Cholesterol, although you’ve probably heard about it only in terms of the need to “lower” it, is not a bad thing per se. It is, in fact, one of the primary building blocks of human health, and is necessary to maintain both membrane structural integrity and fluidity in your body’s cells. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that comes from two sources – it is naturally produced by your liver, and it is often over-produced when you consume a diet that is high in cholesterol that comes from animal sources such as meat, poultry, and full-fat dairy products. It’s the over-production of cholesterol that increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, because the waxy substance coats your blood vessels, impairing normal blood flow.
Cholesterol comes in two forms – the “bad” LDL cholesterol, and the “good” HDL cholesterol. Good heart health depends on maintaining a proper balance of these two types; too much of one and too little of the other elevates your risk of developing heart attack, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.
How do I start to control my cholesterol levels?
The first step is to find out what they are. This can be accomplished via a simple blood test, which will tell you and your doctor your current levels of LDL, HDL, total cholesterol, and triglycerides. Then, if your cholesterol levels are high or out of balance, you can work with your heart care specialists in Boynton Beach to bring them to safer levels. According to the American Heart Association, if you have a total cholesterol of 240 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter), you are twice as likely to have a heart attack as people who have a cholesterol level of 200 mg/dL.
If my cholesterol levels are high, how can I lower them?
The answer to this question is based on the individual, and you will work with your Delray Beach cardiologist to find the best approach for you. But there are a number of general steps that are commonly used to control cholesterol:
• Lose weight. Because being overweight or obese contributes to high cholesterol levels, losing as little as 5-10% of your body weight can help to significantly reduce these levels.
• Eat a more heart-healthy diet. Work with your doctor or nutritionist to follow a diet in which no more than 7% of your daily calories come from saturated fat. Instead, choose healthier unsaturated fats, and try to eliminate trans fats from your diet completely. Choose foods that are themselves low in cholesterol, such as low-fat milk and lean meats or fish, and increase your intake of foods high in soluble fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.
• Try to exercise every day. Adding even a ten-minute walk to each day can help to lower weight and lower your cholesterol levels. Try to work up to at least 30 minutes of exercise per day.
• Quit smoking. Period. Stopping smoking improves your HDL cholesterol levels, and more. Within 20 minutes of quitting, your blood pressure drops; within 24 hours, your risk of heart attack decreases; within a year, your risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker.
• Drink alcohol moderately. Having one glass of wine can actually improve your “good” cholesterol levels, but drinking more than that on a regular basis increases your risk of heart failure, high blood pressure, and stroke.
• If your doctor prescribes medication, take it. If tests find that your cholesterol levels are dangerously high, your heart doctors may prescribe medications to bring them under control. Take them, as directed, and don’t stop taking them until your doctor says it’s OK. They can save your life.
How to get started controlling your cholesterol levels
First, as stated above, find out what they are. Give the best heart doctors in Boynton Beach a call at 561-515-0080 and have your cholesterol levels tested. Then, depending on the results, work with your doctors to control them.