Why Cholesterol Matters For Women
Ah, cholesterol and triglycerides. We hear about them all the time. Even foods that might seem good for you on the surface, like fruit-filled yogurt or bran muffins, can contribute to abnormal levels if they contain too much saturated fat or refined sugar, says Erin Michos, M.D., associate director of preventive cardiology at the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease.
Whats more, many women are at risk for high cholesterol and dont realize it. Approximately 45 percent of women over the age of 20 have a total cholesterol of 200 mg/dl and above, which is considered elevated but a survey by the American Heart Association found that 76 percent of women say they dont even know what their cholesterol values are, Michos says.
Scarier still: Triglycerides, a type of blood fat typically measured alongside cholesterol, are even more risky in women compared with men. This is a problem because womens cholesterol levels can fluctuate quite a bit after menopause and tend to increase with age, putting us at greater risk of heart disease and stroke. Knowing your cholesterol numbers and how to control them is a big step toward staying healthy.
Focus On Monounsaturated Fats
As opposed to saturated fats, unsaturated fats have at least one double chemical bond that changes the way your body uses them. Monounsaturated fats have only one double bond.
Some recommend a low fat diet for weight loss, but research is mixed on its effectiveness in controlling blood cholesterol.
One research report acknowledged that lower fat intake is an effective way to reduce blood cholesterol levels. However, researchers were concerned over potential negative effects of low fat diets, such as lowering HDL and increasing triglycerides .
In contrast, research has shown that a diet high in monounsaturated fats, such as the Mediterranean diet, helps reduce levels of harmful LDL and increase levels of healthy HDL .
Monounsaturated fats may also reduce the oxidation of cholesterol, according to research. Oxidized cholesterol can react with free radicals and contribute to clogged arteries. This can lead to atherosclerosis or heart disease .
Overall, monounsaturated fats are healthy because they decrease harmful LDL cholesterol, increase good HDL cholesterol and reduce harmful oxidation (
Monounsaturated fats like those in olive oil, canola oil, tree nuts, and avocados reduce LDL cholesterol, increase HDL cholesterol, and reduce the oxidation that contributes to clogged arteries.
Effects Of High Cholesterol Levels
The liver is the main processing centre for cholesterol and dietary fat. When we eat animal fats, the liver transports the fat, together with cholesterol in the form of lipoproteins, into our bloodstream.
Too much cholesterol circulating within LDL in our bloodstream leads to fatty deposits developing in the arteries. This causes the vessels to narrow and they can eventually become blocked. This can lead to heart disease and stroke.
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What Are The Conditions And Medications Related To High Hdl Cholesterol
High HDL cholesterol is linked to other conditions, including:
- Thyroid disorders
- Inflammatory diseases
- Alcohol consumption
Sometimes drugs that control cholesterol can also raise HDL levels. These are medications usually taken to lower LDL, triglyceride, and total cholesterol levels.
Types of drugs that have been linked to increased HDL levels include:
- Bile acid sequestrants, which reduce the absorption of fat from the foods you eat
- Cholesterol absorption inhibitors
- Omega-3 fatty acid supplements that lower blood triglycerides while also increasing HDL cholesterol
- Statins, which prevent the liver from making more cholesterol
Increasing HDL levels is often a positive side effect in people with low HDL levels, as in most cases, because it reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
How To Lower Your Cholesterol
If youve been told that you have high cholesterol or you just want to prevent it what can you do?
There are several ways to manage it, including:
Medication: Depending on your overall cardiovascular disease risk, you might be treated with a cholesterol-lowering medication, such as a statin. The decision to use a statin is based on a womans overall risk for heart attack and stroke including all these factors and the LDL cholesterol value.
If you already have vascular disease or evidence of atherosclerosis, or if you are at high risk for cardiovascular disease, a statin for prevention is strongly recommended because this treats the plaque in the arteries, and lowers LDL cholesterol, Michos says.
Diet and lifestyle:Diet and lifestyle are very important to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Even for women who are recommended to take cholesterol-lowering medications, a healthy lifestyle helps these drugs work better, says Michos.
Heres how to maintain a lifestyle that promotes healthy cholesterol levels:
Add these to your shopping list:
- Fatty fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines and albacore tuna
- Nuts, including walnuts, pecans, almonds and hazelnuts
- Olive oil to drizzle lightly over your salads and vegetables
While nobody wants to have high cholesterol, there are plenty of ways to keep it in check. With regular checkups and attention to what you eat, its possible to manage your cholesterol and blood fats to keep your heart healthy, says Michos.
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Treating High Hdl Cholesterol
If you don’t have any symptoms or other heart disease risks, you might not need any treatment for high HDL cholesterol. You may be able to lower your HDL by drinking less alcohol and eating a low-fat diet. It might also help to change your medication if you take a statin or another drug that raises HDL levels.
Stay on top of your cholesterol levels with regular blood tests. Ask your doctor how often you need cholesterol screening based on your risks.
How Do You Know If Your Cholesterol Is A Concern
High cholesterol often doesnt announce itself early with a tell-tale sign. You might learn you have troubling numbers only after having a heart attack or a stroke.
Healthy adults should have their cholesterol checked through a blood test every four to six years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . Testing should be more frequent if you or your family has a history of heart disease or diabetes.
Its not just adults who should be tested, either. The CDC also recommends that children have their cholesterol checked at least once between ages 9 and 11. The agency also recommends a test between ages 17 and 21.
Tests results can open discussions with your doctor about unique risk enhancers such as:
- Family history, which could lead to a second test to find your Lipoprotein, or Lp, level.
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What Causes High Cholesterol
Your liver produces cholesterol, but you also get cholesterol from food. Eating too many foods that are high in fat can increase your cholesterol level.
Being overweight and inactive also causes high cholesterol. If you are overweight, you most likely have a higher level of triglycerides. If you never exercise and arent active in general, it can lower your HDL .
Your family history also affects your cholesterol level. Research has shown that high cholesterol tends to run in families. If you have an immediate family member who has it, you could have it, too.
Smoking also causes high cholesterol. It lowers your HDL .
Ask The Doctor: Can Hdl Cholesterol Be Too High
Q.I know I need to keep my LDL cholesterol low and my HDL cholesterol high, but can HDL ever be too high?
A. For high-density lipoprotein levels, it does appear that the higher, the betterat least to a point. But you should also think about how you achieve that level. HDL is known as the “good” cholesterol particle because it functions to clear cholesterol from the arteries and deliver it back to the liver. Higher HDL levels are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. HDL levels lower than 40 milligrams per deciliter are considered worrisome, and levels higher than 60 mg/dL are considered excellent.
One recent study that examined high levels of HDL reported the benefits extended until 90 mg/dL in men, but then leveled off, which suggests no further benefit even with higher levels. A man’s HDL level is predominantly determined by genetics, or inherited factors. Moderate-intensity exercise, three to four times a week, is an important mechanism to raise HDL with the bonus of other health benefits. Other methods to raise HDL are not so healthy. For instance, medications or supplements, like niacin, have shown disappointing results in controlled studies. Alcohol intake is known to increase HDL, but consuming more than two standard drinks a day can raise your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
–William Kormos, MD
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What Are The Problems With High Hdl Cholesterol
In a study published in a scientific journal, it was emphasized that high HDL cholesterol may be negative for people with elevated levels of C-reactive protein after a heart attack. C-reactive proteins are produced by your liver in response to elevated levels of inflammation in your body. Rather than acting as a protective factor in heart health, high HDL levels in these people may increase their risk of heart disease.¹
Even though your HDL cholesterol levels are still in the normal range after a heart attack, your body may process HDL differently if you have this type of inflammation. The scientific study mentioned in the preceding paragraph examined blood from 767 non-diabetic people who had recently had a heart attack. In this study, it has been shown that those who have high HDL cholesterol and C-reactive proteins after a heart attack are in a particularly high-risk group for heart disease.¹
As a result, more research is needed to determine the risks of high HDL cholesterol for some people.
Natural Ways To Increase Hdl Cholesterol
Your genes do play a role in determining how much HDL your body makes and the proportion of different subtypes. Your genes are obviously already decided for you and out of your control, but your lifestyle choices are in your control. Here are some of the best, and even some easy, ways that you can get those HDL cholesterol numbers up:
1. Dont Smoke
As is always the case, smoking only makes health problems worse, and that includes HDL levels. Studies show that cigarette smoking adversely affects HDL by lowering its level, which further increases your risk for developing coronary heart disease. So if you smoke, youre already increasing your risk for heart problems.
2. Exercise More
To maintain a healthy body, you should exercise on a daily basis. If you want another specific reason to start exercising or increase your frequency of exercise, its your HDL levels. Increased physical activity directly helps raise your HDL cholesterol just another one of the many benefits of exercise. Vigorous exercise is the best choice for boosting HDL, but any additional exercise is better than none.
3. Decrease Body Weight
If youre currently overweight, by losing even a few pounds can improve your HDL cholesterol. For every six pounds of weight you lose, your HDL can increase by 1 milligram per deciliter. Thats means you want to lose weight, and if youre extremely overweight, getting your HDL cholesterol levels in order is another reason to treat obesity.
4. Eat Healthier Fats
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How Is High Cholesterol Diagnosed
You cant tell if you have high cholesterol without having it checked. A simple blood test will reveal your cholesterol level.
Men 35 years of age and older and women 45 years of age and older should have their cholesterol checked. Men and women 20 years of age and older who have risk factors for heart disease should have their cholesterol checked. Teens may need to be checked if they are taking certain medicines or have a strong family history of high cholesterol. Ask your doctor how often you should have your cholesterol checked.
Risk factors for heart disease include:
- Cigarette smoking
- Having an immediate family member who has had heart disease
- Being overweight or obese
Have A Glass Of Wine Or Not
Drinking in moderation might increase good cholesterol levels. At least thats what some of the research says. A review published in October 2019 in the journal Molecules concluded drinking red wine , which contains the antioxidant compound resveratrol, may have a protective effect on the heart, but more research is required to understand the mechanisms involved. But you dont have to have a glass of vino to boost your HDL cholesterol. Antioxidants found in red wine can also be found in fruits such as blueberries, grape juice, dark chocolate, and peanuts.
If you decide to drink, remember to do so in moderation. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends one drink or less a day for women, and two drinks or less a day for men.
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What To Know About Triglycerides
In addition to cholesterol, you might hear about your triglycerides, another kind of fat found in the bloodstream. Women should pay particular attention to this. A high level of triglycerides seems to predict an even greater risk for heart disease in women compared with men, says Michos.
When you take in more calories than you need, your body converts the extra calories into triglycerides, which are then stored in fat cells. Triglycerides are used by the body for energy, but people with excess triglycerides have higher risk of medical problems, including cardiovascular disease. Drinking a lot of alcohol and eating foods containing simple carbohydrates , saturated fats and trans fats contributes to high triglycerides. High levels may also be caused by health conditions such as diabetes, an underactive thyroid, obesity, polycystic ovary syndrome or kidney disease.
Triglycerides also circulate in the bloodstream on particles that may contribute to plaque formation. Many people with high triglycerides have other risk factors for atherosclerosis, including high LDL levels or low HDL levels, or abnormal blood sugar levels. Genetic studies have also shown some association between triglycerides and cardiovascular disease.
Becoming More Physically Active
A sedentary lifestyle lowers HDL cholesterol. Less HDL means theres less good cholesterol to remove bad cholesterol from your arteries.
Physical activity is important. At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week is enough to lower both cholesterol and high blood pressure. And you have lots of options: brisk walking, swimming, bicycling or even yard work can fit the bill.
How High Is Too High
Very high HDL cholesterol levels not only don’t protect you more, but they might be harmful. In one study, people who had HDL cholesterol levels above 60 mg/dL were nearly 50% more likely to have a heart attack or die from heart disease than people whose HDL levels were between 41 and 60 mg/dL.
Why might higher HDL levels be harmful? Researchers don’t know for sure, but they have some ideas.
Very high HDL levels could slow the process of clearing LDL cholesterol from your arteries. When LDL cholesterol builds up in these blood vessels, it forms clumps called plaques that slow or block blood flow. Eventually a chunk of plaque can break free and form a clot, which could lead to a heart attack or stroke.
What Does High Hdl Cholesterol Mean
High-density lipoprotein cholesterol is often referred to as good cholesterol because it helps remove other, more harmful, forms of cholesterol from your blood. For this reason, high HDL cholesterol is considered good by many people, and this is usually true. However, some scientific studies also draw attention to the possibility that high HDL cholesterol may be harmful in some people.
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How Can I Raise My Hdl Level
If your HDL level is too low, lifestyle changes may help. These changes may also help prevent other diseases, and make you feel better overall:
- Eat a healthy diet. To raise your HDL level, you need to eat good fats instead of bad fats. This means limiting saturated fats, which include full-fat milk and cheese, high-fat meats like sausage and bacon, and foods made with butter, lard, and shortening. You should also avoid trans fats, which may be in some margarines, fried foods, and processed foods like baked goods. Instead, eat unsaturated fats, which are found in avocado, vegetable oils like olive oil, and nuts. Limit carbohydrates, especially sugar. Also try to eat more foods naturally high in fiber, such as oatmeal and beans.
- Stay at a healthy weight. You can boost your HDL level by losing weight, especially if you have lots of fat around your waist.
- Exercise. Getting regular exercise can raise your HDL level, as well as lower your LDL. You should try to do 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise on most, if not all, days.
- Avoid cigarettes.Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke can lower your HDL level. If you are a smoker, ask your health care provider for help in finding the best way for you to quit. You should also try to avoid secondhand smoke.
- Limit alcohol. Moderate alcohol may lower your HDL level, although more studies are needed to confirm that. What we do know is that too much alcohol can make you gain weight, and that lowers your HDL level.
Safe Blood Cholesterol Levels
Health authorities recommend that cholesterol levels should be no higher than 5.5 mmol per litre if there are no other risk factors present. If there are other cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking and high blood pressure or pre-existing cardiovascular disease, then the aim for the LDL levels would be less than 2 mmol/l. Approximately half of all adult Australians have a blood cholesterol level above 5 mmol/l. This makes high blood cholesterol a major health concern in Australia.
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