How to Deal with High Cholesterol

Have you been told by your doctor that your cholesterol is too high? Are you not exactly sure what that means or, perhaps more importantly, how to fix it?

There’s nothing worse than going to the doctor and feeling good only to find out your health is not as stellar as you think it is.

Sure, you may not be feeling any negative side effects of your lifestyle choices just yet, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. When you’re told that if you don’t make some changes you’re sure to feel them down the road, it can be daunting to say the least.

One of the things that doctors routinely check when it comes to annual physicals is your blood cholesterol level. To understand why cholesterol is so important, first you need to know what cholesterol is.

Cholesterol defined


According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, “Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all cells of the body.”

Cholesterol travels through your blood stream on two different types of lipoproteins: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Your LDL is commonly referred to as “bad” cholesterol and the HDL is “good” cholesterol.

The LDL is bad because this is the cholesterol that is known to build up in your arteries, opening you up to a series of health related issues. You could end up with coronary heart disease if your blood cannot circulate properly or even a stroke if a clot is formed in one of the inhibited arteries and then releases to your brain.

The HDL cholesterol is considered good because it helps take the cholesterol from your blood and transport it to your liver, which is responsible for removing cholesterol from your body.

So, while you’ll want your LDL lower, your HDL levels need to be higher.

Your numbers

The only way to know what your cholesterol numbers are is by having a blood test, which your doctor can order easily enough. You need to fast beforehand so they can accurately determine how much cholesterol is floating around in your bloodstream.

It’s recommended that you get a baseline test when you’re around 20 years old and then have it retested every five years or so.

Even though cholesterol is generally gauged by one overall number, keeping both your LDL and HDL count in check is very important too. Ideally, the Mayo Clinic suggests that you want your total cholesterol to be below 200 mg/dL, with your HDL above 60 mg/dL and your LDL below 70 mg/dL. (One other number to consider is your triglycerides, which you want to be below 100 mg/dL.)

However, it isn’t as cut and dry as it seems. The more risk factors that you have for heart disease, the lower you want your LDL. For instance, someone with no risk factors whatsoever are okay with an LDL less than 130 mg/dL, whereas someone with more than two risk factors definitely wants to shoot for less than the 70 mg/dL.

High cholesterol risk factors

woman smoking in dark

What may put you more at risk with cholesterol issues than someone else?

Here are some of the risk factors that your doctor may consider when trying to figure out what your LDL level should be:

  • If you’ve already suffered a heart attack or stroke
  • Whether any of your arteries are currently blocked (even if it’s just in part)
  • Whether you’re diabetic
  • If you smoke
  • If you have high blood pressure
  • If your HDL cholesterol is on the lower side
  • What your family history of heart disease is
  • If you’re a woman over 55 years of age or a man over 45 years of age
  • Whether other lipoprotein counts are elevated

The more of these risk factors that you have, the lower you want your LDL numbers to be.

How much cholesterol should you have, or not have, in your diet?

Even though you may want to completely eliminate all cholesterol from your diet, your body does actually need some to function efficiently. It uses it to manufacture some of your hormones, create vitamin D and it aids in food digestion. But, how much is too much?

Many health experts recommend that you limit your overall cholesterol intake to no more than 200 mg per day. Eat less than this and your body will function just fine; eat more and you’re at risk of potentially blocking your arteries.

One of the best foods to eat to lower your cholesterol is oatmeal. Other great options include beans, nuts, fruits and vegetables. The more fiber in your diet, the better your cholesterol numbers will be.

Fish is also great for lowering cholesterol (which is why some people take fish oil supplements). Filets that are high in omega-3’s, like salmon and halibut, are excellent choices. Just stay away from lobster and crab as they, surprisingly enough, are actually high in cholesterol.

Drinking green tea and a moderate amount of alcohol have been found to help cholesterol levels too. What’s moderate? WebMD recommends no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.

You’ll want to avoid trans fats completely and severely limit your intake of saturated fats. This means that  you need to avoid full fat dairy products and fatty cuts of meat.

Choose skim milk over whole, low-fat cheese over regular, cut out the butter, and select cuts of meat that you can remove almost all the fat from them. (When you’re buying ground beef, turkey or pork, make sure you get the leanest choices possible with those as well.)

What lifestyle changes should you make?

sunny day jogging

In addition to modifying your diet, there are also lifestyle modifications you can make that will help you ultimately lower your cholesterol levels.

For starters, you need to quit smoking. Yes, it can be extremely difficult to do, especially if you’ve been doing it for long lengths of time but once you do, not only will it help your cholesterol, but it will help your lungs as well.

Another key lifestyle change is to get more active. Commit to a regular exercise plan that keeps your body moving, ideally for at least 30 minutes a day. And, if you’re overweight, dropping those extra pounds will certainly help get your numbers where they need to be for maximum health.

If you make these types of changes and your cholesterol doesn’t respond, your doctor may choose to put you on a medication that will help. If you can get there without it that is best but, if not, then at least there is an alternative you can use.

Implement these changes to your diet and lifestyle and you could see the positive benefits in as little as six weeks. Look at it this way; the more you do today, the better it is for you tomorrow.

About the author

Christina DeBusk

Changing careers mid-life from law enforcement to writing, Christina spends her days helping others enrich their businesses and personal lives one word at a time.

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