Cholesterol can be sourced from 2 primary resources: from the food you eat, and from the liver. Essentially, cholesterol is a fat that the cells in the body require to function. Lipoprotein cholesterol is composed of fat (i.e. lipid) and proteins. Since cholesterol is unable to dissolve in blood, lipoprotein cholesterol acts as a carrier to move the cholesterol via the bloodstream from cell to cell. There are two types of lipoprotein cholesterol that have this job: LDL cholesterol (also known as low-density lipoprotein cholesterol) and HDL cholesterol (also known as high-density lipoprotein cholesterol). The total cholesterol within a body consists of triglycerides (i.e. oils and fats that supply energy and fuel for the body), LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol. LDL and HDL cholesterol ranges can be measured via blood work.
LDL Cholesterol (“Bad” Lipoprotein Cholesterol)
LDL cholesterol is deemed “bad” by the field of medicine and health because this type of lipoprotein cholesterol contributes to the buildup of plaque. Plaque in the bloodstream is a hard and thick deposit that acts as a “clog” in the arteries resulting in a reduction of flexibility. When that happens, a condition called atherosclerosis occurs indicating that there are high levels of LDL resulting in artery blockage. With atherosclerosis, many conditions can arise (for example, peripheral artery disease occurs if plaque buildup blocks the supply of blood to the legs). The dangers of high levels of LDL are not only damaging to the flexibility of an artery, but rather, if the clog manages to block a narrow artery, then the backup of blood flow can likely cause a stroke or heart attack.
HDL Cholesterol (“Good” Lipoprotein Cholesterol)
HDL cholesterol is deemed “good” by the field of medicine and health because this type of lipoprotein cholesterol works to effectively remove high levels of LDL from the arteries. If the blood carries high HDL cholesterol, then it is able to locate lipoprotein cholesterol carrying high levels of LDL and move it to the liver. In the liver, the “bad” lipoprotein cholesterol is broken down and exits the body. Carrying approximately ½ to 1/3 of lipoprotein cholesterol, HDL cholesterol is considered a healthier kind of fat. Low levels of HDL cholesterol have been proven to increase the risk of stroke and heart attack whereas high HDL cholesterol ranges often protects against such heart disease.
High Cholesterol Causes
As mentioned above, high cholesterol causes an increased risk for heart diseases such as stroke or heart attacks. The causes of high “bad” cholesterol (i.e. high levels of LDL) are contributed to many factors (most of which are controlled by a person’s lifestyle), though some external factors should also be considered. The following are a list of risk factors pertaining to high cholesterol causes:
Unhealthy Poor Diet
A diet consisting of high saturated fat and trans fat is directly related to high cholesterol causes. That is, an overabundance of eating saturated fat (which is found in animal products) and trans fat (which can be found in baked goods such as crackers, snacks, and cookies) have been shown to raise LDL cholesterol levels. A person with ongoing cholesterol issues should refrain from red meat and fatty dairy products which can contribute to an increase in “bad” cholesterol.
People with diabetes have a more difficult time controlling their blood sugar. In severe cases of diabetes, for which high blood sugar becomes problematic, diabetics are at higher risk for high cholesterol as high blood sugar has been directly linked to lower levels of HDL cholesterol and thus higher levels of LDL cholesterol. In addition to causing problems for LDL cholesterol levels, high blood sugar also weakens and damages the arteries.
Age and Sex
In comparison to men, most women (prior to menopause) have lower ranges of LDL cholesterol levels within the same age group. With age, total cholesterol levels increase in both women and men. Unfortunately most women over the age of 50 have the tendency to have higher cholesterol levels than men of the same age.
It is possible that genes can influence the metabolism of LDL cholesterol in a negative way. For instance, hypercholesterolemia is an inherited condition related to the inability to break down high LDL cholesterol which could lead to heart problems.
Obese persons with a body mass index (BMI) of thirty or more are at greater risk for high cholesterol issues. Additional mass weight can potentially increase LDL (i.e. bad) cholesterol in the arteries. Generally speaking, women with a waist circumference of 35 inches or more and men with a waist circumference of 40 inches or more are at greater risk for heart disease relating to high cholesterol.
Lack of physical exercise can increase cholesterol levels since physical activity has been medically proven to raise HDL cholesterol levels while lowering “bad” cholesterol.
Smoking cigarettes can cause irreversible damage to the blood vessel walls and thereby increasing the chance of accumulating fatty deposits. It has also been reported to lower HDL levels resulting in a decrease in good cholesterol.
Alcohol and Cholesterol
While it’s true that alcohol (in moderation) can increase HDL cholesterol, it has not been proven to lower LDL cholesterol in the blood. In other words, in regards to alcohol and cholesterol, since the general medical consensus is unclear whether alcohol (in moderation) has benefits with regards to reducing the risk of heart disease, it is a good idea to monitor one’s alcohol intake because drinking in excess can have proven negative health consequences. Negative health consequences can include high blood pressure and an increase in triglyceride levels; therefore, alcohol (even in moderation) should not be taken as a method to prevent heart disease.
Emotional or Mental Stress Factors
In numerous clinical trials measuring the effects of stress on health, results have shown that emotional (or mental stress/anxiety) raise cholesterol levels over a long period of time. The hypothesis is that long-term unmanageable stress can negatively influence poor habits such as drinking an excess of alcohol or partaking in fatty “comfort” foods. While fatty foods have immediate comforting effects of consoling one’s mental state, saturated fat and LDL cholesterol in these foods have been shown to contribute to increased levels of “bad” cholesterol in the blood.
LDL Cholesterol Remedies
The good thing about having blood tested for cholesterol levels is that poor levels of HDL cholesterol and high levels of LDL cholesterol levels can be better managed with lifestyle changes. The following are a few tips to address unhealthy cholesterol levels caused by the factors listed above:
The body needs fat for fuel and energy; yet choosing the right fats is essential to dealing with cholesterol remedies. Reducing saturated fat (that is found in red meat, processed foods, and full-fat dairy products) and replacing them with monounsaturated fat (e.g. fats found in olives, nuts, avocadoes, canola and sunflower oil) can significantly impact cholesterol levels in a positive way. Preserved baked goods should also be avoided.
Be sure to incorporate lots of fruits and vegetables which can assist in lowering bad cholesterol due to their nature of being rich in fiber.
Experiment with a variety of whole grains such as whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat baked goods, and brown rice. For breakfast, oat bran and oatmeal are ideal choices
Choose meats like fish instead of red meats and poultry. Omega-3 fatty acids are strongly present in fish diets which has shown to encourage healthy hearts and brain function
Exercise and Weight Control
Journal eating habits and take note of mental “stressors” that cause poor habits throughout the day
Losing simply ten pounds can show positive results for overall cholesterol levels
Set long-term weight-loss goals and plan how to achieve those goals
Incorporate thirty to sixty minutes of physical activity daily
If gyms are boring, find other ways of staying active – e.g. play a sport, ride a bike, take a brisk walk with the dog (alone, or with a friend)
Physical exercise and losing weight can lower LDL “bad” cholesterol while raising HDL “good” cholesterol. Therefore, some exercise is always a better option than no exercise (provided that the treating physician recommends physical activity, which is most likely unless there are some physical limitations).
Practice yoga, tai chi, or some low-impact activity to increase energy, decrease cholesterol levels, and have a positive impact on mental stress.
Smoking and Use of Alcohol
Quit cigarette smoking as it has been shown to weaken the walls of the blood vessels and thereby making the accumulation of plaque within the arteries increase rapidly. Accumulation of plaque in the arteries can cause serious risks for heart disease and other health problems.
While moderate intake of alcohol might increase levels of HDL cholesterol, it has not been shown to raise the levels sufficiently for recommendation. Therefore, reducing the amount of alcohol intake is advisable.
In sum, lowering LDL lipoprotein cholesterol levels and increasing HDL lipoprotein cholesterol is possible with intentional lifestyle changes.