Lowering Cholesterol

10 January 2024

Maybe it is a new year’s resolution or maybe your medical team suggested it, but if lowering your cholesterol is on your to-do list, here is some information. High cholesterol increases the risk of heart attack, so it is important to keep track of the numbers. The report will have three numbers, the amount of bad (LDL) cholesterol, good (HDL) cholesterol, and the overall number. All three are important to evaluate your needs.

There are some very good medications available and if your physician prescribes them, take the drugs as indicated. You can also affect your cholesterol with lifestyle changes, primarily in your diet. So, even if you are on a medication, lifestyle can improve their effectiveness.

  • Fats – Most vegetable oils (fats) are healthy for you. Also good choices are oily fish, nuts, seeds, and certain vegetables. Red meat and many dairy products are high in saturated fats. If you read the food label and it says partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, steer clear.
  • Fiber – Soluable fiber in fruits and oatmeal as part of a healthy diet can help lower levels. These are found in oatmeal, kidney beans, Brussels sprouts, apples, and pears.
  • Sterols and Stanols – These are elements that are natural plant compounds and have a structure that is similar to cholesterol. Eating them helps limit the amount of cholesterol your body absorbs. They are found in spreads, juices, and yogurts.
  • Whey protein – Whey is found in dairy products and it is under study to see how much effect it has on cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids won’t help reduce cholesterol, but can help reduce blood pressure. These are salmon, walnuts, and flaxseeds.

It is important to find an eating plan that works for you and your lifestyle. You may need to adapt your approach to find the right balance. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see your levels drop immediately.

Regular blood tests will be a part of the process. If at all possible, have the test at the same time of the day. Sit for at least 5 minutes before the blood is drawn, which generally is not a problem since there is usually a line before you are seen. Even if you are taken to the procedure room immediately, there will be name and other identifiers to be verified. Remain seated while the phlebotomist draws your blood. If you were ill just before the procedure or you altered your medications for some reason, let the doctor’s office know. It takes ongoing blood tests to actually see a significant change, so don’t worry.

There are some other things you can do to help your overall health and that will specifically benefit cholesterol problems.

  • Exercise – Even moderate exercise can help increase the good cholesterol in your body. Develop a plan and clear it with your medical team. The general recommendation is 30 minutes of something that makes you breathe hard five times per week, or something even more strenuous for 20 minutes three times a week. Having trouble with motivation? Just take a walk during your lunch break. Ride a bike to work or around the neighborhood. Go back to a sport you enjoyed previously. Take a dance class. Take the stairs. Park further from the entrance. Buddy up with someone so that you become accountable.
  • Weight loss – Even small changes can make a difference. Eat what you want, but in reduced proportions.
  • Alcohol – Only drink in moderation. Basically that is one drink a day for women. Up to two drinks a day if you are a man under the age of 65 but when you reach that birthday, drop to a single drink per day.
  • Smoking – Yep. This is on all the lists. After only three months without smoking, blood circulation and breathing begin to improve. After a year of not smoking the risk of heart disease drops to half of that for a smoker.

Here’s to a healthier you in 2024!

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