When checking your heart health, one of the things doctors will assess is your cholesterol level. Cholesterol is a naturally-occurring lipid in the body with numerous functions. However, when unregulated, it can pose different heart health risks, such as stroke and other cardiovascular issues.
Knowing more about cholesterol, its functions, and effects when unregulated, allows people to be more prepared on what to do next. Understanding how to reduce cholesterol is an excellent way to support heart health, which is a significant part of your overall well-being.
It’s worth mentioning that cardiovascular problems happen mostly during winter. A study has observed that factors, like blood pressure, are lower during summer than in winter (1). Additionally, eating healthy during the holidays and doing exercise becomes harder in winter.
Cholesterol is a waxy type of lipid (fat) produced by the liver. It’s responsible for numerous physiological functions, such as metabolism, cell membrane construction, and hormone production (2). The body produces enough cholesterol it needs, but you can also get more through the food you eat (3).
Is cholesterol bad? It depends.
Because cholesterol plays many vital roles in the body, it is indispensable. But when you have more than what you need, it becomes a hindrance to heart health and total wellness.
In general, there are two popular types of cholesterol: good and bad. Having more bad cholesterol can lead to illnesses or cardiovascular issues. Good cholesterol, on the other hand, helps remove other types of cholesterol from the body. Learning how to reduce cholesterol can help you be healthier and be at your best.
There are 3 types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) (4). LDL or bad cholesterol is the type that travels around the body to deliver the cholesterol it needs (2). HDL or good cholesterol brings excess cholesterol, including those in the arteries, to the liver for it to be expelled from the body (4).
VLDL cholesterol has a different purpose; it carries triglycerides. What makes cholesterol different from triglycerides is that cholesterol is a lipid while triglycerides are fat coming from the food we eat, which stores unused calories and energy (4).
With this, planning to improve heart health through managing cholesterol is not just about how to reduce cholesterol. It’s also important to identify which cholesterol to lower and which one to increase.
There are several causes of high cholesterol. Some causes or risk factors are modifiable or can be controlled, while some are non-modifiable.
Diet is a modifiable risk factor. Eating foods high in saturated or trans fat can influence the cholesterol levels in the body. It should be noted that most cholesterol in food comes from animal-based products (4). Also, processed foods can increase the bad cholesterol in the body.
Lack of physical activity can also cause high cholesterol. Aside from the risk of having a higher body mass index due to less exercise (5), less movement doesn’t help eliminate the bad cholesterol.
Smoking and drinking, in general, are not helpful for the body. These two factors can lower the HDL or good cholesterol levels. With less good cholesterol to regulate them, bad cholesterol can damage artery cells (2). Finding out how to reduce cholesterol and improving on these habits, can support heart health.
Age is a non-modifiable factor. With age, it becomes more difficult for the liver to remove bad cholesterol (5). Also, aging can sometimes make it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle with proper diet and exercise.
Family history can also be a contributing factor for high cholesterol. There are certain conditions that make a person’s cholesterol level higher than normal. It’s caused by a mutation in the genes and can be inherited from family members. It’s also said that one in 300 Australians are affected by this condition (6).
It’s not easy to determine when you have high cholesterol. Unlike other illnesses that have evident symptoms, like weight loss or skin changes, high cholesterol only becomes more visible after taking different lab tests. It becomes apparent when a person experiences issues related to restriction of blood flow, which affects both brain and heart health (7). Before this happens, we need to find ways on how to reduce cholesterol to minimize any effects it has on the body.
As bad cholesterol swims around the body to fulfill its purpose, it builds up fatty deposits known as plaque in the blood vessels, especially the arteries. Plaque forms around the linings of the arteries, which eventually damages them (5). The buildup of plaques can also cause blockages that restrict blood flow (5).
Other complications can be experienced with these blockages. It can lead to issues with the supply of oxygen throughout the body as oxygen-infused blood passes through the arteries. In severe cases, it can cause the blood flow to stop, which can affect the brain and the heart.
With some lifestyle changes, you can manage your cholesterol levels.
For instance, you must consider your physical activity and food choices. Another is to consult your doctor to treat underlying health conditions. Lastly is to take control of habits or lifestyle which doesn’t provide any benefit for your health. These steps can help reduce cholesterol naturally.
Regular exercise helps increase the HDL or good cholesterol levels in the body (8).
Physical activities vary from moderate-intensity to highly vigorous and can depend on how much time you spend on them. It’s recommended to have at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity or at least 1.25 hours of a mix of varying intensity of physical activity per week (9). Of course, the amount of time for physical activity still depends on factors, age and health conditions. Seniors, for instance, need less time.
Quitting smoking can help increase HDL levels (8). The same goes with cutting back on drinking as it affects different functions in the body and increases bad cholesterol (8).
Aside from these, quitting smoking and drinking alcohol moderately, also have other health benefits.
What better way to find out how to reduce cholesterol than consulting your doctor or medical practitioner. They can provide you with different solutions catered to your condition. They can also support your diet and exercise efforts, so that you can do them properly.
As people get older, the risk of having different concerns in the body also increases. This is the same with high cholesterol. For people aged 20 and above, it’s advised to have your cholesterol level screened every five years. More frequent screening is required for people prone to cardiovascular problems (10).
Simple changes in your diet can help improve your cholesterol levels in the long run.
One of these changes is to minimize the consumption of saturated and trans fat. Saturated fat is found mostly on meat and animal-based products, such as full-cream milk. It increases the total cholesterol levels in the body (8) Trans fat are used in deep-fried food, snacks, and store-bought baked goods. They elevate the bad cholesterol levels and decrease the good cholesterol levels (11).
Choosing foods with unsaturated fat can also reduce cholesterol levels. Some examples of these foods are almonds, olives, avocados, chia seeds, and plant-based oils. Also, adding foods with soluble fibre can help reduce cholesterol naturally. Fibre-rich food, such as oats, barley, fruits, vegetables, and lentils, reduce the absorption of cholesterol and make you feel full, to lessen unnecessary snacking (11).
These are the general rules of a heart-healthy diet. Of course, your doctor will take into account your health status, existing diseases, and perhaps, preferences. That’s why it’s crucial to consult a healthcare provider, especially when you’re having a hard time with your diet and nutrition.
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