Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is made in the body by the liver but is also found in some of the food we eat in our daily lives. Unlike the common belief, not all cholesterols are bad. In fact, it is an important substance to produce cell membranes, vitamin D, bile acids, and hormones. However, too much cholesterol in the blood can increase your risk of getting the heart and circulatory diseases.
Where Does Cholesterol Come From?
Cholesterol comes from your body as well as from what you eat.
There is about 75% of cholesterol that is made by your body and the amount is determined by your family history. Hence, the remaining 25% of cholesterol comes from what you eat. The cholesterol level in your blood will increase if you eat food with saturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fats are fats that come mostly from animal fat such as butter, cream, and meat while trans fats contained in margarine, shortening, and fried food that are made out of the addition of hydrogen to vegetable oils to make the oils more solid.
Types of Cholesterol
There are 2 main types of blood cholesterols:
• Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – also known as the “bad” cholesterol because it develops plaque. It accumulates in the walls of your blood vessels, clog them, and put you at higher risk for cardiovascular diseases due to the narrowed artery when the clot is formed. This condition is called as atherosclerosis.
• High-density lipoprotein (HDL) – also known as ‘good’ cholesterol as it helps to discard the “bad” cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver to break down and pass the cholesterol from the body. Thus, you will be protected from a heart attack and stroke when you have a healthy level of HDL cholesterol.
Having high cholesterol can be detrimental to your health, and it opens up doors for many diseases in the future. According to the latest statistics, more than 100 million Americans suffer from high cholesterol today.
So what causes it? Here are 5 most common causes of high blood cholesterol.
1) Poor Diet
A poor diet, packed with saturated fats, trans fats and extremely high cholesterol can increase your risk for heart attack. You can easily find this in food that comes from animals. Beef, bacon, ribs, burgers, eggs and sausages contain saturated fat. Also, you should also stay from packaged food that contains palm oil, coconut oil or cocoa butter.
2) Physically Inactive
If your cholesterol numbers aren’t where they ought to be, working out should be a key part of your get-healthy strategy. By increasing your activity level, it will help you lose or maintain your weight. The level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the kind of lipoprotein that’s been linked to heart disease is usually high in those who’re overweight.
3) Age & Sex
The older you get, the greater the risk you have for heart diseases, no matter what sex you are. However, the females have quite a unique advantage in the earlier stage of their lives. They tend to have low cholesterol level until menopause, which explains why less young females suffer from heart diseases compared to men.
But this grace period ends after their menopause. The risk of contracting heart diseases after that is the same as male, so ladies, do not be negligent to your health!
Your family history may also affect your cholesterol level. High cholesterol may run in your family. So pay attention to your family history.
Hereditary plays a big role in any health conditions. In fact, there are well over 100 genes that are responsible for your cholesterol level. And all you need is one bad gene to mess up your body system!
Usually, hereditary-caused hypercholesterolemia is extremely difficult to treat by simply following a diet plan. These people have to consult their doctor for proper medication.
5) Cigarette Smoking
Cigarette kills. In your lipid profile aspect, it will significantly lower your “good” cholesterol level, HDL while damaging the inner lining of your blood vessels, causing atherosclerosis. Forming of plague or atherosclerosis is the first stage of heart disease. When it fully clogs your vessels, stroke or heart attack can occur abruptly, causing instant death. Even if you’re a second-hand smoker, you’re still in danger. So stay away from those smokers.
Top 5 Tactics To Reduce Your Cholesterol Level
You can significantly lower your cholesterol by making simple lifestyle changes. This not only helps you in your overall health but also keeps you away from toxic medications and leaves you in a worse shape. As always, prevention is better than cure. So what kind of lifestyle changes are we looking at? Here’s are 5 top tactics to get you started right away:
1. Make Better Food Choices
The reason you’re in your current health state is not a coincidence, but what you put into your system on a continuous basis. If you’re physically unfit, it’s obvious that you’ve poor food choices and have been practicing bad eating habits for years!
Thankfully, you have the power to change! Here are some quick tips to radically plummet your cholesterol level and improve your cardiovascular health.
Related: Benefits In Eating Healthy
Healthy Fats vs Bad Fats
Not all fats are bad! So don’t fall into the false truth that all fats are evil. In fact, your body needs fat to carry out all bodily functions especially your hormonal system.
Worry about getting fat? Truth is, you can consume healthy fats to burn fats! So what are unhealthy fats?
Unhealthy fats are also known as saturated fats. It’s the kind of fats that spikes up your total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) to an unhealthy level.
Examples of saturated fats are cheese, pizza, dairy desserts, sausage, bacon, burgers, reduced fat milk, pasta, butter, fried white potatoes and the list goes on. Surprised that more than half of the listed food are your favorite? You’re not alone. A staple American diet today consists of 60% saturated fats! No wonder obesity is rising at an alarming rate.
We’ve covered the unhealthy fats, so let’s learn more about the healthy fats – The good fats, also known as unsaturated fats.
These fats are heart healthy and help improve cholesterol levels. To eat healthily, it is important to replace some food that is high in saturated fat with food rich in unsaturated fats. Some of the examples are all kinds of nuts, avocado, vegetable, seed and nut oil such as rapeseed, olive, sunflower, corn oil and oily fish such as salmon, pilchards, mackerel, and trout.
Related: Alkaline Food VS Acidic Food
As a rule, you should get less than 7 percent of your daily calories from saturated fat. Choose healthier fats for healthier options.
In short, it is highly recommended to replace food with high saturated fat with healthier substitutes to improve your overall lipid levels.
2. Exercise More
I believe many want to avoid this topic as much as they possibly can. But the truth remains the same; you have to exercise to maintain your overall health, especially when it comes to normalizing your cholesterol level.
Studies show that those who exercise more often actually have higher HDL cholesterol compared to those who didn’t, and have a better overall health condition. So what kind of exercise works?
The best plan for reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease is a combination of aerobic (aka cardio) and resistance training.
Expert recommends spending at least 40 minutes of moderate to high-intensity aerobic exercises 3 to 4 times a week to improve cholesterol levels as well as lowers your blood pressure and risk for stroke and heart attack.
So how do you make sure you commit to your exercise regime?
The best way to stay on a program till the end is to stay accountable to someone. So find a gym buddy, or join a fitness community! This will make your journey a lot more fun and less lonely. Also, don’t fret too much on whether you’re doing it right. Any exercise is good enough! Whether it’s just a walk in the park, climbing up the stairs, cycling in your neighborhood or doing a couple of jumping jacks in your room.
Related: Food Pyramid
Still stuck? Well, I’ve some examples of exercise listed down to help you out.
Examples of moderate-intensity activities:
• Ballroom dancing
• Playing tennis
• General gardening
Examples of high-intensity activities:
• Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack
• Swimming laps
• Jogging, race walking or running
• Hiking uphill
3. Lose Weight
If you’ve already implemented the first two strategies (right diet and exercise), numbers on the scale may already be dropping.
Did you know that you could actually lower your cholesterol levels by simply losing weight? It’s proven to be true. Losing 10% of your body weight can radically normalize your cholesterol level. Not overweight? Put effort into maintaining a healthy weight.
For long-term success with weight loss, the Mayo Clinic suggests making small, sustainable changes. Slowly incorporate physical activity into your daily routine in simple ways such as brisk walking or doing simple house chores. Bring a healthy lunch from home instead of eating out. It all adds up. All these can help you lose a lot of weight, which in turn, reduce your cholesterol level.
4. Avoid Alcohol (Most of the Time)
Here’s a well-kept secret among the doctors: Alcohol actually promotes better cholesterol level and heart health.
Plus, research shows that alcohol also lowers inflammation and increases one’s lifespan.
But this secret is kept for a good reason: MAJORITY of the people will take this truth for granted and drink towers of alcohol!
Moderation is beneficial, but alcohol overdose can lead to liver failure, high blood pressure, alcohol-induced heart attack, stroke, alcohol intoxication, and death.
5. Quit Smoking
The most well-documented impact that smoking has on cholesterol is how it lowers levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
Smoking kills! A healthy person can actually succumb to numerous diseases from this habit. Besides damaging your respiratory system, smoking is known to clog your circulatory, causing inflammation and cause a heart attack!
So if you smoke, stop right now! Do it not only for yourself but also for your family and people around you. Being a second-hand smoker is equally detrimental. Quitting might improve your HDL cholesterol level. Studies have shown that HDL levels often go up soon after a person quits smoking.
Related: 27 Healthy Juice Recipes
So what if your lifestyle changes didn’t make any difference?
When your health is at a point where healthy lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower your cholesterol level, you have to consult your doctor for proper medication. However, statistics show that lifestyle changes do significantly help in reducing the dose of medication a person takes in order to control their cholesterol level. So, don’t give up! Stay consistent with your habit and new lifestyle changes and soon you will reap the benefits.
Treatment For High Cholesterol
You can work with your doctor to determine your risk and find the most appropriate treatment for you. In all cases, lifestyle changes are important to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.