How to Best Manage Your Cholesterol
Cholesterol is the fatty, waxy substance, produced mostly by the liver but also by the food we eat, in your blood. We all have cholesterol in our blood, but with poor dietary lifestyle choices, high cholesterol has become a serious concern. The fatty deposits in our blood can begin to accumulate and stick to the walls of the arteries, narrowing them – known as atherosclerosis. This slowly limits the blood flow through the arteries, causing the heart to pump harder and ultimately leading to a higher risk of a heart attack or heart failure.
However, before we get into the specifics of how to manage our cholesterol, there are a few misconceptions that we should address. First, all cholesterol is not bad. Indeed, when you get a blood test, you will see three different readings – HDL, LDL and triglycerides. HDL — or good cholesterol — should be high. The higher, the better in fact, as a lower HDL number can be bad for your heart. LDL and triglycerides should remain low. It is when these “bad” cholesterol components are high that we are at greater risk of heart disease.
A second common misconception is that foods containing cholesterol and fats are necessarily bad for us. This is not the case. Shellfish, for example are very high in cholesterol and excellent for our cardiovascular health. Certain oils, like olive oil and other foods such as avocados are very high in fat, yet very healthy for us as well. The bottom line is that our bodies need good cholesterol and good fat to stay healthy too.
So How Do We Manage Our Cholesterol?
Diet and exercise are far and away the most effective ways of managing cholesterol. Poor dietary and lifestyle choices have created an obesity epidemic in United States and part of that includes a massive rise in patients with high cholesterol. By some estimates upwards of 100 million people are at heightened risk. Other patients may have high cholesterol due to family history or heredity, which may be harder to control with diet and exercise alone. The bottom line to managing heart health by regulating cholesterol is to lose weight; eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables; and to avoid highly processed foods, a diet high in saturated fat, and sugary food and drinks.
For those who, with diet and exercise alone, have not successfully managed their cholesterol levels, medications known as statins can be employed to reduce cholesterol levels. However, medications are not curative – they simply treat the symptom. Some patients do not respond well to statins, while others experience unacceptable side effects.
Ultimately, prevention is the best way to avoid many of the most common cardiovascular diseases, as well as the invasive and disruptive procedures necessary to treat them. We encourage you to speak to your cardiologist to learn more about ways to manage your cholesterol, especially if you are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease or if you are currently managing a cardiovascular problem in your life.