By Lynn Ruder
Many of us today have been instructed by our doctors to “lower our cholesterol”. Why is this? What is wrong with cholesterol and why is less better than more? This article will describe the issues surrounding elevated cholesterol and provide tips on how to do what the doctors want without resorting to prescription drugs.
What is Cholesterol? Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance which is manufactured by the liver. Cholesterol is absolutely necessary for good health and it can be found in every cell in the human body. However, elevated levels of cholesterol in the blood have been associated with an increased risk of stroke and heart disease.
Cholesterol circulates around the body attached to a protein. Together, the fat (cholesterol) and protein form a lipoprotein. These lipoproteins can be high density, low density or very low density. The majority of the cholesterol is transported around by low density lipoproteins (LDL). This LDL is made up mostly from fat and just a little protein. The LDL causes cholesterol to be deposited in the body’s arteries, hence its reputation as the “bad cholesterol”.
HDL is the high density lipoproteins. HDL is made up of mostly protein and just a little fat. HDL actually prevents the cholesterol from building up along the walls of the arteries by escorting it to the liver which filters it out of the body. HDL is the “good cholesterol”.
Understanding the numbers Many people are confused by the numbers. It is good for the total number of cholesterol to be under 200 but the total number of cholesterol in the body is not as important as the ratio between LDL and HDL. What is desirable is a high level of HDL and a low level of LDL. The higher the ratio – the better.
The desirable amount of LDL in the blood is less than 100mg/dL The desirable amount of HDL in the blood is 60 mg/dl or higher. Triglycerides are another type of flat which floats around in the blood. A high level of triglycerides is also associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease. The healthy number of triglycerides would be less than 150 mg/dL.
Changing the Numbers
How, exactly, does one go about lowering their LDL and raising their HDL? There are 4 methods: diet, exercise, weight loss and drugs.
Prescription Drugs First I would like to address the usage of Statin drugs to lower cholesterol. These drugs do help prevent cardiovascular disease, but they can have horrible side effects and may shorten one’s life! Among the possible side effects are muscular disease, kidney disease, damage to the brain, headaches, sexual dysfunction, diarrhea and many other nasty things. If possible prescription drugs should be avoided.
Exercise Regular exercise has been found to lower LDL levels and raise HDL levels. Daily aerobic exercise is highly recommended. Alternatively, taking a 30 minute walk 4 times a week should also prove very beneficial toward changing the numbers. Don’t forget that exercise must be enjoyable in order to keep it up and not get bored. Join a gym; sign up for classes; buy a treadmill. Try to put variety into your exercise life and make it fun!!
Diet Here are some dietary tips sure to bring those numbers down:
Limit sugar and alcohol, both of which contribute to weight gain. Increased weight is one of the causes of high cholesterol. Eat high fat fish like salmon, mackerel, herring and albacore tuna twice a week. These fish contain Omega-3 fatty acids which have been found to lower LDL and triglycerides and increase HDL. Be careful not to eat too much of these fish because of the potential danger of mercury poisoning. It is possible to buy capsules of fish oil. If you do, make sure that it is a reputable company which does a proper job of removing any traces of mercury.
Make sure you check labels on processed foods and don’t eat foods that are very high in sodium. Some people with high cholesterol also suffer from high blood pressure. Lowering the consumption of salt may help to keep blood pressure within normal limits. Do not consume products with more than 300 mg sodium per serving.
Increase the amount of fiber in your diet. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables (Don’t overdo the fruits if you are diabetic). Make sure you increase the amount of complex carbohydrates in your diet. This means replacing white bread and pasta with whole wheat, eating whole grains like wheatberries, barley, bulgur, etc.
Eat lots of legumes, oats, barley brown rice, apples and carrots because they contain soluble fiber, which has been found to lower cholesterol levels in the blood.
Avoid trans fats!!!! These are found in most commercial baked goods (cookies, crackers, cakes), doughnut icings and fast foods. These are the real villains and must be avoided at all costs. Alternatively, olive oil (a monosaturated fat) has been reported to lower cholesterol levels.
Traditionally, it has been advised to avoid saturated fats which are found in butter and red meat, but lately there has been research on the topic which has turned up evidence that they are not as detrimental as once thought.
Weight Loss Weight loss has been found to help lower cholesterol levels. I will not expound on this as most of us already know that it is in our best interests to take off the weight but have trouble sticking with a diet. My recommendation is not to diet but to strive to increase consumption of vegetables, fruits, grains and unprocessed foods. By making sure to eat nutritious meals every day, the likelihood of eating dangerous junk food will be greatly reduced. The name of the game is nurturing ourselves by eating nutritious foods.
There you have it. Now you know what cholesterol is, why it is potentially dangerous and how to go about lowering your cholesterol numbers without resorting to prescription drugs.
Lynn Ruder is a mother and health researcher who has been diagnosed with high cholesterol. If you would like to read more about lowering cholesterol without prescription drugs, please visit her blog at: www.lowercholesterol.blogspot.com
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