Cholesterol 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Heart Health
Have you ever been told to watch your cholesterol levels? Cholesterol is often depicted as a health villain, but did you know that it’s actually a necessary substance for our bodies? As with many things in life, balance is key, and cholesterol is no exception. In this article, we are will introduce the good and bad types of cholesterol and walk you through a few different methods to balance your cholesterol levels naturally.
Let’s start with a quick introduction…
Blood Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance produced by the body’s liver and is essential for good health. Blood cholesterol helps us digest fatty foods and generates hormones including sex hormones and steroid hormones. The body naturally produces all of the cholesterol it needs to perform daily functions, so any added cholesterol derived from saturated or trans fats needs to be consumed in moderation. Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream on “lipoproteins”. There are two types of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol throughout the body; high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL).
HDL is often referred to as the “good” type of cholesterol. HDL is responsible for absorbing the cholesterol in your bloodstream and carrying it back to the liver to be flushed out and removed from the body. It’s good to maintain a healthy balance of HDL to reduce your risk of heart disease.
LDL is known as the “bad” cholesterol and it makes up most of the cholesterol stored in the body. When LDL levels are high, fatty deposits or plaque can build up in the arteries, and the heart will need to work overtime to pump enough blood to the rest of the body. This can result in chest pain, coronary artery disease, and even a heart attack if the arteries become blocked.
How Can You Naturally Manage Your Cholesterol Levels?
Diet – We recommend that you moderate how much cholesterol you consume on a daily basis and refrain from foods that contain high levels of saturated fats and trans fat. Saturated fats are usually found in animal products such as beef, eggs, and full-fat dairy products. Trans fats are found in processed foods such as baked goods, chips, or microwavable foods that you would find in the freezer section of the grocery store. When trying to lower your cholesterol, you will want to reduce your intake of animal fats and focus on building a diet made up of omega-3 fatty acids like salmon and flaxseeds, and soluble fibers found in brussel sprouts, apples, oatmeal, and whole grains.
Exercise – When we exercise, our bodies increase the production of HDL, the good type of cholesterol. Obesity is a major risk factor for high cholesterol, so exercising throughout the week will decrease the risk, improve your cholesterol levels, and help prevent your arteries from clogging. Experts recommend that you get outside and exercise for at least 30 minutes each day.
Quit Smoking – Research has shown that smoking reduces the amount of HDL in your body, leading to an increase in LDL, a buildup of plaque in the bloodstream, and damage to the walls of your arteries. This can lead to the risk of heart disease and even a stroke. If you’re thinking about quitting and want to take steps to improve your heart health, we encourage you to speak with your doctor. They can provide you with a personalized plan to quit smoking that will work best for your unique needs.
Talk to your Doctor – If you have a history of high cholesterol and lifestyle changes are not enough to reduce your risk factors, you will want to consult your doctor on the next best steps to control your cholesterol. While you may need to use medication that your doctor prescribes, this does not mean that the lifestyle changes mentioned above are useless. These healthy habits that you build can help keep medication to a minimum. Schedule a visit with your doctor to learn more.
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