I don’t know about you but when it comes to cholesterol all the focus on “numbers” leaves me confused.
Sure, I’ve heard that high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease.
But “connecting the dots” remains a mystery to me.
Which numbers are “good” and which are “bad?” Do you want low LDLs and high HDLs or some such thing? And what about triglycerides, how do they fit into the equation?
With a number of aunts, uncles and cousins on cholesterol medications this isn’t idle curiosity on my part. All I can say, thankfully, is that each year my doctor reviews the numbers and says “looking good Mike, keep it up.”
And I say to myself “keep what up?”
Understanding high cholesterol
Okay, for starters what the heck is cholesterol?
After all, if these “numbers” are supposed to mean anything to me I should know what it is, right? Or what causes it?
Well, it turns out that cholesterol is a lipid (fat) which is produced by your liver. Okay, now we’re beginning to get somewhere — now I’m beginning to understand the emphasis on “low fat” diets and “calories from fat.”
So far so good.
And it turns out that there are 3 types of lipids:
LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein, which carries about 65% of the cholesterol in your blood. Known as the “bad” cholesterol, LDL can build up in the walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain.
Along with other substances, it can form plaque — that thick, hard buildup that leads to clogged arteries.
Okay, so definitely bad.
HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein and carries about 30% of the cholesterol in your blood.
This is the “good” cholesterol because it carries LDL away from the arteries and back to the liver where it gets passed out from the body. It also turns out that a high HDL level helps prevent heart disease, while a low HDL level increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
So one number should be low, the other high. And it actually makes some sense:
- LDL = Low levels are good
- HDL = High levels are good
Triglycerides, it turns out, are the most common type of fat.
Like cholesterol, it circulates in your blood but gets stored in your body for extra energy. Triglyceride levels increase significantly after eating. A high triglyceride level combined with a low HDL or high LDL can speed up the process of plaque formation in the arteries.
With that said, it seems that high levels of LDL with low levels of HDL and high triglyceride levels combine to account for what they mean by high cholesterol.
Or am I missing something here?
Diets that naturally help lower cholesterol
If you’re like me you probably don’t want to run to your doctor and get a prescription filled for cholesterol medication.
Now, as I said above a number of relatives are on pills, and they need to be. I’m not going to tell them to stop, nor do I recommend that people rely on articles rather than talking with your doctor first.
However, when I visit with my doctor I like to be informed.
And ask a bunch of questions.
Well, and this comes as no surprise, it turns out that diet AND exercise are the best ways to naturally lower cholesterol. Apparently I’ve been eating the right foods all these years without knowing it (I guess “listening” to your body does make sense).
So doing a bit of research here’s what I found regarding the best 5 foods for lowering your cholesterol.
- walnuts and almonds
- olive oil
- foods with plant sterols or stanols
I guess my grandfather was right about oatmeal. He ate a bowl of it everyday and swore by it. I guess it rubbed off on me because I eat it, too.
Just not everyday.
As for fish my wife eats more than I do. In my book it’s just “ok.” As for walnut and almonds I love almonds, and always make sure there are some around the house to snack on them from time to time.
For cooking at home olive oil is the ONLY oil we use.
And it has been for some time.
Although some people prefer using other types of oils for cooking (maybe for cost reasons) I swear by it. Remember all the hype about the “Mediterranean Diet” that came out a few years ago? Well, the common denominator was the exclusive use of olive oil.
As for #5 on the list I have no idea what “sterols or stanols” are.
According to the article referenced above from the Mayo Clinic, “orange juice and yogurt drinks with added plant sterols can help reduce LDL cholesterol by more than 10 percent.”
So it looks like drinking OJ (which we do everyday) and adding more yogurt to your diet can help reduce the bad cholesterol as well.
What does all this mean to you?
It’s certainly easier to modify your diet by focusing on “heart healthy” foods rather than taking cholesterol meds for the rest of your life. And, make sure you take your cholesterol levels seriously and get an annual checkup every year.
After all, high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease.
So if your numbers are high, or you’re concerned about lowering your cholesterol, perhaps it’s time to talk to your doctor.
Schedule a medical assessment today
Perhaps now is the best time to schedule an appointment with your doctor regarding your heart health.
And if you’re looking for Connecticut Cardiology clinics or services, consider HeartCare Associates. They have 6 convenient locations in the greater New Haven area, and provide comprehensive medical assessments and services that are designed to improve quality of life and to optimize treatments that improve survival rates.
In fact, their focus is on early detection and prevention.
For more information visit them online at www.heartcareassoc.com.
And for readers in other parts of the country take the time to locate a clinic near you that can help you identify specific risk factors for heart disease.
This is, after all, the best way to prevent a heart attack from happening in the first place.