Preventing High Cholesterol
What do cholesterol, basketball and golf have in common? In some sports, the team with the higher score wins, such as basketball. But in others, the low score wins, such as golf.
If you want to have a winning cholesterol score, you’ll need to have both high and low numbers – a high number of high density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol, but lower levels of total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad”, cholesterol.
Why are these different levels of cholesterol important? Because high total cholesterol and LDL levels can cause heart disease or even a heart attack. The best way to prevent high cholesterol is to develop a winning game strategy that includes eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, not being overweight and taking medications as necessary.
How High is Too High?
High cholesterol typically does not cause any symptoms. The only way you will know if you have high cholesterol is to have a simple blood test called a lipoprotein test. Healthy adults should have this test about every five years. It will tell you your total cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood).
Desirable levels for total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter); for LDL, less than 100 mg/dL; for HDL, 40 mg/dL or higher; and for triglycerides, less than 150 mg/dL1.
Too Many Players on the Field
Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs to produce hormones, vitamin D and substances to help digest foods. But cholesterol is found many of the foods we eat, especially those such as egg yolks, liver and whole milk. Eating foods high in cholesterol can increase cholesterol levels. Other causes of high cholesterol include having a family history of the condition, age, diabetes, obesity, genetic diseases or a thyroid that does not work properly.
You can’t change your genetics, but you can make lifestyle changes to prevent high cholesterol. Stick to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that can actually lower blood cholesterol and avoid other types of fats – including saturated fat, trans fat and dietary cholesterol – that tend to raise cholesterol levels. Increase the amount of soluble fiber, such as oatmeal, kidney beans and apples, and add cholesterol-lowering foods such as margarine.
Exercise on a regular basis. Aim for about 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, on most days of the week. Do not smoke and maintain a healthy weight. If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, prevent it from going higher and try to bring it down by taking medications as directed by your physician.
Drugs that can help lower LDL cholesterol levels include statins, bile acid sequestrants, nicotinic acid and ezetimibe. Fibrates can help reduce triglycerides and may increase HDL levels.
Having a winning cholesterol score will take practice, but you’ll come out ahead in the long run by keeping your heart healthy.