If you are eating an American diet, you are likely to have a brush or two with high cholesterol. The food is just too good. I know, I get it. There are some that have a genetic or familial predisposition to the body producing more than the normal levels of cholesterol. All in all, the key to staying above high cholesterol is to have a balance. It is ok to have the foods you enjoy as long as you are balancing them with a nutritious diet and lifestyle.
So what is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy-like substance that our body produces on its own. Our liver and intestines produce about 80% of the cholesterol we need and we get about 20% from our diet. Cholesterol is important to our bodies as it helps produce hormones such as testosterone and estrogen, helps make vitamin D, bile acids, and a building block in cell membrane production.
Excess cholesterol is carried back to the liver by high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and excreted. Not all excess cholesterol is carried by high-density lipoproteins, and that’s where the problems begin. There are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) in the bloodstream as well. These proteins bind to cholesterol and deliver them to tissues and form plaques in blood vessels. Very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) carry triglycerides to tissues.
So if we only need 20% of cholesterol from our food, why do we consume so much cholesterol on a daily basis? If your diet is not primarily plant-based, you are like consuming more than the needed intake of cholesterol from animal-based products.
What increases cholesterol in the bloodstream?
What increases the risk for high cholesterol?
Lack of physical activity
How to know if you have high cholesterol:
High cholesterol does not have any symptoms and can only be detected by a blood test. The results of high cholesterol can be fatal if left untreated or unhealthy lifestyles continue. These include heart attacks, strokes, carotid artery disease among others.
Ideal test results should have these readings:
Total cholesterol should be less than 200mg/dl
LDL: less than 100 mg/dl
HDL: greater than 60mg/dl (>50mg/dl for women and >40mg/dl for men)
Triglycerides: less than 150mg/dl
What can I do?
If you get your lab results from your doctor and your numbers are not desirable, do not fret. Fortunately, high cholesterol can be reversed with lifestyle changes and diet modifications.
Exercise most days of the week for at least 30 minutes to an hour.
Stop smoking as smoking decreases HDL levels primarily.
Eat more vegetables and fruits.
Eliminate fast foods, fried foods, and processed foods.
Start cooking your own meals so you know exactly what’s in it.
Limit fat intake and replace with healthy fats such as avocado and nuts.
Eat leaner cuts of meat such as chicken breast. Eliminate fatty meat cuts.
Eat more fish. Fish oil is great for binding cholesterol and getting it out of the bloodstream.
When you have tried lifestyle changes and your levels are still elevated, add these supplements to your daily regimen one at a time:
Red Yeast Rice: Research shows red yeast rice to lower cholesterol by 32%. The supplement also reduces LDL and triglyceride levels. It has the same potential as statin-lowering prescribed medications. The dosage is 1 to 2 capsules (600mg to 1200mg) a day.
Fish Oil (Omega-3): Fish oil helps bind cholesterol and decreases overall levels in the bloodstream. Dosage is 1000mg to 2000mg daily.
Niacin(Vitamin B-3): Niacin has been shown to increase HDL levels and decrease LDL levels. Research shows Niacin increasing HDL levels by 30 percent. However, many have the side effect of flushing when taking it. If you are going to use Niacin, purchase a flush-free brand or take with an aspirin. Dosage is 500mg once to three times a day.
Coenzyme Q10: Coenzyme Q10 is a powerful antioxidant that protects the heart and increases the energy production of all cells in the body. The enzyme also prevents LDL from oxidizing in the blood. Coenzyme Q10 levels naturally decline in our bodies with age and with statin medications. Taking a supplement will increase blood levels and help lower LDL levels. If you are taking a statin prescribed for your cholesterol, taking this supplement is necessary.
Being diagnosed with high cholesterol is not the end. It is actually the beginning of a lifestyle change. Start incorporating some changes in your diet, and adding supplements, and you will see results as early as your next blood test.