As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 94 million adults in the U.S. suffer from high cholesterol, making it a relatively common condition.
- If left untreated, high cholesterol increases the risk of developing heart disease.
- High cholesterol doesn’t show any symptoms. That explains why it’s necessary to get your cholesterol levels checked regularly.
- You can manage your cholesterol levels naturally by eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight.
High Cholesterol Dangers
Cholesterol plays a vital role in your body, building healthy cells and making hormones. But too high cholesterol in the blood has many health hazards. If not treated, too much cholesterol contributes to plaque buildup in the arteries, creating blockages that raise the risk for heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.
What makes high cholesterol level even more dangerous is that it generally doesn’t show any noticeable symptoms. As a result, many people do not know they have high cholesterol until they experience a life-threatening event. That’s why it’s important to get your cholesterol checked every few years.
Read on for the things you need to know about cholesterol, what causes elevated cholesterol levels, and what lifestyle changes are recommended if you’re diagnosed with it.
Understanding Cholesterol Levels
Cholesterol is a waxy-like substance produced by your liver to carry out essential functions, such as building cells and hormones like estrogen and testosterone.
Your body naturally creates all the cholesterol required to perform these vital functions. In addition, cholesterol can also enter your body through the foods you consume. So, if you eat an unhealthy diet, your cholesterol levels can become too high. Some people are also genetically prone to naturally having elevated cholesterol levels.
A blood test called a lipid panel is done to check cholesterol levels. It measures different forms and amounts of cholesterol and fats in the blood. Typically, a lipid profile indicates results for four different types of lipids:
- Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL): This is called “bad cholesterol” because excess levels can build up in blood vessel walls and obstruct the flow of blood, which raises your risk of heart-related problems. That’s why Doctors recommend low LDL levels.
- High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL): This is called “good cholesterol” because it helps reduce LDL cholesterol from your bloodstream. That’s why Doctors recommend high HDL levels.
- Triglycerides. When you eat excess calories, the extra calories that your body doesn’t require are converted into chemical forms of fat called triglycerides. They are not good. They are factor into your total cholesterol value. That’s why Doctors recommend lower triglyceride levels.
- Total cholesterol. This amount is arrived at by adding your LDL & HDL cholesterol numbers and 20% of your triglyceride number. Overall, Doctors recommend for lowering total cholesterol levels.
Tip: We need to have a proper balance of these numbers. In general, LDL and total cholesterol numbers should be low and HDL level high. Knowing and monitoring your cholesterol numbers help find out whether you are at an increased risk for heart disease.
Cholesterol Test Results Chart: What Is Considered Normal & High?
Ideal cholesterol numbers vary by age, weight, and gender. So let’s see what all these numbers mean?
Besides looking at total cholesterol level, you should consider your LDL and HDL numbers. Here’s what’s deemed to be high and normal cholesterol for men and women above the age of 20:
While a total cholesterol level below 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) is ideal for adults, a level above 240 mg/dL is deemed as high.
For LDL levels, the lower the number, the better. LDL levels are best when they’re less than 100 mg/dL.
For HDL levels, the higher the number, the better. HDL levels are ideal when they’re more than 60 mg/dL.
Note: Speak to your doctor to interpret these numbers and set your personal goals.
If you’re under the age of 20, high or normal cholesterol numbers look a bit different:
Note: According to the CDC, for children between the ages of 9 and 11, their cholesterol levels should be checked once before puberty and then again between 17 and 21. More screenings are recommended for children and adolescents with obesity or diabetes, as they are likely to be at a higher risk.
High Cholesterol Symptoms
In general, high cholesterol has no symptoms. That’s why many people are not aware they have it. We can only find out if we go for the lipid blood test.
Important: As per the American Heart Association (AHA) recommendations, adults should have their cholesterol tested every four to six years. But the people who are at risk for heart disease should have their cholesterol levels tested more frequently.
Causes Of High Cholesterol
Besides genetic factors, an unhealthy lifestyle can increase the risk for high cholesterol levels.
The leading causes for high cholesterol include:
A diet high in trans and saturated fats is one of the biggest risk factors for high cholesterol. That is because these foods adversely affect how the liver processes cholesterol, leading to its build-up in your arteries.
Trans Fats: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned manufacturers from adding artificial trans-fat to processed foods. But, partially hydrogenated oils that contain trans fats may still be present in some products. If the total trans-fat is less than 0.5 per serving, the FDA allows product labels to show zero trans-fat.
Saturated Fat: It is contained in the following foods:
- Processed meats such as hot dogs and bacon
- Some meats such as fatty cuts of beef and pork
- Fried foods such as french fries, fried chicken, and fried fish
- Dairy products like ice cream, butter, whole milk, and cheese
- Refined oils
Important Note: According to the American Heart Association, only 5% to 6% of the calories you intake every day should be from foods high in saturated fats, and you should avoid trans fats entirely.
Related: “Which Fat You Can Eat”
Related: “How Much Fat You Can Eat”
Lack Of Exercise
Not doing enough physical activities is another leading risk factor for high cholesterol levels. Research has shown that a sedentary lifestyle is a huge contributor to high-cholesterol-related health problems, including coronary heart disease.
A 2002 Duke University study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that individuals who don’t exercise are likely to have smaller particles that transport cholesterol through the bloodstream. These smaller particles can clog your arteries than larger particles.
Guy L. Mintz, MD, director of Cardiovascular Health & Lipidology at Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, says: “To help improve cholesterol levels, one should do at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week.”
Research has shown that smoking cigarettes is linked with lower levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides (harmful fat type) and higher levels of HDL (good cholesterol).
According to the AHA, the increased bad cholesterol levels are caused by inhaling carbon monoxide while smoking. Carbon monoxide enters our bloodstream from our lungs and increases the amount of cholesterol in our arteries, causing them to harden over time and increasing the risk for heart disease.
According to the CDC, people who smoke cigarettes are two to four times more likely to have coronary heart disease or stroke than nonsmokers.
Excess body fat can raise the amount of LDL cholesterol the liver produces. It also disrupts your body’s ability to reduce LDL cholesterol in the blood.
Research has confirmed that about 50% to 60% of overweight people and 60% to 70% of people who are obese suffer from high cholesterol.
Related: “Effective Ways To Lose Fat & Weight”
Genes regulate how much cholesterol your body produces. So hereditary factors can be responsible for your high cholesterol levels. Inherited high cholesterol condition is known as familial hypercholesterolemia (F.H.). This begins at birth and increases the risk of having heart disease at an early age.
In most countries, familial hypercholesterolemia affects roughly one in 200 to 250 people. A healthy diet and exercise can help manage F.H., though cholesterol-lowering medications may also be necessary.
How To Manage Cholesterol Levels?
Daily moderate exercise can help you lower cholesterol levels.
Fitness Buffhq says you must be determined about making lifestyle changes to improve your cholesterol levels. Most people can lower cholesterol naturally — without medication — in the following ways.
Eat A Heart-Healthy Diet
Eating a heart-healthy diet is necessary for reducing your cholesterol levels. For instance, while foods high in soluble fiber have an important role in reducing LDL cholesterol, the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in some seafood can lower triglycerides.
Foods that can reduce your cholesterol include:
- Vegetables such as brussels sprouts, eggplant, and okra
- Fruits such as apples, grapes, and strawberries
- Oatmeal and whole grains such as oat bran and barley
- Lean proteins such as chicken or fish
- Fish such as salmon, trout, and herring
According to a 2020 study published in the journal Lipidology, a Mediterranean diet that includes vegetables and fruits, fish like salmon and sardines, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products help lower LDL cholesterol.
Related: “Mediterranean Diet Tips”
Research has shown that regular exercise can enhance the amount of HDL (good) cholesterol in your body, which prevents LDL (bad) cholesterol from building up in the bloodstream and blocking your arteries. Exercise also helps reduce your triglycerides.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “For meaningful health benefits, adults must do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week.” The activities can be walking, swimming, etc. The guidelines suggest that any amount of physical activity has some health benefits and is better than being sedentary. For more information, read about the best types of exercise for heart health.
When we quit smoking, we stop inhaling carbon monoxide, which helps lower the levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in our bloodstream. This prevents fatty deposits from building up in our arteries.
Moreover, as per a 2011 study published in the American Heart Journal, the level of HDL “good” cholesterol can increase roughly 5%, or 2.4 mg/dL, within just six weeks after we quit smoking. A higher HDL cholesterol level can help lower more LDL “bad” cholesterol from our blood.
Losing weight with a healthy diet and regular exercise not only reduces LDL (bad) cholesterol but also lowers the risk for other obesity-related health problems, such as type 2 diabetes.
Research studies have shown that people with obesity-related health problems who lose just ten percent or less of their body weight experienced improved cholesterol levels, besides other health benefits such as lower blood sugar & lower blood pressure
Learn more about how to lose weight and keep it off safely.
About Author: Renu Bakshi, AKA Fitness Buffhq, is ISSA Certified Elite Trainer. He passed Personal Fitness Trainer Course, Nutrition Health Coach course & Specialist Exercise Therapy course from ISSA, USA obtaining + 97% marks. He shares his experience and knowledge about nutrition and effective workouts to get you in the best shape of your life, no matter how old you may be. The author says: “For me, age is just a number!”