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Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is important, as it’s a primary risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S.
Cholesterol levels are made up by what’s called a lipid profile, which consists of four main parts:
- Total cholesterol: all the cholesterol in your blood
- Low-density protein (LDL): “bad” cholesterol that leads to plaque buildup or blood clots in the artery wall
- High-density protein (HDL): “good” cholesterol that helps remove bad cholesterol from your blood
- Triglycerides: a kind of fat that develops in the body due to excess calories
While it’s important to have all cholesterol levels at a healthy mark, maintaining an appropriate HDL is the most critical. Genetics and lifestyle factors are the main triggers for high cholesterol. Because genetics can’t be controlled, ensuring your lifestyle is cholesterol-friendly is critical for avoiding high cholesterol.
Lifestyle Tips to Manage High Cholesterol
While medication is necessary in some cases, lifestyle modifications should be the cornerstone of any cholesterol management strategy. Below are three key lifestyle modifications to keep your cholesterol levels in check.
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Avoid Saturated and Trans Fats
If you consume a diet that’s high in saturated fat or trans fat, you increase your risk of developing high cholesterol. Saturated fat is found mostly in animal products, such as meat, butter, and cheese. Trans fat is found in processed, fried, and baked goods.
We recommend consuming saturated fat at a rate of less than seven percent of your total caloric intake. Patients who have followed this guideline have seen their LDL levels go down by eight to 10 percent. The Food and Drug Administration, thankfully, banned trans fats from U.S. restaurants and grocery stores in 2018.
Exercising is an effective way to lower your LDL levels, boost your HDL levels, and lose weight. We suggest doing exercises that you enjoy, such as walking, jogging, or lifting weights, for at least 30 minutes a day, four to five days a week. Studies show that when your body mass index (BMI) is above 30, it raises blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and lowers HDL levels. To further increase your chances of losing weight, and lowering your BMI, make sure you are burning more calories than you are consuming.
Smoking affects your blood vessel walls and lowers your HDL levels, which increases your risk of heart disease, as it can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries and the narrowing of blood vessels. And worse yet, the plaques can rupture and cause acute heart attacks. If you quit smoking, you can reduce your heart disease risk by half within a year. If you smoke and need help quitting, make sure to speak to your doctor about smoking cessation programs in your area.
Medication for High Cholesterol
Sometimes diet and exercise aren’t enough, and medication is necessary to bring your cholesterol levels down. Statin medications are a good way to lower LDL levels—the most potent statins have lowered LDL levels by up to 50 percent—and block the way LDL is produced and recycled within the body.
We also have newer blockbuster drugs such as Repatha®, which is injectable medication. However, we typically reserve medications like Repatha® for high-risk patients or people who can’t tolerate statins. Bile acid resins and fibrates are other effective medications that block the way your body absorbs cholesterol when you eat.
How Often Should I Get My Cholesterol Checked?
People 18 and older with average high cholesterol risk should get their cholesterol levels checked at least once every five years. Individuals who have or had high blood pressure typically see us much more frequently. Make sure to speak to your doctor to set up recurring checkups if you’ve previously experienced high cholesterol levels.
Where Can I Find More Information about High Cholesterol Risk Factors and Treatment Options?
Watch our live interview with Dr. Kerunne Ketlogetswe, a cardiologist at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute.
Maintaining good cholesterol levels is an important way to keep your heart healthy. Make sure to consider these lifestyle modifications—and medications, if needed—to do so.