Good And Bad Cholesterol
A big part of understanding cholesterol is knowing the different types.
To move cholesterol through your blood, your liver makes lipoproteins, a combination of fat and proteins that carries cholesterol through your bloodstream. There are two major forms of lipoprotein: low-density and high-density .
High-density lipoprotein is sometimes called good cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein is called bad cholesterol. Too much LDL in your blood leads to a high cholesterol diagnosis and is associated with numerous health issues, including heart attack and stroke.
Myths About Heart Disease
Believing in these outdated ideas may increase your risk of a heart attack. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself.
Over the past decade, we’ve learned a great deal about what causes heart attacks and how to prevent them. But unless you follow medical news closely, there’s a chance you might have misconceptions about the risk factors for heart disease, or heart disease itself. Here are 10 commonly held but mistaken beliefs. Replacing these myths with truths will give you the information you need so you and your doctor can plan the best path to a healthy heart.
What Are Dangerous Cholesterol Levels
Cholesterol levels are checked with a simple blood test and measured in milligrams per deciliter . According to the Mayo Clinic, total cholesterol is grouped into the following three categories:
- Less than 200 mg/dL is considered healthy
- Between 200 and 239 mg/dL is borderline high
- 240 mg/dL and higher is classified as high
But it may surprise you to learn that your total cholesterol number might not give you the full picture.
A person’s level of non-HDL cholesterol is more of a concern than their total cholesterol level, says Robert Eckel, MD, professor of medicine, emeritus, at the University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, former president of the American Heart Association and president of the American Diabetes Association.
A non-HDL level is simply a person’s total cholesterol minus their HDL cholesterol. “Non-HDL cholesterol is a very important predictor for the risk of heart disease, stroke or death from cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Eckel tells LIVESTRONG.com.
A healthy level of non-HDL cholesterol is less than 130 mg/dL, according to the Mayo Clinic. If your test results are higher, you are at an increased risk of heart disease.
But according to Dr. Eckel, studies show that non-HDL is the best predictor of cardiovascular disease, better than total cholesterol or LDL-to-HDL ratios. Though many clinicians still use other tests, Dr. Eckel says non-HDL tests are increasingly common.
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Where To Get Help
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- Jones PJH, Shamloo M, MacKay DS, et al. 2018, Progress and perspectives in plant sterol and plant stanol research, Nutrition Reviews, vol. 76, no. 10, pp. 725-746.
- Sun YE, Wang W, Qin J 2018, Anti-hyperlipidemia of garlic by reducing the level of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein: A meta-analysis, Medicine, vol. 97, no. 18, pp. e0255.
- Cheng Y, Sheen J, Hu WL, et al. 2017, Polyphenols and oxidative stress in atherosclerosis-related ischemichHeart disease and stroke, Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, vol. 2017, Article ID: 8526438.
How To Test For High Cholesterol
You can find out if you have high cholesterol through a blood test. If youre over 40, you may be able to have a test during your NHS health check,
Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi , the digital healthcare provider, said: There are generally no outward signs of a problem – thats why its often best to get tested.
“Your GP can measure cholesterol using a blood test and will consider your age, sex, weight, blood pressure, personal and family medical history before deciding on an action.
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Why Cholesterol Is Too Important To Ignore
High cholesterol is a serious problem if left untreated. Luckily, you can do a lot to lower your cholesterol. Learn how to read your lipid panel. Assess recommended lifestyle changes and how they fit into your day. Then talk to your healthcare provider to develop a treatment plan or explore cholesterol medication that works for you.
Foods That Fight High Cholesterol
It’s easy to eat your way to an alarmingly high cholesterol level. And the reverse is true too changing what you eat can lower your cholesterol and improve the composition of the armada of fats floating through your bloodstream. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and “good fats” are all part of a heart-healthy diet. But some foods are particularly good at helping bring down cholesterol.
How? Some cholesterol-lowering foods deliver a good dose of soluble fiber, which binds cholesterol and its precursors in the digestive system and drags them out of the body before they get into circulation. Others provide polyunsaturated fats, which directly lower LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. And those with plant sterols and stanols keep the body from absorbing cholesterol. Here are 5 of those foods:
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Managing Heart Attack Risk Factors
Here are ways to manage your risks for a heart attack:
- Look at which risk factors apply to you, then take steps to eliminate or reduce them.
- Learn about high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. These may be “silent killers.”
- Change risk factors that aren’t inherited by making lifestyle changes. Talk with your healthcare provider to find out how to do so.
- Talk with your healthcare provider to find out if you have risk factors that can’t be changed. These can be managed with medicine and lifestyle changes.
Causes Of High Cholesterol
Eating too many foods that are high in cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats may increase your risk of developing high cholesterol. Living with obesity can also increase your risk. Other lifestyle factors that can contribute to high cholesterol include inactivity and smoking.
Your genetics can also affect your chances of developing high cholesterol. Genes are passed down from parents to children. Certain genes instruct your body on how to process cholesterol and fats. If your parents have high cholesterol, you may be at a greater risk of having it too.
In rare cases, high cholesterol is caused by familial hypercholesterolemia. This genetic disorder prevents your body from removing LDL. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute , most adults with this condition have total cholesterol levels above 300 milligrams per deciliter and LDL levels above 200 milligrams per deciliter.
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Myth: Eating Foods With A Lot Of Cholesterol Will Not Make My Cholesterol Levels Go Up
Fact: It can be complicated. We know that foods with a lot of cholesterol usually also have a lot of saturated fat. Saturated fats can make your cholesterol numbers higher, so its best to choose foods that are lower in saturated fats. Foods made from animals, including red meat, butter, and cheese, have a lot of saturated fats.
Instead, aim to eat foods with plenty of fiber, such as oatmeal and beans, and healthy unsaturated fats, such as avocados, olive oil, and nuts. Learn more about healthy diets and nutrition at CDCs nutrition, physical activity, and obesity website.
Talk with your health care provider about ways to manage your cholesterol. Learn more about medicines to lower cholesterol.
What Should My Cholesterol Levels Be
Blood cholesterol is measured in units called millimoles per litre of blood, often shortened to mmol/L.
As a general guide, total cholesterol levels should be:
- 5mmol/L or less for healthy adults
- 4mmol/L or less for those at high risk
As a general guide, LDL levels should be:
- 3mmol/L or less for healthy adults
- 2mmol/L or less for those at high risk
An ideal level of HDL is above 1mmol/L. A lower level of HDL can increase your risk of heart disease.
Your ratio of total cholesterol to HDL may also be calculated. This is your total cholesterol level divided by your HDL level. Generally, this ratio should be below four, as a higher ratio increases your risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol is only one risk factor. The level at which specific treatment is required will depend on whether other risk factors, such as smoking and high blood pressure, are also present.
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How To Understand Your Cholesterol Health
We all know that cholesterol plays a role in cardiovascular health and disease, but how, exactly? Even the professionals cant always agree. Is it evil? Insignificant? Beneficial? Theres no one simple answer.
We have to understand cholesterol on a spectrum because its role in the body is so complex. Cholesterol is essential for life because it enables the body to build the structure of cell membranes, make hormones, and support metabolism. But cholesterol also plays a key role in the development of cardiovascular disease. As a result, cholesterol is highly debated, and most of the people who matter have it wrong.
Thats a bold statement, Jen reminds me. But I pride myself on taking the time to dig miles deep into topics that matter. Cardiovascular disease is one such topic that Im continually trying to understand, and I cant possibly do that without cracking the code on cholesterol.
To me, the scariest part was realizing that the data I uncovered wasnt new. Some of it has been around for a decade, but it hasnt been incorporated into medical texts yet. Critical pieces of science have unfolded over the last ten years, and most doctors are missing them!
Jen echoes my thoughts: The standard medical community is behind when it comes to understanding and applying data to how we manage patients day to day its concerning.
Physical Signs Of High Cholesterol You Should Know About
Cholesterol is a fatty substance which is developed naturally in the body. It performs several vital functions like rebuilding walls surrounding the bodys cells and converting basic materials into certain hormones.
You only need a small amount of cholesterol and almost all of them are produced by your body. Most of the cholesterol in your body is produced in your liver. The rest of them come from your diet. This kind of dietary cholesterol is present in foods such as eggs, meat, and dairy products.
If you have too much cholesterol in your bloodstream, you have high cholesterol. High cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. For this reason, knowing the cholesterol levels in your blood is quite important to prevent any future heart disease and blockages of blood vessels.
There are two main types of cholesterol you should be aware of:
- high-density lipoprotein , or good cholesterol
In other words, high levels of LDL cholesterol can cause more plaque accumulation and increase the risk of a heart attack, stroke and other diseases. On the other hand, high levels of HDL cholesterol can actually help prevent heart attacks and strokes. HDL gains its good name by removing LDL cholesterol from the arteries and tissues and bringing it back to the liver where the excessive LDL cholesterol is broken down.
Risk Factors for High LDL Cholesterol
Physical Signs of High Cholesterol Levels
1. Sore Hands and Feet
2. Frequent Tingling
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Myth : It’s Okay To Have Higher Blood Pressure When You’re Older
Blood pressure tends to rise with age, but the fact that this trend is “normal” doesn’t mean that it is good for you. It happens because artery walls become stiff with age. Stiff arteries force the heart to pump harder. This sets up a vicious cycle. Blood pounding against the artery walls damages them over time. The overworked heart muscle becomes less effective and pumps harder to meet the body’s demands for blood. This further damages the arteries and invites fat into the artery walls. This is how high blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
What you can do: Have your blood pressure checked. If it’s above 140/90 millimeters of mercury, ask your doctor what you can do to bring it down.
Myth : Diabetes Won’t Cause Heart Disease If You Take Diabetes Medication
Diabetes medication helps lower blood sugar levels. Maintaining normal blood sugar levels is important for preventing complications that affect the smaller blood vessels , such as kidney disease, loss of vision, erectile dysfunction, and nerve damage.
But blood sugar control has less effect on the large blood vessels that become inflamed and diseased, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. “These vessels benefit more from lowering cholesterol and blood pressure,” says Dr. Alan Malabanan, a diabetes specialist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
What you can do: Take your diabetes medication to prevent microvascular complications. Also do everything you can to lower high cholesterol and high blood pressure, stop smoking and drop extra weight. These measures will reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
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So You Have Bad Cholesterol Now What
Your lipid panel might have red flags if you exceed healthy normal ranges. Thats ok. When this happens, consult your healthcare provider to discuss treatment and next steps. Your healthcare provider can estimate your risk for cardiovascular disease based on your lipid panel, family history, smoking status, age, blood pressure, and other risk factors like diabetes. This one test isnt the only factor. However, high LDL numbers may prompt more tests to see if youre at risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
The best follow up test for this is called a coronary calcium scoring. Calcium scoring uses a low-dose computed tomography scan to see how much calcium is actually in the arteries around your heart. Your healthcare provider may also recommend lifestyle changes and medication to lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Keeping Cholesterol In Check
People with high cholesterol are at a higher risk for heart disease. Some have a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol and heart disease, even if they do not have other related risk factors. These individuals may never be able to get their cholesterol to a healthy level without medication, even with a low-fat diet and regular physical activity. Once the medication is stopped, cholesterol may return to unhealthy levels, raising the risk of developing coronary heart disease.
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Improve Modifiable Risk Factors
Modifiable risk factors threaten your heart health but are relatively easy to adjust. With proper lifestyle and dietary changes, you can reduce the impact of the following modifiable risk factors:
- Tobacco Use
- High stress
- Inflammatory diet
Every additional risk factor makes it more difficult to escape the avalanche of cardiovascular disease, and every risk factor you eliminate makes it easier to improve your health.
Lowering Cholesterol Through Diet
To help you achieve and maintain healthy cholesterol levels, your doctor may recommend changes to your diet.
For example, they may advise you to:
- limit your intake of foods that are high in cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats
- choose lean sources of protein, such as chicken, fish, and legumes
- eat a wide variety of high fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- opt for baked, broiled, steamed, grilled, and roasted foods instead of fried foods
- avoid fast food and sugary, pre-packaged options when possible
Foods that are high in cholesterol, saturated fats, or trans fats include:
- red meat, organ meats, egg yolks, and high fat dairy products
- processed foods made with cocoa butter or palm oil
- deep-fried foods, such as potato chips, onion rings, and fried chicken
- certain baked goods, such as some cookies and muffins
Eating fish and other foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids may also help lower your LDL levels. For example, salmon, mackerel, and herring are rich sources of omega-3s. Walnuts, almonds, ground flaxseeds, and avocados also contain omega-3s.
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Track Your Cholesterol With Each Blood Donation
Each time you donate blood you will get an overall non-fasting cholesterol screening during your pre-donation wellness check-up. About 36 hours after your donation you can get your cholesterol results through the OneBlood Donor Portal. This can help you monitor your overall cholesterol number and alert you if your cholesterol is high, indicating you may need to check-in with your doctor. Schedule your donation today.
High Cholesterol: Recommended Lifestyle Changes
It may sound boring, but lifestyle changes are the best way to lower your cholesterol. The American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology both recommend the following lifestyle changes to naturally lower your cholesterol :
- Diet: A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, nuts, poultry, fish, legumes, and low-fat dairy products promotes heart health. Many physicians also recommend lowering your intake of red meat, saturated fats, trans fats, sweets, and sugar-sweetened beverages. The dietary approaches to stop hypertension diet and the Mediterranean diet are both great examples of these dietary changes .
- Use less salt: Lower your sodium intake to less than 2,400 mg per day, especially if youve been diagnosed with hypertension.
- Exercise: 40 minutes of moderate-to-vigorously intense physical activity, 34 times a week, can reduce cholesterol.
For some, these lifestyle changes can be profound. For others, it just involves cutting out a few guilty pleasure foods and finding the time to stay active. Regardless of where you are with your diet and fitness, pay attention to what you eat, and exercise regularly. Theyll both improve your LDL levels .
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