It's no secret that out-of-control cholesterol levels are a severe health risk and a major cause for heart attack and stroke, which causes many people to search for ways to lower cholesterol levels. Are you looking to lower your cholesterol? Cardiologist Deborah Barbour has developed an eight-step plan to help you lower your cholesterol and maintain healthy levels going forward, hoping that you will incorporate ways to lower cholesterol levels into your daily lifestyle.
To understand the importance of lowering your cholesterol, you should know exactly what cholesterol is and how you can get too much of it.
Cholesterol is a normally occurring waxy, fat-like substance that the body produces to support healthy cell function and hormone production. Like oil and water, however, cholesterol in the blood does not mix or dissolve. To make its way around the body, cholesterol requires two kinds of special lipoprotein carriers — low-density (LDL), or "bad," cholesterol and high-density (HDL), or "good," cholesterol.
Too much LDL in the body can build up in the arteries and cause plaque. As this plaque accumulates arteries become smaller and less blood can squeeze through to the heart and other major organs.
Triglycerides are another component of your cholesterol profile that needs to be monitored. Triglycerides form in the body from the fatty foods we eat and are the most sensitive to diet. If you've had ice cream and pizza the night before your cholesterol is tested, your triglycerides level will give you away. The reverse is also true — a low-fat diet will quickly lower your triglycerides.
Studies show that diet alone can reduce LDL levels by 35 percent in just two weeks. So if you've discovered that your cholesterol is out of control, or if you've been working to get your LDL and HDL in balance, Dr. Barbour's eight-step plan can help you. It may even help you get off of cholesterol-lowering drugs if you are currently taking them, or it may help you avoid them all together. But even with drugs, Dr. Barbour recommends her plan as an important part of healthy cholesterol maintenance.
Before you begin it's a good idea to see your doctor — and to have your cholesterol checked. Dr. Barbour's program is for informational purposes only and should not be substituted for a doctor's medical care.
Know Your Risk
Do you have high blood pressure? Do you have a family history of coronary artery disease before the age of 65? Are you a smoker? Overweight? Do you have coronary artery disease or problems with the arteries in your neck, legs or the aorta? Presence of one or more of these risks makes it even more imperative to monitor cholesterol levels. Even if you are not in the high-risk category it's still important to know your numbers and what they mean.
Talk to Your Doctor
You may not experience any symptoms if you have high cholesterol and most people don't know they have it. That's why it is important to have your blood checked periodically. A blood test called a lipoprotein profile measures the cholesterol levels in your blood and is the recommended test. Find out what your numbers are and talk with your doctor about what they mean. The American Heart Association recommendations for cholesterol levels are:
Total blood cholesterol level (includes HDL, LDL and triglycerides):
Desirable — Less than 200 mg/dL
Borderline high risk — 200-239 mg/dL
High risk — 240 mg/dL and over
How the numbers break out:
HDL — 40 mg/dl or higher
LDL — Less than 100
Triglycerides — Less than 150
Read the Labels
In 1994 the Food and Drug Administration took a hard look at how food manufacturers reported the nutritional value in food and revamped the now famous food label. Those charts on the back of food packages should become your best friend. When considering your cholesterol take note of the section on saturated fat. Saturated fats are usually solid or almost solid at room temperature. All animal fats, such as those in meat, poultry, and dairy products are saturated. Processed and fast foods are also laden with saturated fats. Saturated fats can make your cholesterol levels go through the roof. Reducing saturated fat to less than 10 percent of your caloric intake will help you lower your LDL blood cholesterol. For more on food labeling go to Food Label.
Food manufacturers can also be tricky in how they label their products to grab the attention of the health-conscious consumer. New rules are now in place to guide shoppers. It's important to know what the following terminology means when searching for healthy foods:
Reduced fat: 25% less fat than the same regular brand.
Light: 50% less fat than the same regular product.
Low fat: less than 3 grams of fat per serving.
Reduced or fewer calories: at least 25 percent fewer calories per serving than the reference food.
Fat-free: less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving.
Eat More Fish
Some fish — such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel and herring — contain a type of fish oil called omega-3. Studies have found that omega-3 not only helps lower cholesterol, but also helps to reduce the chance of blood clot formation and protects against irregular heartbeats, which can cause heart attack and sudden cardiac death. The American Heart Association recommends about 3 ounces of fish at least two times a week or more. Fish oil supplements are also an option.
Try Some New Recipes
Be adventurous. Just because it's healthy doesn't mean it won't taste good. Use soy products as a substitute for meat. Substitute egg whites or egg substitute for whole eggs, skim milk for whole and use olive or canola oil when cooking. Do like the Italians do and use olive oil instead of butter on bread. Bake or broil instead of frying and remove chicken skin before cooking. The American Heart Association online cookbook is a good source for "heart healthy" recipes.
Nothing new here. Getting off the couch is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. Thirty to 45 minutes of moderate intensity workouts most days of the week is the recommendation. Try thinking of exercise as your recreation time by walking, swimming, dancing or bicycling. For more on how to incorporate exercise into daily life check out, "How do I increase my exercise?".
Monitor Your Cholesterol
Everyone over the age of 20 should have a lipoprotein profile performed at least every five years. If your cholesterol was found to be high or borderline at your last physical, begin Dr. Barbour's eight-step plan and get your cholesterol checked again four to six months after you have made these lifestyle changes. This will give your doctor a good indication whether dietary and activity changes are enough to lower your cholesterol or if medication may be required. If cholesterol-reducing medication becomes necessary your doctor will tell you which ones are best and how often you should have your cholesterol checked.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Shed those extra pounds. Being overweight is not only associated with an increase in cholesterol, but the extra pounds can increase your blood pressure and your risk for diabetes and certain types of cancer.
5 ways cholesterol can affect your sex life is important to be aware about. Learn all about cholesterol affecting your sex life from Discovery Health.