Cholesterol is a soft waxy substance (or lipid) that is found in all your body cells and in the bloodstream. Your body needs cholesterol because it is used to build cell membranes, help produce vitamin D and produce certain hormones. The cholesterol found in a person’s bloodstream comes from two sources. It is either produced in the liver or absorbed by the intestines from the foods we eat.
Why worry about cholesterol? Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in North America, and cholesterol is directly linked to the development of heart disease. It is the job of your liver to manage your cholesterol by adding and removing the cholesterol in your
bloodstream as needed. However, when a person’s body has too much cholesterol, the liver is unable to handle it effect ively. The extra cholesterol forms a solid plaque build-up on the walls of a person’s art eries. These narrower arteries obstruct the flow of blood to essential organs such as the heart . Since oxygen is carried through the blood, the heart becomes oxygen starved. When this happens, a person will experience chest pains or angina. When an artery leading to the heart becomes completely obstructed, a person will have a heart attack and could die. Blockages of other blood vessels can lead to a stroke, which can also result in death . If you control your body’s cholesterol, you greatly reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke Reducing bad cholesterol and maximizing good cholesterol will significantly reduce future risks of heart disease and stroke.
What are good and bad cholesterol?
As mentioned above, the liver adds and removes cholesterol to and from your bloodstream. To do this, the cholesterol is combined with lipoproteins. Lipoproteins keep the cholesterol from turning into a solid substance. Good or bad cholesterol is created based on the type of lipoproteins it combines with.
HDL cholesterol – Cholesterol that combines with high-density lipoproteins becomes HDL cholesterol. This type of cholesterol is known as good cholesterol because the high-density lipoproteins prevent the formation of solids. This cholesterol travels away from the arteries returning to the liver where it can be removed from blood circulation.
LDL cholesterol – Cholesterol that combines with low- density lipoproteins becomes LDL cholesterol. This is what is known as bad cholesterol because the low- density lipoproteins cannot prevent the cholesterol from forming a solid and building up on the artery walls. A person is at risk of developing heart disease when their level of LDL or bad cholesterol is high
and/or the ir level of HDL or good cholesterol is low. On the other hand, low LDL’s and high HDL’s is very desirable.
What factors affect cholesterol?
Diet – People with diets that are high in saturated fats and cholesterol have a greater risk of raising their level of LDL (bad) cholesterol. Saturated fats come from meats and dairy products; oils derived from coconut, palm and cocoa as well as oils processed by hydrogenation.
Heredity – Family history is significant to the development of cholesterol related heart disease. Some people inherit a common disorder that effects
the liver’s ability to detect and remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream . Other people inherit a tendency for either very low or very high HDL cholesterol.
Gender – Women whose bodies still produce estrogen usually have a lower LDL rate then men. After menopause, women’s LDL’s increase significantly.
Inactivity – Regular exercise increases your good (HDL) cholesterol. If you are inactive, you are at a higher risk of developing a cholesterol problem.
Smoking – Smoking significantly reduces your good (HDL) cholesterol. If you smoke, you double your risk of heart attack even with normal cholesterol levels.
Weight – Persons with excess weight tend to have increased LDL cholesterol levels.
How can I manage my cholesterol?
Managing cholesterol is important. Making a commitment to change your lifestyle is actually making a decision to change your future . To manage your cholesterol, a combination of techniques that lower your LDL’s and increase your HDL’s is the most effective.
Eat healthy – Reduce items that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol and increase food that are low in saturated fats. The lists below indicate foods to increase in your diet and other foods to limit or avoid.
Foods with no or low saturated fats include:
• Fruits and vegetables
• Whole grains, such as cereal, rice and pasta
• Lean red meats and poultry without skin
• Low-fat or skim milk dairy products
• Lean fish and shellfish
Foods to limit or avoid include:
• Who le milk, cream and ice cream
• Butter and cheese
• Egg yokes
• Solid fats like shortening, soft margarine and lard
• Organ meats like liver, sweetbreads and kidney
• High-fat processed meats like bologna, salami, hot dogs and sausage
• Fatty red meats
• Fried foods
• Duck and goose meat
• Processed foods such as crackers, cookies, pastries, cakes, etc.
• Junk foods such as potato chips, candy, chocolate , etc.
• Foods made using any of the above items as ingredients.
Cook Healthy – Below are some cooking tips to help reduce fat and lower your bad cholesterol.
• Place broiled, roasted or baked meats on a rack to drain off fat when cooking.
• Baste with wine, fruit juice or marinade instead of meat drippings.
• Broil or microwave instead of pan-frying.
• Cut all the fat off of any meat you cook.
• Remove the skin from chicken and turkey.
• Use unsaturated vegetable oils (canola, olive, corn, safflower, soybean or sunflower .
• Use egg whites instead of yokes for egg dishes and recipes.
• Use low-fat cheeses when required in recipes.
• Serve smaller portions of fatty dishes and larger portions of non-fatty dishes.
Maintain an Active Lifestyle – Regular exercise whether it is w alking, swimming, cycling and even moderate housework will help increase your good cholesterol-reducing your chances of developing heart disease
Lose Excess Weight – Excess fat, not only affects your cholesterol putting you at risk for heart disease, but it is also a high risk factor for other diseases including diabetes.
Quit Smoking – Smoking drastically reduces good (HDL) cholesterol in your body. Even if your cholesterol is normal, smoking doubles your risk of developing heart disease along with many other potential health problems.
When are medications used to control
Although a healthier lifestyle controls cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease for many, it may not work for everyone. Some people, including those with a genetic disposition to high LDL’s or low HDL’s, may
not respond to lifestyle changes only. If your doctor needs to prescribe medication , there are several different drugs to choose from. Your doctor will make a decision based on factors such as the degree that your cholesterol needs to be lowered, other medications that you may currently be taking, and the possible side effects of the cholesterol controlling drugs.
How fast can I expect results? Everyone is different but studies have indicated that blood cholesterol levels begin to change in weeks and can change significantly within months. Improved blood flow through arteries is evident in about 12 months due to the stabilization of artery walls . It is important to note that studies indicate that ma ny people who have been put on a cholesterol managing regimen have either stopped or reversed their heart disease. Others have significantly reduced their risks of developing the disease in the future. You can too .