It’s a well-known fact that having high cholesterol levels can be a health risk. In this article we’re taking a look at 15 ways you can bring your cholesterol levels down.
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a compound of the ‘sterol’ type found in most body tissues. Cholesterol is an oil-based substance and does not mix with blood, so it is carried around the body by two types of protein. These are high-density lipoprotein (HDL, also known as ‘good’ cholesterol) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, also known as ‘bad’ cholesterol).
Cholesterol has five main functions, which are:
- Helping the body to make certain hormones such as progesterone and testosterone among others.
- Creating digestive bile acids in the digestive system which helps the body absorb fats and vitamins A, D, E and K
- Helping the body to produce vitamin D
- Contributing to cell wall structure within the body
- Contributing to the formation of memories and general neurological function
The body needs cholesterol to function, and around 75% of the body’s cholesterol is made in the liver.
What Are Triglycerides?
Triglycerides and cholesterol are often confused. Both triglycerides and cholesterol are lipids (fats) that circulate in the bloodstream and are carried by lipoproteins. High levels of LDL or triglycerides can both cause problems but they function differently within the body. Triglycerides are taken from foods and are burned to create energy while cholesterol is made in the body and used as a building block for cells and hormones.
Why Reduce Your Cholesterol?
Having high levels of LDL can lead to fatty build-ups in the artery walls. This can cause stiffened arteries leading to high blood pressure (hypertension) which is a risk factor in heart disease, stroke and other conditions. Having fatty deposits in the arteries also increases your risk of heart attack.
How Does High Cholesterol Occur?
There are many ways apart from poor diet that high cholesterol could occur within the body. These factors include having liver or kidney disease or diabetes, being pregnant, having polycystic ovary syndrome, having an under-active thyroid gland or taking drugs that increase LDL cholesterol and decrease HDL cholesterol (examples include anabolic steroids, progestins and corticosteroids). High cholesterol without secondary issues does not present any symptoms.
What Is A High Cholesterol Level?
In healthy adults complete levels of cholesterol that are less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) are considered normal.
- A reading between 200 and 239 mg/dL is elevated.
- A reading of 240 mg/dL and above is high.
LDL cholesterol levels alone should be generally be less than 100 mg/dL.
- 100–129 mg/dL is fine for people with no health problems, but may be a concern for anyone with increased risk of heart disease, or who is suffering from heart disease.
- 130—159 mg/dL is elevated.
- 160–189 mg/dL is high.
- 190 mg/dL or higher is considered very high.
HDL levels should be kept higher than LDL levels. The ideal reading for HDL levels is of 60 mg/dL or higher.
A reading of less than 40 mg/dL is considered a high risk factor for heart disease.
A reading from 41 mg/dL to 59 mg/dL is borderline low and should be monitored.
15 Ways To Reduce Your Cholesterol
1. Eat Cholesterol-lowering Foods
A study from Harvard Health has found several foods that actively decrease the amount of LDL cholesterol within the body. These foods are:
- Fibre-rich foods such as bran cereal
- Oily fish such as salmon and sardines
- Soy and fermented soy products
- Fruits (especially strawberries, limes, lemons, oranges, grapes, apples and strawberries)
- Cold vegetable oil
- Okra and eggplant
- Whole grains
2. Reduce Your Intake Of Foods That Increase Cholesterol Levels
You should look to avoid, or limit, the following food types:
- Full-fat dairy
- Hydrogenated oils (avoid fast food as this is often deep fried in hydrogenated oil)
- Baked goods such as cakes and cookies
3. Stop Smoking
One of the major risk factors for heart disease is being a smoker, and one third of deaths from cardiovascular disease are caused by smoking.
Smoking lowers the body’s levels of high-density lipids (HDL) which help to protect against heart disease, as well as increasing the harmful effects of low-density lipids (LDL). LDL is more likely to increase inflammation and cause fatty plaque build-ups in the arteries (known as atherosclerosis) of smokers than non-smokers.
By stopping smoking you allow a natural level of HDL to flow in the body and reduce your risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
4. Have Lipid-lowering Therapy
Medical treatment for people with high cholesterol will vary according to the individual and drug therapy is usually reserved for people who are at high risk of a heart attack, although up to 28% of American adults have been estimated to be using cholesterol lowering drugs at any one time.
Statins are the most popular group of cholesterol lowering drugs although there are others including resins, fibrates, niacin and selective cholesterol absorption inhibitors.
Brand name statins available in the US include:
There are debates about the use of statins as side effects may include a slightly increased risk of diabetes, fatigue and the muscle tissue disease statin-induced myopathy.
5. Maintain A Healthy Weight
Carrying excess weight, especially belly fat, tends to increase LDL and lower HDL.
Talk to your doctor about taking up a healthy diet that puts your body into a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you consume) to help you lose weight.
A waist measurement of more than 80cm for women and 94cm for men is a good indicator of internal fat deposits that affect your cholesterol levels and ratios in a negative way.
Taking part in regular physical activity will help to maintain a healthy weight as well as stimulating enzymes to move LDL from the blood and vessel walls to the liver, converting it to bile for digestion or excreted.
Therefore it is thought that increasing exercise increases the amount of LDL your body expels.
Exercise also increases the size of the proteins that escort the cholesterol particles through the blood- this means they are less likely to squeeze into the linings of the heart and blood vessels.
7. Get A Cholesterol Check From The Age Of 20.
Age does play a factor in cholesterol levels. Previously it was thought that cholesterol was only a problem for middle-aged people, nowadays even children can have high levels of cholesterol.
Monitoring your LDL and HDL levels from early adulthood allows you to make the necessary changes to keep your health on track.
8. Research Your Family History
Genetics play a part in cholesterol levels and there is even a genetic disorder that means children will have high cholesterol (familial hypercholesterolemia).
The build up of fatty plaque in the arteries can begin in childhood so it is important to find out if certain conditions run in your family.
You are at increased risk if you have a blood-related family member who has:
- a history of total cholesterol levels over 240 mg/dL
- had a heart attack or sudden cardiac death before age 55,
- suffered from coronary atherosclerosis, peripheral vascular disease or cerebrovascular disease
- A coronary artery procedure
9. Understand Nutrition Facts Labels
Just because a food is low in cholesterol doesn’t mean it won’t cause your body to have increased cholesterol.
Low-cholesterol foods may be high in trans (hydrogenated) fats or saturated fats which can increased LDL levels.
10. Drink A Small Amount Of Red Wine
Some research has found that people who drink a small amount of red wine have lower LDL levels and that it can even increase HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol.
Beer, spirits or large amounts of red wine, however, can have the opposite effect and can raise LDL levels – this is especially true of sugary drinks such as cocktails.
11. Choose Healthier Versions Of Your Favorite Foods
Opt for leaner cuts of meat, naturally sweetened drinks and desserts, fresh steamed vegetables instead of those cooked in butter and dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate.
This helps keep your weight down and the amount of inflammatory sugar and ‘bad’ fats to a minimum.
12. Start Supplementing Whey Protein
Studies have found that people who take whey protein in shakes or bars have lower LDL levels as well as lower total cholesterol levels.
Whey protein is a great way of getting the benefits of dairy without the extra fat; increasing satiety to prevent overeating and weight gain, and increasing lean muscle mass that promotes a healthy metabolism.
13. Consider Going Vegetarian Or Vegan
Going on a vegetarian or vegan diet can be very beneficial for anyone with a high cholesterol.
High-protein plant foods such as beans and legumes have been found to LDL cholesterol levels while staying high in protein and delivering an extra dose of fibre to maintain healthy digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Legumes help lower both kinds of cholesterol, blood sugar levels and insulin levels and have a knock-on effect of preventing heart disease.
14. Take A Plant Sterol Supplement
A daily dose of between one and two grams of plant sterol has been shown to lower LDL levels.
15. Supplement With Psyllium Husk
Research has found that taking one teaspoon of psyllium 30 minutes before each meal has LDL lowering qualities and acts as a soluble fibre supplement and a laxative.
Our bodies need cholesterol in order to maintain healthy hormone levels, but the balance of LDL and HDL can cause health problems such as heart disease, stroke and heart attack. By following the 15 steps above you can reduce harmful cholesterol levels and maintain a healthy level of positive cholesterol for long term health and wellbeing.