angina), cramps in the legs, and frequent shortness of breath. A high body mass index (BMI) could also indicate elevated blood levels since the figure could mean you are moderately or severely overweight.
What Is a Good Cholesterol Level?
If you are here, the question on your mind must be, "What is a good cholesterol level?" Indicated in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), the desired total cholesterol level for adults is less than 200 mg/dL. Doctors consider 200-239 mg/dL borderline high, and a level equal to or above 240 mg/dL as overall high.
Maintaining a LDL (bad cholesterol) level below 100 mg/dL is essential. This approach is especially true for persons already living with chronic illnesses, especially type 1 and 2 impaired blood sugar and heart disease. Healthcare professionals consider 100-129 mg/dL as near optimal, 130-159 mg/dL as borderline optimal, 160-189 mg/dL as high, and 190 mg/dL or more as very high.
As for HDL (good cholesterol), a reading of greater than 40 mg/dL is acceptable. Of course, the higher this number is, the lower your risk of heart disease.
How Long Does It Take to Lower Cholesterol?
"How long does it take to lower cholesterol?" You ask. As far as questions go, though, this isn't one of the easiest to answer. In all honesty, the amount of time required to lower cholesterol differs from one individual to another. Although some sources may give a timeline between 3 and 6 months, the general rule of thumb is to use the timeline as a point of reference, not as a number cast in stone.
All the same, a change in diet, regular exercise, moderate alcohol intake, and quitting smoking could have you noticing results in as little as 6 weeks. As you may already know, consistency is key when it comes to proper cholesterol management.
And while these lifestyle changes may be sufficient for some people, others may need complementary medication. It is our recommendation that you involve your healthcare provider in your journey for proper guidance and optimal results.
How to Lower Cholesterol With Diet
If you're serious about making positive lifestyle changes, you must have pondered on how to lower cholesterol with diet. Lucky for you, healthy feeding is one of the most assured ways you can reduce your cholesterol. To achieve your desired results, do the following:
- Consume Less Saturated Fats
We get it. Full-fat dairy products and red meat are tantalizing, to say the least. But unfortunately, they raise your cholesterol to insane levels. You'll have to consume less of them to get it to optimal levels.
- Get Rid of Trans Fats
If you're one to check the ingredient list on the foodstuff you purchase, you must have come across partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Manufacturers use this ploy to hide trans fats from the regular consumer, but we're here to shed the light. If you ever encounter this ingredient, your best bet is to avoid this product altogether.
How to Increase Good Cholesterol
Ask us, and we'll tell you that "how to increase good cholesterol" must be a question that has crossed your mind more times than you'd like to admit. According to healthcare professionals, consuming olive oil is your first step into achieving your desired results. The healthful fat contained within is also known to reduce heart disease, and if this isn't your objective, we don't know what is.
Following a ketogenic diet has also been shown to have similar effects, as has committing to a low-carb diet. Adding coconut oil to the mix could have you reaching your goals faster, and maintaining these habits could give you a lifelong healthy weight.
What Foods Cause High Cholesterol?
If we were to give a blanket response to what foods cause high cholesterol, we'd say avoid all animal products, particularly dairy and red meat. But we'll delve deeper since we want to be on the same page as you. Foods rich in saturated fats are not good for you, and they include the following:
- Tropical oils (including palm and coconut oils)
- Fried foods
- Baked foods
- Full-fat dairy (we're talking whole milk and cream)
- Red meat (such as lamb and beef)
- Processed foods (like sausages)
If you are to take saturated fats, ensure that they constitute less than 10% of your daily calorie intake.
What Foods Help Lower Cholesterol?
Did you know your diet has a powerful effect on your overall cholesterol levels? If your answer was affirmative, you must be wondering what foods help lower cholesterol. The following are foods that, in addition to lowering your cholesterol levels, reduce your risk of developing heart disease:
Legumes are rich in proteins, minerals, and fiber, all of which work towards lowering your body's high cholesterol levels.
In addition to being a nutrient-dense fruit, avocados are rich in fiber and monosaturated fats.
- Whole Grains
In recent years, whole grains such as oats and barley have been known to improve cardiovascular health. Oats contain lots of beta-glucan, a fiber that works to reduce the body's cholesterol levels. Barley, on the other hand, significantly lowers LDL cholesterol.
Similar to avocados, nuts are also nutrient-dense. In fact, walnuts and almonds are our number-one recommendation in this entry. They both feature in studies promoting heart health, and walnuts are rich in polyunsaturated fats.
What Is The Normal Range for Cholesterol?
Doctors measure cholesterol in milligrams per deciliter, abbreviated as mg/dL. If you are concerned on what is the normal range for total cholesterol, the number you are looking for is less than 200 mg/dL. Results showing 200-239 mg/dL are borderline high, while those reading 240 mg/dL and above are definitely high.
If you are worried about bad cholesterol, the optimal level is less than 100 mg/dL, particularly if you suffer from heart disease or diabetes. Ideally, you should try to land your cholesterol levels below that, but if you can't, healthcare professionals still consider 100-129 mg/dL as near optimal. As for good cholesterol, a reading of over 40 mg/dL is acceptable. However, a higher reading can lower your risk of heart disease.
What Is Normal Cholesterol by Age?
Off the top of your head, what is normal cholesterol by age? Although what doctors consider a normal cholesterol level may differ from individual to individual, the following are the general guidelines when age comes into play:
- 19 and younger
People in this age bracket need to have a cholesterol level below 170 mg/dl. HDL cholesterol should be above 45 mg/dL, while LDL cholesterol should be below 110 mg/dL.
- 20 and older
For individuals aged 20 and older, their total cholesterol levels should fall between 125 and 200 mg/dl. For HDL, males should have levels greater than or equal to 40 mg/dl, while females should demonstrate figures greater than or equal to 50 mg/dl.
Can Stress Increase Cholesterol?
Yes, studies suggest that stress increases your body's LDL cholesterol level. Healthcare professionals state that stress prompts your body to produce more metabolic fuel, stimulating the liver to produce more LDL cholesterol as a result.
Also, stress interferes with the body's ability to break down consumed fats in an efficient manner. In turn, this deficiency leads to the increased accumulation of unwanted lipids in your body. Stress also inadvertently leads to poor feeding habits. In such cases, one may end up consuming processed foods, red meat, full-fat dairy, sweets, and other related foods in quantities above the minimum recommended amounts. Slowly but surely, these foods will lead to an overaccumulation of unwanted fats.
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