We all know someone who has high cholesterol, making it seem like a fairly normal thing. It’s just high cholesterol, right? Wrong. High cholesterol affects nearly 94 million adults in the United States and it does have the potential to be quite serious. Not only is it tied to things, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, but having high cholesterol also increases your risk for cardiovascular diseases, which include coronary heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. But not all cholesterol is a bad thing. Your body needs cholesterol to make vitamins, hormones, vitamins and substances that help you digest foods and it will make all the cholesterol it needs to function properly. This is good, healthy cholesterol. Unfortunately, you can have too much of a good thing and there are a variety of factors that can cause your cholesterol to go far beyond what is considered a healthy amount – a poor diet and eating too many trans or saturated fats are common culprits. The good news is that you aren’t totally doomed if you have high cholesterol and there are many things you can do to effectively and naturally begin treating it to reduce the potential health risks and restore healthy levels. In this article, we cover everything there is to know about cholesterol – the good, the bad and the ugly, and of course, what you can do about it.
- 1 What is Cholesterol?
- 2 What is Bad (LDL) Cholesterol?
- 3 How Triglycerides Come Into Play?
- 4 Risk Factors for High Cholesterol
- 5 Signs Your Cholesterol is Too High
- 6 Potential Dangers of High Cholesterol
- 7 Treatment of High Cholesterol
- 8 Natural Ways To Lower Cholesterol
What is Cholesterol?
The first step to treating high cholesterol is to understand what it is. Knowledge is power. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s made in the liver and found in every cell of your body. It’s absolutely imperative to your health, as your body uses cholesterol to build cells, make vitamins and other hormones, cell walls, bile acid and maintain your health. All of this is done naturally and your body will make all of the cholesterol it needs. Unfortunately, as mentioned previously, you can have too much of a good thing.
When you have too much cholesterol, the body begins to develop fatty deposits in your blood vessels. Over time, these deposits grow and make it difficult for blood to flow through your arteries. These deposits can also break and form a clot, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
But it gets a little trickier because there are two types of cholesterol:
- Low density lipoproteins (LDL cholesterol)
- High density lipoproteins (HDL cholesterol)
Commonly referred to as “good” cholesterol (HDL), which helps remove excess cholesterol by taking it back to your liver to be broken down and excreted. “Bad” cholesterol (LDL) carries excess cholesterol to your arteries, which collects on your artery walls and presents many potentially serious risks. Your body produces both types.
What is Bad (LDL) Cholesterol?
Now that you have a basic understanding of the two types of cholesterol, it’s time to understand bad cholesterol on a deeper level. This will help you understand what it is and how it can be potentially dangerous.
HDL cholesterol helps absorb LDL cholesterol when it’s too high. So, having high HDL levels isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it can help decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, and blood clots – all of which are common risks associated with high LDL cholesterol.
Now, when you have too much LDL cholesterol and your HDL cholesterol is unable to keep up, the excess gets stored as fatty deposits that cause a build-up in your blood vessels. As you can imagine, this can cause all kinds of health concerns, as it restricts the blood flow traveling throughout your body, particularly to your heart and brain.
However, cholesterol can be “bad” in two ways. It can be bad to not have enough of the good, healthy cholesterol (HDL) needed to remove LDL and it can be bad to have too much LDL. In other words, you can have not enough of the good kinds or too much of the bad.
How Triglycerides Come Into Play?
This is where things might get a little confusing again because triglycerides play a role in your cholesterol levels as well. Triglycerides and cholesterols are two different types of lipids that flow through your blood. Cholesterol is used to build cells and hormones and triglycerides store unused calories to provide your body with energy at a later time.
However, when the stored triglycerides aren’t used, they collect over time and can contribute to the thickening and build-up in your artery walls, just like high cholesterol does. As such, it can also put you at risk for heart-related complications, such as heart disease and stroke.
This is important to take note of because high triglyceride levels are commonly associated with high levels of LDL cholesterol, presenting a “double whammy” of potential risks.
Risk Factors for High Cholesterol
Although men over 45 and women over 55 have a higher risk of developing high cholesterol, it can affect anyone, no matter your age, gender, or ethnicity. However, there are some key factors that can increase your risk of having unhealthy cholesterol levels, such as:
- Poor diet: Eating too much trans fats or saturated fats (fatty cuts of meat, full-fat dairy, packaged snacks, desserts, etc.)
- Being overweight or obese: If your BMI is 30 or greater, you are at a higher risk for high cholesterol
- Lack of exercise: Regular exercise can increase your body’s “good” cholesterol
- Smoking: Cigarettes present a vast array of potential health problems, including lowering your level of “good” cholesterol
These are also risk factors that can increase your chances of having heart complications or a stroke if you do have high cholesterol. As such, it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional and make some crucial changes.
Signs Your Cholesterol is Too High
As if understanding high cholesterol wasn’t already complicated enough, it’s about to get a little trickier because rarely does it come with visible signs and symptoms. Often times, high cholesterol is discovered by accident, by chance or when it’s already manifested into a more serious problem. The only way to properly check your cholesterol levels is through blood work, so you’ll want to speak with your healthcare provider if you think you may be at risk.
Otherwise, knowing the early warning signs of a heart attack or stroke can give you peace of mind and the opportunity to prevent serious problems. Here are the early warning signs of a possible stroke or heart problem:
- Chest pain
- Coldness or numbness in extremities
- Extreme fatigue
- High blood pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Slurred speech
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
Potential Dangers of High Cholesterol
With high cholesterol causing a buildup in your artery walls that reduces the blood flow to your heart, brain and body, you can only imagine the potential dangers that follow. These risks include:
- Heart attack
- Mini-stroke (formally known as transient ischaemic attack)
- Peripheral arterial disease
- Blood clots
- Chest pain
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease
- High risk of diabetes and high blood pressure
Treatment of High Cholesterol
The treatment of high cholesterol isn’t all that difficult and with something as simple as the ‘check, change and control’ method, you can properly maintain healthy levels. This method consists of: is
- Checking your cholesterol levels so you can assess your risk
- Changing your diet and lifestyle to help improve your levels
- Controlling your cholesterol with natural remedies or help from your doctor if needed
Natural Ways To Lower Cholesterol
Furthering on the ‘check, change and control method’, making healthy changes in your diet and lifestyle are the most important steps you start treating high cholesterol and maintaining much healthier levels. Sure, medications can help but they don’t get down to the root cause of the problem like making some simple healthy changes does. So, with that said, here are some things you can do to start lowering your cholesterol naturally:
Step one: Improve your diet
- Eat heart-healthy foods, such as: leafy greens, whole grains, berries, avocados, fish, beans, etc.
- Reduce saturated fats, primarily found in red meats and full-fat dairy products
- Avoid trans fats, primarily found in margarines, cookies, crackers and cakes
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, herring, flaxseeds, walnuts
- Increase soluble fiber found in oatmeal, kidney beans, apples and pears
- Add in whey protein
Step two: Increase your daily physical activity
- Get 30 minutes of exercise in five times a week (or a minimum of 20 minutes three times a week)
- Find exercises you like to do (join a sports team, ride your bike, etc.)
- Add in a daily walk with the dog or an evening stroll around your block
- Park further away from entrance doors to increase your steps
- Get an exercise buddy to help keep you motivated and accountable
- Join a gym
Step three: Quit smoking
- Use an app to track your progress (and to celebrate the little wins)
- Slowly reduce your nicotine intake with products that are designed to help you quit
Step four: Lose weight
- Aim to get 10,000 steps in a day
- Find creative ways to increase your steps
- Use an activity tracking device
- Take the steps instead of elevators
- Drink more water
- Take walks during breaks
- Stand more than you sit
- Use a standing desk
- Focus on steps one and two
Step five: Reduce your alcohol intake
- If you don’t want to quit drinking completely, moderation is key
- Choose healthier alcoholic beverages, such as vodka sodas, organic beers, etc.
High cholesterol levels can be quite dangerous, with the potential risks being an increased chance of having a heart attack, stroke or developing heart disease. Fortunately, it’s an easy fix that can be done simply by making some healthy, positive changes in your diet and lifestyle. If you don’t see an improvement or experience your symptoms worsening, consult with a doctor.
You may also want to check out our recommendation: The Oxidized Cholesterol Strategy Program.