HOW TO MANAGE YOUR HIGH CHOLESTEROL

To my disappointment, when my Doctor was checking my blood test result and saw that my cholesterol was above the normal range, he looked at me and said: “ Watch your food and avoid French fries.” THAT’s IT??? I hear the same story from people with high cholesterol levels, who are really lost and don’t know how to reduce it without medication and with real nutritional guidance from their doctors.

THE DANGER

Cholesterol itself is a waxy, fat-like substance that is primarily made by the liver, although some come from the diet. It is an essential component of cell membranes and is used by the body to produce hormones and vitamin D.

When there is too much cholesterol in your blood, you may develop fatty deposits in your blood vessels. Eventually, these deposits make it difficult for enough blood to flow through your arteries. Your heart may not get as much oxygen-rich blood as it needs, which increases the risk of HEART ATTACK. Decreased blood flow to your brain can cause a STROKE.

High blood cholesterol, especially with higher LDL cholesterol (the bad kind because it transports cholesterol from the liver throughout the body, and potentially allows it to be deposited in artery walls) and lower HDL cholesterol (the good kind, because it picks up used cholesterol from the blood and delivers it to cells that use it, or takes it back to the liver to be recycled or eliminated from the body), is a significant factor correlated with atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease and early death.

A study showed that people with a blood cholesterol level of 260mg had 3 times the incidence of myocardial infarctions that those with levels of 195. It is known that even a small increase in cholesterol can lead to a marked increase in coronary disease and heart attacks; studies suggest that every 1 percent we lower a high cholesterol, we reduce our heart disease risk by 2 percent. So even mild decreases in cholesterol are helpful.

SYMPTOMS

High cholesterol itself does not cause symptoms, so there are no outward signs that your levels are too high and thereby posing a risk to your heart.

CAUSES

The tendency toward high cholesterol appears to be genetic although diet also influences cholesterol levels. Other factors that can influence cholesterol levels include:

  • Being overweight
  • Being physically inactive.
  • The older you get, the more likely your cholesterol levels are to rise.
  • Before menopause, women tend to have lower cholesterol levels than men of the same age, but after menopause, women’s LDL levels often increase.
DIAGNOSIS

Your cholesterol levels can be measured by a blood test done after you’ve fasted for nine to 12 hours. Results will reveal your total cholesterol level, your LDL, and HDL levels as well as levels of triglycerides, the most common type of fat in the body.

  • Desirable levels of total cholesterol are 200 mg per deciliter of blood or less; Levels between 200 mg/dL and 239 mg/dL are considered borderline high; 240 mg/dL or higher is considered high cholesterol and raises your risk of heart disease to twice what it would be if your total cholesterol were 200 mg/dL or lower.
  • A desirable level of heart-protective HDL cholesterol is 60 mg/dL or higher; Levels below 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50 mg/dL for women increase the risk of heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, the mean level of HDL cholesterol for American adults age 20 and older is 54.3 mg/dL.
  • A desirable level of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol is less than 100 mg/dL – the lower your LDL, the better in terms of heart disease risk. Levels between 139 and 150 mg/dL are borderline high. Those between 160 to 189 mg/dL are considered high. LDL levels above 190 mg/dL are classed as very high. According to the American Heart Association, the mean level of LDL cholesterol for American adults age 20 and older is 115.0 mg/dL.
  • Normal triglyceride levels are considered 150 mg/dL or lower; Those from 150 to 199 mg/dL are considered borderline high. Those from 200-499 mg/dL are considered high. Those above 500 mg/dL are deemed very high. The American Heart Association reports that the mean triglyceride level for American adults age 20 and older is 144.2 mg/dl.

It is known that even a small increase in cholesterol can lead to a marked increase in coronary disease and heart attacks; studies suggest that every 1 percent we lower a high cholesterol, we reduce our heart disease risk by 2 percent. So even mild decreases in cholesterol are helpful.

The good news is that although it is easy to eat your way to an alarmingly high cholesterol level, the REVERSE is true too. High Blood Cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) is largely preventable because:

  • A healthy diet
  • Regular exercise
  • Other lifestyle changes

All these put together can go a long way toward reducing high cholesterol.

Healthy Diet

Doing this requires a two-pronged strategy: Add foods that lower LDL, the harmful cholesterol-carrying particle that contributes to artery-clogging atherosclerosis. Cut back on foods that boost LDL.

Eat more of the better Fats: Different foods lower cholesterol in various ways. Some deliver soluble fiber, which binds cholesterol and its precursors in the digestive system and drags them out of the body before they get into circulation.  Some give you polyunsaturated fats, which directly lower LDL. Some contain plant sterol and stanols, which block the body from absorbing cholesterol.

Oats: An easy first step to improving your cholesterol is having a bowl of oatmeal or cold oat-based cereal for breakfast. It gives you 1 to 2gms of soluble fiber. Add a banana or some strawberries for another half-gram.

Barley and other whole grains: Like oats and oat bran, barley and other whole grains can help lower the risk of heart disease, mainly via the soluble fiber they deliver.

Beans: Beans are especially rich in soluble fiber. They take a while to digest, meaning you feel full for longer after a meal. That is one reason why beans are a useful food for people trying to lose weight.

Eggplant and okra: These low-calorie vegetables are good sources of soluble fiber.

Nuts: Studies show that eating Almonds, Walnuts, Peanuts, and other nuts is good for the heart. Eating 2 ounces of nuts a day can slightly lower LDL. Also, nuts have additional nutrients that protect the heart in other ways.

Organic canola oil and extra virgin olive oil: Using these oils instead of butter, margarine or shortening when cooking or at the table helps lower LDL.

Soy: New Analysis shows that the effect of eating soybean and foods made from them, like tofu and soymilk, is more modest than what we used to think. 25gms of soy protein a day can lower LDL by 5 percent to 6 per cent only.

Fatty fish: Eating fish two or three times a week can lower LDL in two ways: by replacing meat, which has LDL-boosting saturated fats, and by delivering LDL-lowering omega-3 fats. Omega-3s reduce triglycerides in the bloodstream and also protect the heart by helping prevent the onset of abnormal heart rhythms.

Foods fortified with sterols and stanols: These are extracted from plants, which gum up the body’s ability to absorb cholesterol from food. Get them as supplements. Try to get 2gms of plant sterols or stanols a day and your LDL cholesterol will be reduced by about 10 percent.

Apples, grapes, strawberries, citrus fruits, red peppers, lentils, and turmeric: These fruits are rich in pectin, a type of soluble fiber that lowers LDL. Grapefruits and grapefruit juice help fat breakdown.

Onions and garlic: Eat onions and garlic daily, as they reduce cholesterol levels. Garlic has been shown to lower both cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Use one or two raw or lightly cooked cloves a day.

Drink green tea daily: The antioxidants it contains help lower cholesterol and prevent the cholesterol in your blood from oxidizing.

AVOID

As you consider eating more of the foods that can help lower your cholesterol, keep in mind that AVOIDING CERTAIN FOODS CAN ALSO IMPROVE YOUR RESULTS. To keep your cholesterol levels where you want them to be, limit intake of:

Sugar: Reduce the amount of sugar and flour in your diet. Recent evidence indicates that added sugar – in the form of table sugar (sucrose) or high-fructose corn syrup – is probably a greater contributor to heart disease than is consumption of saturated fat. Dr. Weil advises against consuming foods with added sugars, particularly: soft drinks, highly processed snack foods, which can cause rapid spikes and dips in blood sugar levels. The result can be overeating, obesity and heart disease.

Saturated fats: The saturated fats found in red meat, milk and other dairy foods, coconut, palm oils directly boost LDL. So one way to lower your LDL is to cut back on saturated fat. You can try substituting them with extra-lean ground beef → for regular (x); low fat or skim milk → for whole milk (x); olive oil → for butter (x); baked fish or chicken → for fried (x)

Trans-Fats: These heart-damaging fats can reduce HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels and raise levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. The tip-off that trans-fatty acids are present in foods is the listing of “Partially Hydrogenated Oil” on a food’s ingredient list. Trans-fats are found in many brands of margarine and in most heavily processed foods, as well as in snack foods such as chips, crackers, cookies, and in the oils used to cook fast food French fries, doughnuts and movie popcorn.

Weight & Exercise

Lose weight. Being overweight and not exercising affect fats circulating in the bloodstream. Excess weight boosts harmful LDL, while inactivity depresses protective LDL. Even a modest amount of weight loss can lower cholesterol levels. Try daily aerobic exercises, which can help increase HDL levels.

Other Lifestyle changes

Relax. Emotional stress may prompt the body to release fat into the bloodstream, raising cholesterol levels. Counter stress by practicing daily breathing exercises, Yoga, Meditation, Guided Imagery and Tai Chi.

Take CoQ10 supplement. This powerful antioxidant benefits heart health by protecting LDL cholesterol from oxidation and by re-energizing the mitochondria in the heart cells, which is where energy metabolism occurs. CoQ10 may also help lower blood pressure.

Take Fish Oil. Fish oil contains an abundance of essential omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s) that have been shown to lower triglyceride (blood fat)  levels, minimize inflammation and clotting, and increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Research indicates that omega-3s may help reduce the risk and symptoms of a variety of disorders influenced by inflammation, including heart attack and stroke. You can add omega-3s to your diet by eating more cold-water fish such as wild salmon, sardines, and mackerel.  If that’s not possible, Dr. Weil recommends taking 2gms daily of a fish oil supplement that contains both essential omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.

Vitamins also prove effective in lowering high cholesterol.  Take vitamin B complex 50 mg/day. Some of the B vitamins improve fat transport and utilization. Vitamin C and Bioflavonoids. Take up to 2gms s a day, as it promotes the fat break down and supports the health of the arterial wall. Vitamin E, 400-800 IU/day prevents cholesterol oxidation.

Sources: Harvard Medical School; Dr. Andrew Weil.

This article was originally published in The Woman Oman by Monique Helou.

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