Cholesterol is a growing concern as we continue to age. In our younger years, we didn’t think twice about it. But now that we’re older, we’ve become more mindful of maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. But what’s with the hype surrounding cholesterol?
We know that our bodies naturally produce cholesterol, and we can also obtain it from the foods we eat. We also know the scary truth that if it gets out of hand, it can lead to a slew of health complications, so we try to eat well, exercise, and continuously get our numbers checked.
Although we may be familiar with the concept that cholesterol is either good or bad, maybe we aren’t as aware of the types, symptoms, causes, and natural remedies for high cholesterol. Therefore, let’s examine in-depth all we need to know to understand hypercholesterolemia better.
Types of Hypercholesterolemia
First and foremost, hypercholesterolemia – or high cholesterol – is an excess amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL, or bad cholesterol, is the type of cholesterol that sticks to artery walls, builds up and thickens, which can reduce the flow of blood. Over time this buildup can increase a person’s risk of heart attack and coronary artery disease.
There are six types of hypercholesterolemia.
|Type of hypercholesterolemia||Elevated lipoprotein(s) present||Serum lipid pattern|
|Type 1||elevated chylomicrons||associated with lipoprotein lipase deficiency, apolipoprotein C-II deficiency|
|Type 2a||elevated LDL||associated with familial hypercholesterolaemia, polygenic hypercholesterolaemia, nephrosis, hypothyroidism, familial combined hyperlipidaemia|
|Type 2b||elevated LDL and VLDL||associated with familial combined hyperlipidaemia|
|Type 3||elevated intermediate-density lipoprotein||associated with dysbetalipoproteinaemia|
|Type 4||elevated VLDL||associated with familial hypertriglyceridaemia, familial combined hyperlipidaemia, sporadic hypertriglyceridaemia, diabetes|
|Type 5||elevated chylomicrons and VLDL||associated with diabetes.|
* Information taken by BMJ Best Practices
Causes of Hypercholesterolemia or High Cholesterol
There are many causes of hypercholesterolemia, some of which can be controlled. For example, some people inherit high cholesterol, so even healthy eating and exercising won’t combat it. Additionally, men over the age of 45 and women over 55 are at a greater risk of developing high cholesterol in comparison to their younger counterparts.
For others, being overweight, smoking, having high blood pressure, eating poorly, and lack of physical activity can all contribute to high cholesterol. These factors are controllable, so practicing healthier living may be an effective way to reduce one’s risk of developing high cholesterol.
Symptoms of High Cholesterol
Similar to having high blood pressure, hypercholesterolemia doesn’t necessarily pose any clear-cut symptoms. Instead, as it becomes worse, it can lead to other issues that do demonstrate symptoms.
The only definitive way to know if you have high cholesterol is through blood work, which requires fasting before the test.
Coronary Artery (Heart) Disease
Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States. It can be caused by cholesterol, causing a fatty buildup in the arteries called atherosclerosis. The most common symptoms include chest pain, nausea, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
The buildup of plaque caused by high cholesterol can cause the blood supply to reduce or cut off. This is what happens when a stroke occurs. It is essential to act fast and seek medical treatment if any symptoms of a stroke occur. These can include dizziness, confusion, slurred speech, and numbness on one side of the body.
Peripheral Arterial Disease
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) can occur when the walls of the arteries become full of plaque. This can block the flow of blood in the arteries, which supplies to the kidneys, arms, stomach, legs, and feet. Symptoms of PAD can include cramping, fatigue, and pain or discomfort in the legs and feet.
Natural Ways to Lower Hypercholesterolemia
Natural ways to lower cholesterol As mentioned earlier, diet can play a large role in hypercholesterolemia. Likewise, a lack of exercise can also be a contributing factor. The best way to combat high cholesterol – unless yours is hereditary – is through proper diet and exercise.
What may be tricky, though, is many food items actually possess their own amount of cholesterol, so it’s essential to be mindful of this. These items include animal-based products, such as eggs and meat.
Below, are beneficial foods to help you prevent and reduce your hypercholesterolemia.
Foods to Lower High Cholesterol
Olive oil: Olive oil, especially of the extra-virgin variety, continues to be praised as a heart-healthy food item. A staple in the Mediterranean diet, olive oil contains monounsaturated fat, which has been shown to help maintain healthy cholesterol.
Olive oil is great to cook with and can also be added on top of dishes like salad, making it easy to incorporate into your diet.
Spinach: If it was good enough for Popeye, it’s good enough for you! The vintage cartoon character probably has some amazing cholesterol numbers because of all the spinach he consumed. Its key nutrient not only goes to support vision health, but can prevent clogging of the arteries.
Chocolate to lower cholesterol: If you’re looking to help your cholesterol, go ahead and enjoy the good stuff. Of course, chocolate should be enjoyed in moderation, and the darker variety is better for you. In a 2007 study, participants who consumed cocoa powder saw a 24 percent increase in HDL (good cholesterol) levels.
Oats: Want better cholesterol? Eat a better breakfast. In another study, participants consumed oats for breakfast, and researchers saw a decrease in their LDL cholesterol by 5.3 percent. The best part? It only took six weeks! If you’re not into oats, then we suggest any other high-fiber food item; fiber is key when you are trying to lower your cholesterol.
Beans: Similar to oats, beans contain fiber, which can help with cholesterol. Arizona State University Polytechnic uncovered that half a cup of beans is enough to see a reduction in LDL cholesterol by at least eight percent. So as the song goes, “Beans…they’re good for your heart!”
Legumes: Also known as pulses, legumes are a group of foods that include beans, peas, and lentils. They contain a lot of fiber, minerals, and protein that can help to lower the risk of heart disease. A review of 26 randomized controlled studies showed that eating a ½ cup of legumes per day is effective at lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol by an average of 6.6 mg/dl compared to not consuming legumes.
Avocados: This nutrient-dense fruit is a great source of monounsaturated fats and fiber, two nutrients that have been shown to help lower ‘bad’ cholesterol and raise ‘good’ cholesterol. In one study, overweight and obese adults with high LDL cholesterol who consumed one avocado a day lowered their LDL levels more than those who did not eat avocados.
Nuts — Especially Almonds and Walnuts: Another nutrient-dense food, nuts are also extremely high in monounsaturated fats. Walnuts, in particular, are rich in the plant variety of omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat associated with heart health. Almonds are rich in L-arginine and amino acids that help the body to make nitric oxide, which can regulate blood pressure.
Foods that Raise Cholesterol
It’s also important to take note of foods that could raise cholesterol. Animal-based foods can contribute to our cholesterol levels because they have their own. Eggs, cheese, milk, beef, chicken, and lamb are all examples of foods that could raise your cholesterol. Additionally, trans fat and saturated fat should be avoided.
Furthermore, packaged goods, as well as deep-fried foods, all have the potential to raise LDL.
Exercise to Lower Cholesterol
Aside from enjoying a healthy diet, we can also use exercise as a means of lowering cholesterol. Generally speaking, all forms of physical activity can help improve cholesterol and overall health. Below we have outlined a few examples so that you will have a few exercise ideas in mind.
Brisk walking: Walking is the easiest form of exercise because we do it anytime we need to get from one place to another. The key is devoting a set amount of time to brisk walking – that is a slightly elevated pace. This will ensure you are using your heart more.
Devoting 30 minutes a day to brisk walking can work wonders on your cholesterol. If you don’t have the time, don’t fret – splitting your exercise regime in three 10-minute sections is still beneficial.
Jogging: Depending on your fitness level and abilities, you can take your brisk walking even further and turn it into a jog to help your cholesterol even more. Jogging requires more from the heart and lungs, creating a bigger burst of blood flow throughout the body. You can also burn more calories and fat this way. This is essential for lowering cholesterol because being overweight is a contributing factor in hypercholesterolemia.
Plank exercise to lower cholesterol: Planking is a form of exercise that can strengthen your core and whole body. Although not an aerobic form of exercise, it can still benefit cholesterol. Planking is a successful way to help reduce belly fat, which in turn can help bring down cholesterol.
Planks can be completed in two ways: on your forearms or on your hands. Start out lying flat on your stomach. Bring either your forearms or your hands underneath your shoulders and press yourself up. Your body should be parallel with the ground and as straight as possible. For maximum benefits ensure you tighten your core (it should feel like you’re pulling your belly button towards your spine).
If you’re a beginner, start by holding this position for 10 seconds. As you practice the plank and strengthen your core, slowly increase your holding position until you reach three minutes.
Bike to work or just for fun: Cycling expends roughly the same energy as jogging, but it is much easier on the joints. For those who are starting to feel pain in hips and knees it may be best to switch to riding a bicycle. This is particularly important as people age as arthritis can affect these joints.
Take a few laps at the pool: For those who are worried about the impact on joints, the best exercise is swimming. In a 2010 study, researchers compared swimming with walking and found that in women aged 50 to 70 years, body weight, body fat distribution, and LDL cholesterol levels improved better than with walking.
Strike a few yoga poses: Studies show that yoga may reduce the risk of heart disease, and in some cases, it may directly affect cholesterol levels. In a large study review published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, those who regularly practiced yoga showed significant improvement in LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and blood pressure over those who didn’t exercise.
As mentioned, all forms of exercise are effective methods for lowering cholesterol. The trick is finding something you love so you’ll stick with it. And remember, even partaking in your favorite hobbies or completing chores count as physical activity. So whether you’re gardening or vacuuming the house, these movements can help your cholesterol.
If you’re concerned about your cholesterol and want to prevent heart disease, diet and exercise are your best defense against hypercholesterolemia.