Hi y’all! How has everyone been? The past several weeks have been crazy and exciting for me, so I’ve had to take a small break from the blogging thing. Did you miss me? I’ve missed writing for you, but it gave me time to write about this particular topic. There’s not a whole lot of humor in this post, but I do feel it is an important one because I have had several people talk to me about dietary factors that contribute to high cholesterol. To be precise, the topic is brought about by trying to learn how to lower it without going on prescription medications. The good news is most of these people are now wanting to bring it down naturally instead of relying on prescriptions and continuing on with their same habits. More people are wanting to learn what cholesterol is, why it is high, and how to lower it. As with anything, education is key, and their newfound willingness to learn makes me so very happy! Not that I am completely against medication because it certainly has its place, but I do believe several people have the opportunity to learn and make appropriate lifestyle changes that can prevent the need for lifelong medication. In order to learn more about how to take charge, people need to know the answer to a few vital questions:
- What is cholesterol?
- Who gets high cholesterol?
- What causes high cholesterol?
- How to prevent/lower high cholesterol?
What is cholesterol?
What is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that is utilized in each and every cell of the body. Cholesterol is actually a vital component for the body to make hormones, Vitamin D, and for aiding digestion. The human body aptly makes cholesterol that it needs to carry out the normal functions of daily life, but it is also ingested in many foods. When people have their cholesterol checked, their results are presented as high density lipoprotein (HDL), low density lipoprotein (LDL), and total cholesterol. Often, triglycerides are thrown into the mix as well. So what the heck is a lipoprotein? I was hoping you would ask. When cholesterol travels through the blood, it is sort-of categorized into smaller packages called lipoprotein. Think in terms of something like an orange. The inner part is made of lipids, or fat, (think the flesh of the orange you eat) and the outside is made of protein (the peel). Many people know one is good and one is bad, but they often get confused about which is which.
HDL: GOOD. HDL helps to carry LDL back to the liver where the body can process and eliminate it.
LDL: BAD. LDL contributes to fatty buildups in the arteries of the body.
Triglycerides: The most common type of fat found in the body. Triglycerides are what store the excess energy (calories, in a broad sense) you consume when you eat. You can have high triglycerides without high cholesterol, but when combined with high LDL and low HDL cholesterol the chance of having a heart attack or stroke is high. High triglycerides could potentially cause fatty liver disease, pancreatitis, and is often associated with diabetes, kidney disease, and high alcohol consumption.
Who gets high cholesterol?
Most people assume high cholesterol with the natural aging process, but that’s a very dangerous assumption (and everyone knows that assuming makes an ass out of you and me). According to the National Institutes of Health the following percentages by age of the population have high cholesterol:
Furthermore, a study conducted between 2011 and 2014 concluded that 1 in 5 children had high total cholesterol, high LDL, or low HDL cholesterol. Men are less likely to have high cholesterol than women, but are more likely to suffer from cholesterol related cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack or stroke. The Statin Usage website has an interesting demographic breakdown between ethnicity, age, and sex that you can review.
What causes high cholesterol?
There are several contributing factors to high cholesterol. Naturally, there’s the genetic factor of family history. If members of your family have/had it, your chances are a bit higher than someone who doesn’t have it in his/her family. However, just because it runs in your family doesn’t mean you will get it. Certain prescription medications can lower your LDL cholesterol levels such as certain diuretics, estrogen, certain beta-blockers, and corticosteroids. Other diseases such as hypothyroidism, kidney disease and liver disease can all be contributors. The largest bulk of causation comes from the span of lifestyle choices one can make. The following is a list of lifestyle factors that contribute to high cholesterol levels:
- Cigarette smoking
- Lack of exercise/sedentary lifestyle
- Weight: high waist circumference, high BMI, obesity
- Dietary choices: Meat and packaged foods, the two most common favorites categories in the American diet, are main contributors
- saturated fats: these have been touted as contributors because these animal-derived foods contain naturally occurring cholesterol in them (butter, eggs, meat, dairy). The theory is when you eat too much it causes your own cholesterol to rise.
- trans fat: these are what I call classic “oily” foods because they are made with hydrogenated oils, and high omega-6 oils. These foods are your fried foods, snack cakes, packaged/boxed foods, and margarine. These foods are horrible for your health overall.
How can you lower cholesterol?
First of all, you need to talk to your doctor. As with everything diet and exercise related, nothing new should be started without first seeking council of your physician, and nothing written here counts or should count as medical advice. Now that the disclaimer is over, let’s look at some of the easiest and obvious ways that cholesterol could be lowered. As mentioned above, there are two groups to consider. One is hereditary factors, medications, and other diseases. There’s likely not much you can do about any of that on your own. You can, however, control the bullets in the lifestyle factors section.
- Stop smoking: Seriously, this is bad for you in many other ways than just cholesterol. When you stop smoking a whole host of health benefits will start to occur, your risk of cancer will decrease, you add more time to your life, and you save your skin!
- Move: Make sure you are getting in your exercise. There are several ways to do this without having to join and drive to a gym. You can walk around outside, you can do body weight circuit training in your living room, or you can join one of my challenge groups and get guidance on a 30 minute exercise program that is tailored for you, guidance on meal planning, nutrition nuggets and more. Fill out the contact me form for more information!
- Dietary factors: This is a lot simpler than people give it credit for. People already know what they should and shouldn’t be eating, they just choose to eat foods they know aren’t the greatest. Use common sense here. Don’t go from die hard meat eater to only eating raw carrots in the span of a day, but do make sure you are controlling how much saturated fat you are consuming in a day. If you are eating a ton of cheese at each meal, cut it back. If you are eating more than 4 oz of protein at each meal, cut it back. If you eat primarily out of a box, eat whole foods. If you cook all your foods with a stick of butter (saturated fat) or margarine (trans fat), stop altogether. You can read about my favorite cooking oils here. In general, making wise food choices and assisting with some supplement choices can benefit the journey. Some of the food and supplement sources below can be helpful in lowering cholesterol:
- Eat a ton of fiber. oatmeal, green vegetables, fruit. Some physicians recommend taking a fiber supplement containing psyllium to assist with fiber intake. Fiber binds to cholesterol and helps eliminate it from the body.
- Drink lots of water. the general rule of thumb for water consumption is a minimum of half your weight in ounces per day. This helps to flush the body, and you will want it with all the extra fiber consumption to prevent constipation.
- Eat the right kinds of fat. Omega-3 fats are awesome. They help lower inflammation and counter the Omega-6 fats that are consumed in excess. Oily fish such as salmon are an excellent source of good fats. Avocado, Extra virgin olive oil, and flax oil are also excellent sources of good fats. Taking a fish oil supplement and/or a flaxseed oil supplement can be of great benefit.
- Swap some meat for beans/legumes during a meal. This will help you get your protein requirements from a plant source versus a saturated fat source.
- Garlic, CoQ10, and green tea have been suggested by physicians and naturopathic physicians to help lower cholesterol.
- Eat the foods listed on Harvard Medical School’s site
- Lower your weight. When you start to exercise and make smarter food choices, weight will tend to take care of itself.
One supplement that does yield warning is red yeast rice. I have heard of several doctors who recommended this to their patients, but this is one time I agree with the FDA. This particular supplement contains a natural form of statin (lovostatin). Statins are a popular cholesterol reducing drug that physicians will prescribe to their patients. The danger here is that the amount of statin across brands of red yeast rice is not known. There could be far more in one brand than another, and you have no clue what percentage you are consuming. If you take red yeast rice in addition to prescription statin drugs, it could potentially be dangerous.
Do you have, or have you ever had high cholesterol? How did you lower it?