Cholesterol (CL) and its reputation as a risk factor for heart disease, people tend to think of it only in negative terms. But it is an important component of cell membranes and vital to the structure and function of all of your body’s cells. It is also an essential building block in the formation of certain types of hormones.
Still, about half of American adults have blood cholesterol levels that are higher than desirable (hypercholesterolemia). If you’re one of these people with this largely preventable condition, you may be on the way to heart disease.
When the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, another blood fat, in your bloodstream become too high, your likelihood of developing fatty deposits (plaques) in your blood vessels increases. Over time, plaques lead to narrowing of arteries, impeding blood flow and creating a condition called atherosclerosis. Narrowing of the arteries around your heart (coronary artery disease) can prevent your heart from getting as much oxygen-rich blood as it needs. This means an increased risk of a heart attack. Likewise, decreased blood flow to your brain can cause a stroke, and less blood flowing to your lower limbs may result in exercise-related pain or even gangrene.
Signs and symptoms of High Cholesterol
The only way to find out if you have high blood cholesterol is by having a blood test.
Causes of High Cholesterol
To circulate in your blood, which is mainly water, CL and triglycerides — a form of fat must be carried by proteins called apoproteins. A lipoprotein is a combination of a lipid and an apoprotein.
The main types of lipoproteins are:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
This contains about 25 percent protein and 45 percent CL. The CL carried in LDL particles is known as LDL CL. LDL is sometimes called “bad” CL because it transports CL to sites throughout your body, where it’s either deposited or used to repair cell membranes. But like hard water causing lime to build up inside plumbing, LDL CL promotes accumulation of CL in the walls of your arteries.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL).
This contains almost 50 percent protein and 20 percent cholesterol. The cholesterol carried in HDL particles is known as HDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol helps clear excess cholesterol from your body and is therefore sometimes called “good” cholesterol.
- Very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL).
This type of lipoprotein contains mostly triglycerides and small amounts of protein and cholesterol.
Having a low level of LDL and a high level of HDL is desirable for lowering your risk of developing plaques and coronary artery disease.
You may have high LDL as a result of genetic makeup or lifestyle choices, or both. Your genes can give you cells that don’t remove LDL from your blood efficiently or a liver that produces too much cholesterol as VLDL particles. Your genetic makeup can also result in too few HDL particles.
Improving your blood levels reduces your risk of heart disease. Lifestyle changes are your first course of action to improve your levels. These steps include eating a healthy diet, exercising and not smoking.
Eating a healthy diet.
These changes in your diet can improve your blood cholesterol levels:
- Control total fat.
Limit all types of fat — saturated, polyunsaturated, trans fatty acids (trans fats) and monounsaturated — to no more than 30 percent of your total daily calories. Because all foods with fats contain a combination of these fats, it’s important to reduce total fat. Not every food you eat must have less than 30 percent of its calories from fat. Use the guideline as a daily average. By balancing occasional high-fat foods with low-fat choices, your fat intake should average no more than 30 percent of your daily calories. If your daily intake is 2,000 calories, 30 percent equals 65 grams of fat. Limit saturated fat to no more than 10 percent of total calories.
- Limit dietary CL.
Your daily limit for dietary CL is 200 milligrams. To accomplish this goal, limit or avoid concentrated sources such as organ meats, egg yolks and whole-milk products.
- Eat foods with soluble fiber.
As part of a low-fat diet, soluble fiber can help lower your total blood cholesterol level. Foods high in soluble fiber include oat bran, oatmeal, beans, peas, rice bran, barley, citrus fruits, strawberries and apple pulp.
- Eat more fish.
Some fish — particularly fatty types prevalent in cold water, such as salmon, mackerel and herring — contain high amounts of a unique type of polyunsaturated fat called omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3s may lower your level of triglycerides. However, pregnant women and women who plan to become pregnant in the next several years should limit their weekly intake of cold-water fish because of the potential for mercury contamination.
- Consider soy products.
Soy compounds called isoflavones act like human hormones that regulate CL levels. Eating soy proteins can reduce your levels of total CL, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) CL and triglycerides. Eating soy may also raise your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” CL, which may protect you against heart disease.
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all.
Moderate consumption of alcohol may raise your level of HDL CL. The best advice is to drink in moderation if you drink at all. Limit alcohol to one drink daily if you’re a woman or to no more than two drinks daily if you’re a man. If you’re a nondrinker, don’t start drinking alcohol. Don’t drink alcohol if you have a high level of triglycerides.
- Reduce sugar intake.
This is a way of lowering triglyceride levels. Women’s cardiovascular health, compared with that of men, seems to be more significantly influenced by triglyceride levels. Levels higher than 150 mg/dL increase a woman’s cardiovascular risk. Men, however, don’t attain the same level of increased risk until triglycerides reach 400 mg/dL. It’s especially important for women with high triglyceride levels to take action to reduce those levels.
Being overweight promotes a high total CL level. Losing weight improves your CL levels. Set up an exercise program to lose weight using these guidelines and your doctor’s advice:
- Choose an aerobic activity.
Get involved in activities such as brisk walking, jogging, bicycling or cross-country skiing.
- Build up the time and frequency of exercising.
Gradually work up to exercising for 30 minutes to 45 minutes at least three times a week. If you’re overweight or have been inactive for many years, take several months to work up gradually to this level. The higher the level of your activity, the greater your rate of weight loss.
- Stick with your exercise program.
Schedule a regular time for exercise. Make exercise fun. If it’s not enjoyable you may not feel like exercising regularly, year in and year out. Find a friend or join an exercise group to keep you motivated and committed to exercise. Or take up an activity that keeps you active.
If you smoke, stop. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. Cigarette smoking damages the walls of your blood vessels, making them prone to accumulating fatty deposits. If you stop smoking, your HDL CL may return to its former level.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine
When it comes to a heart-healthy diet, you probably know you should eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fat, CL friendly foods. But if you don’t eat right you’re increasing your risk of heart disease and related conditions. One and only one product that we recommend as an effective natural alternative is pharmaceutical grade systemic enzymes which you reduce bad cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and you lower C- Reactive Protein levels, an inflammation marker linked to heart attack. Unlike conventional medication treatments Vitalzym does not have any harmful side effects.
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