Raised cholesterol—and how to reduce it?
Raised Cholesterol levels have become one of the emerging problems worldwide with an estimation of 2.6 million deaths and 29.7 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs). With these statistical values, it is clear that increasing the level of cholesterol is indeed a big problem, mainly seen in developing and developed countries.
To understand how cholesterol can be lowered in the blood, we need do to know what is cholesterol, why it is there in our body, the optimum level of cholesterol in the blood, and then we will see the steps we can take to lower it. It is important to remember that the steps mentioned to lower the levels of cholesterol are just elementary, and it does not substitute for the professional help from a physician.
Cholesterol – What is it?
If you are confused about the meaning of Cholesterol, it is generally a sticky, oil-like compound that is present in all body cells, which is essential for many metabolic processes. Contrary to some advertisements, we do not need cholesterol from external sources since our body synthesizes it in the liver and other parts of the body, as per the required level. It is generally utilized to manufacture hormones, vitamin D, and also secrete substances which helps in digestion of foodstuff. That being said, food from animal sources like egg yolks, cheese, and meat also contain cholesterol which enters our body when consumed.
Level of cholesterol in the blood
The level of blood cholesterol is calculated by combining the levels of LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and 20% of triglycerides. If no other health issues are present in the individual, the recommended level of cholesterol in blood should be less than 200 mg/dL. The level of 200 to 239 mg/DL can be said as borderline high. If the level exceeds 240 mg/dL, then it is considered as a high level of cholesterol.
When levels are high…
The risk of heart diseases and stroke are mainly due to the increased amount of cholesterol in the blood. This is because cholesterol combines with other substances in the blood, which leads to the formation of plaque. This mainly sticks to the walls of the arteries leading to plaque build-up, also known as atherosclerosis. This results in the arteries being narrowed or even blocked, called the coronary artery disease.
Types—good and bad
Cholesterol moves within the body with the help of a substance called “lipoproteins,” comprising of main proteins (apolipoproteins), phospholipids, triglycerides, and cholesterol. This is due to the fact that the lipids need to be attached to proteins if it has to travel throughout the body. There are about three different types of lipoproteins with a distinct purpose.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is sometimes dubbed as ‘good cholesterol,’ mainly because it absorbs the circulating cholesterol from the body to the liver. Once it reaches the liver, it is discarded. From this, we can understand that if our body has a high amount of HDL, then the chances of stroke and other heart-related diseases are quite low.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is nicknamed as ‘bad cholesterol,’ makes up most of your body’s cholesterol. It plays a major role in the build-up of plaque in the arteries when the levels of LDL are high.
Very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) is also called as ‘bad cholesterol’ because it contributes to the plaque build-up in the arteries. Though both LDL and VLDL have the same nickname, they can be differentiated based on what they carry. LDL mainly carries cholesterol, whereas VLDL carries triglycerides.
Lifestyle changes to reduce cholesterol
If the individual does not have pre-existing heart issues or if this is not found in the medical history of the family, some steps can be followed to lower the level of cholesterol to a certain extent. Again, it is best when steps are taken under a physician’s guidance. The initial treatment for high LDL cholesterol is therapeutic lifestyle changes (TLC). This mainly focuses on limiting the intake of saturated fat and increasing the amount of soluble fiber partaken on a regular basis. Other than diet, weight management and increased physical activities play a major role in controlling the level of cholesterol, such as increasing the level of good cholesterol (HDL) and reducing the bad cholesterol (LDL and VLDL) in the body.
So in a general sense, you should have a good balance between the number of calories consumed and the calories burned with physical exercises. If the aim you have is to lose weight, try to burn more calories than the consumer level. Professionals recommend exercising at least 30-40 minutes every day to make it useful. This will help you to analyze the symptoms.
When considering the changes in the diet, one should focus mainly on low-fat foods which will not elevate the level of LDL. The following suggestions that worked for me are:
- Make it a point to eat only nutrient-rich, foods with low-calorie, giving a lot of importance to plant products such as fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains, nuts, lean poultry, and fishes rich in omega-3 fatty acids (2 times a week).
- If possible, limit processed food which is rich in sugar.
- Avoidance of Trans fat and saturated fat should be strictly followed.
- Try to limit salt (sodium) intake, not exceeding 2,300 milligrams per day. The optimum level of salt per day is less than 1,500 mg.
- Controlling alcohol intake will also help in reducing cholesterol levels.
- In your meal, make sure that the amount of soluble fiber is 25 grams per day. Excellent sources for soluble fiber include oats and oat bran, beans, barley, okra, and eggplant.
- Though nuts contain an abundance of calories, a small quantity a day of any kind of nuts can be eaten as a snack.
- Lean protein is another good option. About 646 grams of protein is considered a good amount of intake a day. Choose proteins from low-fat sources like lean meats, dairy products with low-fat, soy, and legumes. Fish is another good option for a good protein source for the health of the heart, make sure to have at least two times per week.
Such steps were taken by the individual to change his lifestyle—(1) by taking vegetarian diet with low-fat, (2) quitting to smoke, (3) training for stress management and (4) moderate exercising have shown remarkable results in the reduction of cholesterol levels in the blood, thereby, the chances of acquiring coronary atherosclerosis is quite low. However, each individual is unique and so his/her health, hence it is mandatory to discuss with your healthcare provider about the lifestyle changes which will work best for you, and if needed, administration of pharmaceutical drugs will be prescribed for you by your doctor.