Almost one out of three American adults has high cholesterol, according to a report from the American Heart Association. High cholesterol increases your risk for heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. — heart disease causes one out of every four deaths. There are things that you can do to lower your total cholesterol levels, but the first step is talking to a medical professional.You can't tell whether you have high cholesterol by looking in the mirror, checking your temperature, or looking for symptoms. Talk to your doctor to learn your cholesterol levels. Click To Tweet
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol can be a confusing topic. Many people view cholesterol as a bad thing, but your body actually needs cholesterol to work properly. The problem is having too much cholesterol, especially the wrong type, in your blood. High levels of cholesterol can clog arteries and increase your risk for heart diseases.
Your liver produces cholesterol, which is a waxy, fatty substance. You also get cholesterol from eating certain foods, such as meat and dairy products. There are different types of cholesterol, and people often refer to the different types of cholesterol as “good cholesterol” or “bad cholesterol”.
- LDL (low-density lipoproteins) is commonly referred to as “bad cholesterol”. High LDL levels mean increased risk for cholesterol buildup in the arteries, and increased risk for heart disease.
- HDL (high-density lipoproteins) is the “good cholesterol”. HDL cholesterol carries cholesterol back to the liver from the rest of the body, where it is removed from the body.
There are other types of cholesterol, including very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL), but HDL and LDL are the two main types of cholesterol that most people need to pay attention to.
Ways to lower your cholesterol
You want to keep your cholesterol levels within the appropriate range. This may mean lowering LDL levels or increasing HDL levels. If you are told that you need to lower your cholesterol, this typically means that your LDL cholesterol levels, or total cholesterol levels (which includes both LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol), must come down.
Several things influence your cholesterol levels:
Your diet plays an important role in managing cholesterol. Include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids: salmon, mackerel, herring, oysters, flaxseeds, soybeans, and walnuts. You also want foods high in soluble fiber. Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol, which helps the blood remove it from the body. This includes whole grains, oatmeal, beans, eggplant, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, apples, citrus, pears, and grapes. Avoid foods that are high in saturated fats, trans fats, sodium, and foods that are high in cholesterol.
Don’t smoke. You may know that smoking cigarettes increases your risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, lung cancer, and premature death, but did you know that it also affects your cholesterol levels? Quitting smoking helps raise HDL cholesterol, or “good cholesterol”, levels.
Exercise every day. It helps raise HDL levels, helps you manage a healthy weight, and promotes good overall health. The CDC recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, each week. Talk to your doctor about the amount of exercise that’s right for you.
How do you check cholesterol levels?
Talk to your primary care physician to get your cholesterol checked. Your doctor may order a test that measures your cholesterol levels. Your doctor will then work with you to determine the best way to manage your cholesterol.