I’ve put together a list of the top 7 things you want to know about cholesterol, taken from the questions readers submit daily.
1. What’s Causing My High Cholesterol?
You’re not always to blame, but you can help manage those numbers.
Certain things tend to predispose you to high cholesterol. For example:
- Men over the age of 45 and women over the age of 55 are at greater risk
- Having a family history of high cholesterol may predispose you to poor cholesterol as well
- Certain health conditions, like diabetes, can also contribute
And your doctor will want to talk about your lifestyle (if not, you bring it up!) to see if there are contributing factors there. You know the usual suspects:
- Being overweight
- Not exercising enough
- Eating a poor diet
There’s no getting around these issues if you want to control your cholesterol levels. The decisions you make about these factors are as important as using your insulin correctly.
Unfortunately, high cholesterol doesn’t have any symptoms, so it’s easy to think everything’s fine, even when it’s not.
The only way to know for sure if your cholesterol is high is to have it checked through your doctor’s order for laboratory tests – a “cholesterol screening.” Discuss this with your doctor then follow through.
As a general rule, healthy people should have their cholesterol checked at least once every 5 years. But if you have high cholesterol or multiple heart disease risk factors, your doctor will want you to have it screened more often.
Your “total cholesterol” is the sum of the fats in your blood, which includes both LDL and HDL cholesterols. This number can give you an indication of your risk factors for heart disease, vascular disease. stroke, and other complications.
However, the amounts of each type of cholesterol are a better predictor of risk for disease than the total amount.
This one’s always on the list of the top 7 things you want to know about cholesterol:
3. How Much Cholesterol Do I Need?
- The more HDL you have, the lower your risk of heart disease, because HDL transports cholesterol away from tissues to the liver and out of your body.
- HDL cholesterol also may have a protective effect on the blood vessels.
For most healthy people, HDL levels should be at least 40. But your HDL goal may be different, depending on your unique medical needs. For instance, if you have other health risk factors, your doctor may want yours to be higher than 40.
You want low LDL and high HDL. Work with your doctor to determine what your HDL and LDL goals should be.
Triglycerides also are part of a cholesterol profile, and these numbers give you a better idea about how much fat you’ve eaten recently.
High triglyceride levels greatly increase your risk of developing Coronary Artery Disease, Vascular Disease, and Stroke.
4. What Should I Eat to Control Cholesterol?
Your doctor will likely recommend that you:
- Eliminate foods high in saturated fats — which raise total cholesterol.
- Minimize – or eliminate completely – any trans fats, because they do a double whammy:
They raise LDL cholesterol while lowering good HDL.
Out of the Top 7 things you want to know about cholesterol, this is the most frequently asked question:
Exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease. But how much is enough?
Ask your doctor to give you a reasonable goal in terms of your exercise level, in light of your current medical status.
Just remember this: Even if you’re new to exercise and can only manage a little bit at first, that’s good enough to make a difference.
Just increasing the amount of your physical activity each day can help improve your heart health. Eventually, however, you’ll want to work up to a moderate-intensity exercise program.
6. Does Stress Affect My Cholesterol Levels?
Several small studies have shown that long-term chronic stress can raise blood cholesterol levels, probably because it causes us to blow off healthy diets and exercise.
The bad thing about chronic stress is that we can’t always recognize it ourselves. Feeling stressed becomes our “normal,” and we don’t know any different.
Click the links below to read about the effects of stress on your heart.
And…the unasked, but always implied question among the top 7 things you want to know about cholesterol is “Isn’t there a pill I can take for this?” This is how you do ask, though:
7. Do I Have To Take Medication to Manage My Cholesterol?
- Sometimes it depends on how much you’re willing to make lifestyle changes.
Many people can lower borderline high cholesterol levels with healthy adjustments to their diet and exercise. However, many others could also benefit from cholesterol medication.
➡ Ask your doctor about which of your health risk factors make you a good candidate for cholesterol-lowering medications.
➡ Ask about both the benefits and the risks of each cholesterol medication your doctor suggests.
But, keep in mind that even if your doctor prescribes medication, you’ll still need to eat right and exercise to keep your cholesterol under control.
Medications do not replace healthy habits.