How to Lower Your Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance produced in the liver and circulated through the bloodstream. Existing in the outer layer of every cell in the human body, it plays an important role in the maintenance of healthy cell walls, the production of hormones and bile (to aid digestion), as well as the metabolism of fat soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E, and K. Cholesterol is also taken into the body by eating animal-based foods like dairy products, eggs, and meat.
When there is too much cholesterol circulating in the blood, it adheres to the artery walls and forms a hard substance called plaque. This plaque can build up over time, causing a narrowing of the arteries, and a subsequent decrease in blood flow, resulting in hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis. When the coronary arteries are affected, this is known as cornary artery disease, which can lead to heart attack. If an artery that supplies blood to the brain is blocked, a stroke may occur.
It is estimated that more than 18% of the U.S. population have high cholesterol, with many of them not even being aware of it, placing them at risk for a heart attack or stroke. The American Heart Association recommends that inviduals have their cholesterol levels checked every 5 years after the age of 20, and more often if your cholesterol level is 200 or greater.
Understanding Your Numbers
When checking for cholesterol levels, your health care provider will usually order what is called a lipid profile (also referred to as a coronary panel). You will be asked to fast - nothing to eat or drink except water - for 9 to 12 hours before this blood test, which will measure the following:
- Total cholesterol
- LDL (bad) cholesterol
- HDL (good) cholesterol
- Triglycerides - another type of fat in the blood
Total cholesterol is the sum of all the cholesterol in the blood.
Less than 200
200 - 239
240 and above
LDL, referred to as "bad" cholesterol, builds up on the walls of arteries, increasing your chances of developing heart disease. The lower the better, when it comes to your LDL number.
Less than 100
100 - 129
130 - 159
160 - 189
190 and above
HDL - or "good" cholesterol - is the opposite of LDL when it comes to numbers. Since HDL protects you against heart disease by getting rid of bad cholesterol, the higher the number, the better it is for your health.
60 and above
Less than 40 in men and less than 50 in women
Low. Considered a risk factor for heart disease
Triglycerides are another type of fat in the bloodstream. Too much of this type of fat can contribute to the hardening and narrowing of the arteries, so a high number can be another risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
Less than 150
150 - 199
200 - 499
500 or higher
Lowering Cholesterol With Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC)
Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes is a three-part program consisting of diet, physical activity, and weight management.
- The TLC Diet is recommended by the National Cholesterol Education Program of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. A heart healthy eating plan that is low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol, it calls for you to have less than 7% of your daily calories from saturated fat, less than 200 mg per day of cholesterol, and your total fat intake to be no more than 25-35% of your daily caloric intake.
- An active lifestyle that includes regular exercise lowers your risk of developing coronary artery disease. At least 30 minutes of physical activity, such as brisk walking, is recommended on most, but preferably all days of the week.
- If you are overweight, losing 5 to 10 pounds can lower your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
A Detailed Guide to the TLC Program
Top Five Foods To Lower Your Cholesterol Numbers
The Mayo Clinic recommends the following foods to lower your cholesterol and protect your heart:
Oatmeal, oat bran and high fiber foods
The soluble fiber contained in oatmeal and other high fiber foods can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. It also reduces LDL, or "bad" cholesterol.
Fish and omega-3 fatty acids
Fatty fish contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered heart-healthy due to their ability to lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of developing blood clots. The highest levels are found in mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon, and halibut. At least two servings per week are recommended.
Walnuts, almonds and other nuts
Eating about a handful of nuts per day can reduce blood cholesterol. Because nuts are also high in calories, you do want to keep to this amount. Also, avoid salted or sugar coated nuts.
Olive oil contains antioxidants that lower your "bad" cholesterol but leave your "good" cholesterol unaffected. The cholesterol lowering effects of olive oil are enhanced when you select extra-virgin olive oil, which is less processed and contains more antioxidants. About 2 tablespoons per day in your diet is recommended to benefit your heart health.
Foods with added plant sterols
Sterols are substances found in plants which help block cholesterol absorption. Sterol fortified foods, such as orange juice, cheese, margarine, and yogurt are now available, and can help reduce LDL cholesterol by as much as 10%.