Hearing that someone has high cholesterol has become so common, not too many people bat an eye when they hear the phrase. In fact, approximately 93 million Americans have high cholesterol — and those are the ones who have been diagnosed with it. This is an alarming statistic, considering that high cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States. Therefore, learning the basics of this organic molecule and how it affects your health is crucial to avoid life-threatening conditions. But, what exactly is cholesterol? What causes it to become high? And, what are ways to lower it naturally?
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a substance your body needs to build and maintain cell health. However, having too much of it in your system can lead to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. There are two sources of cholesterol. The liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs to function properly. The rest comes mainly from animal products — such as eating meat, poultry, and dairy.
There are also two types of cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is bad cholesterol because it builds up and sticks to the walls of your blood vessels. This makes it harder for your heart to pump blood throughout your body. On the other hand, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is considered to be good cholesterol. This is because it absorbs LDL cholesterol and takes it to the liver — which flushes it out of the body.
What causes cholesterol to increase?
Foods that are high in saturated fats and trans fats cause the liver to make even more cholesterol than your body needs — this is in addition to the cholesterol from these foods. This causes cholesterol levels to become unhealthy. Tropical oils, such as palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil, can also increase bad cholesterol.
What makes high cholesterol even more dangerous is that it has no symptoms. The only way to find out whether you have it is through blood testing. People who are at risk of high cholesterol include the following:
- Obese individuals
- Diabetes patients
- People who lead a sedentary lifestyle
- People who eat high amounts of saturated fats
5 Ways to Lower High Cholesterol Naturally
High cholesterol is one of the major controllable risk factors of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Things you can do to lower cholesterol include:
1. Eat More Plant-Based Whole Foods
Food sources high in saturated fats — such as red meat, beef, lamb, pork, chicken skin, butter, lard, whole-fat dairy products, and tropical oils — are the main sources of LDL cholesterol. These cause fat deposits to collect and harden in your blood vessels, affecting your overall health. Instead, opt for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, and limited sugary and processed foods. If you want to eat poultry, cook it without skin and avoid frying it. Keep in mind that your body does need fat to function properly. Good sources of it include:
- Fatty fish
- Omega-3 fortified foods
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Flax seeds
- Dark chocolate
2. Exercise Regularly
According to the American Heart Association, you should use up as many calories as you consume daily. In order to measure this, speak with a healthcare professional about how many calories you should be eating and drinking. This will vary depending on your age, gender, and level of physical activity. Read food labels to track how many calories you’re consuming. If possible, get an activity tracker to know how many calories you are burning. If this is not a practical option, do an online search for an average caloric burn for certain types of activities.
3. Lose Weight
If you are overweight, losing weight will help you lower bad cholesterol. Your first step should be to determine a healthy weight range for you. You can use a smart BMI calculator as a starting point, but if you have concerns about your health, always speak with a healthcare professional before starting a new exercise regime.
Easy ways to start incorporating more activity into your routine includes going out for daily walks — increasing mileage gradually as your body adjusts to the change. Take stairs instead of taking the elevator, park further from the grocery store entrance, do yard work, and/or exercise during commercial breaks. If possible, enlist a friend to join you. This will make it more fun, time passes by faster, and it’s more likely that you’ll stick with it long-term.
4. Drink Alcohol in Moderation
If you don’t drink alcohol, keep it that way. If you like to imbibe, keep in mind that consuming five or more drinks on a single occasion (if you’re male) or four or more drinks (if you’re female) within two hours constitutes binge drinking. This increases the risk of fatty liver disease, which makes it difficult for your liver to remove bad cholesterol from your body. In addition, many alcoholic beverages include significant amounts of sugar — and they also stimulate the appetite. This makes it easier to gain weight, which is counterproductive if you’re trying to lower the number on the scale for health reasons.
5. Quit smoking
Although smoking isn’t a source of cholesterol, it makes LDL cholesterol stickier — making it a lot easier for it to clog your arteries. As if that weren’t harmful enough, smoking also lowers levels of HDL cholesterol. To add insult to injury, nicotine narrows blood vessels and causes platelets in the blood to clump together, making blood thicker. This makes it even harder for your heart to pump blood. So, all things considered, it puts you on a direct track to developing heart disease.
If You Need Help Lowering Your Cholesterol, Nurse Practitioners of Florida Can Help
At Nurse Practitioners of Florida, we have a dedicated team of certified nurse practitioners who have an unwavering commitment to providing you with care and compassion. When you call any of our locations, you will be greeted by a live person who’s ready to offer acute medical care as well as preventive measures — including flu vaccines. And, above everything else, you will be treated like family.
If you need assistance, call us or fill out our online contact form.