Over 70 million American adults have high cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of these, only 1 in 3 has their condition under control, and less than half are getting treatment.
Danish researchers studied over 25,000 people with an average age of 59 in Copenhagen. None were taking cholesterol-lowering drugs. All of the participants had their blood drawn at the beginning of the study and then again in January and June over the next three years. The average total cholesterol at the start of the study was 205 mg/dL, just north of the recommended 200 mg/dL. LDL (bad) cholesterol was 116 mg/dL, just above 100 mm/dL, which is considered healthy. During the next three years, the average cholesterol of the participants In January was 240 mm/dL and the average LDL was 143 mm/dL, both in the unhealthy range. Yet in June, the average cholesterol was 197 mm/dL and LDL was 108 mm/dL. Almost twice as many people had unhealthy lipid levels in January as in June!1 Why does this matter? High blood cholesterol levels can contribute to clogged arteries, resulting in a greater risk of cardiac events like heart attack and stroke, so it’s definitely something worth monitoring. We are going to show you how you can take charge of your cholesterol, targeting a few different areas.
Why Is Cholesterol Important
One word—plaque buildup. Plaque is a combination of substances including fat and cholesterol. When plaque builds up, arteries narrow and stiffen, constricting blood flow to the heart. Plaque can even build up to the point where blood flow is completely blocked. This condition, known as atherosclerosis, can significantly increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.2 What’s unfortunate, high cholesterol has no symptoms. The only way to determine if your cholesterol levels are too high is through a simple blood test ordered by your doctor. The test measures cholesterol and triglyceride levels circulating in your blood. Triglycerides are another type of fat in the blood. Similar to cholesterol, unhealthy triglyceride levels can increase your risk of heart disease.
Not to worry (too much) though since adopting certain diet and lifestyle changes can help keep your cholesterol in check.
- Exercise can improve cholesterol.3 With your doctor’s okay, work up to at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. Try jogging biking, step aerobics, or a Zumba class for variety and fun.
- Put a cap on stress with deep breathing. Taking a few minutes to focus only on your breathing can help bring calm to a hectic day.
- If you smoke, look for ways to quit. Quitting smoking improves your HDL cholesterol level, and the benefits can occur relatively quickly.4
- Reduce saturated fats. Saturated fats, found primarily in red meat and full-fat dairy products, raise your total cholesterol. Decreasing your consumption of saturated fats can help reduce your LDL cholesterol.5
- Check labels for the sugar content in your favorite breakfast cereals. Opt for those with 3g or less.
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids don’t affect LDL cholesterol, but they have other heart-healthy benefits including reducing blood pressure.6 Foods with omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, herring, walnuts, and flaxseeds.7
Research shows that supplements containing lecithin, phytosterols, and omega-3 fatty acids can all help to lower cholesterol.
- Lecithin is a fat that is essential for every one of your body’s cells. Researchers have discovered that soybean lecithin can contribute to raising HDL (good) cholesterol and lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol in blood profiles.8
- Phytosterols are a group of naturally occurring compounds found in plant cell membranes. Because phytosterols are structurally similar to cholesterol, they compete with your body’s cholesterol for absorption in the digestive system. As a result, cholesterol absorption is blocked, and levels drop. While you can find phytosterols in foods like vegetable oil, nuts, legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, you can also take them in supplement form.9
- Omega-3 fatty acids are types of polyunsaturated fats found in fatty fish, nuts and seeds, plant oils, and various supplements. Some evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce blood triglyceride levels. There also appears to be a slight improvement in high-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol) from consuming omega-3s.10
Try taking some steps to reduce your LDL cholesterol – there is no time like the present! Go for an after-dinner walk, incorporate foods like nuts, legumes, whole grains, and fatty fish such as salmon into your diet, and try finding a supplement that contains one of the nutrients mentioned above.
- Bakalar, Nicholas. Cholesterol May Be Higher After the Holidays. The New York Times. January 2, 2019.
- Publishing, Harvard Health. Can We Reduce Vascular Plaque Buildup? Harvard Health, 2014.
- Mann, Steven, Christopher Beedie, and Alfonso Jimenez. Differential Effects of Aerobic Exercise, Resistance Training and Combined Exercise Modalities on Cholesterol and the Lipid Profile: Review, Synthesis and Recommendations. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). Springer International Publishing, February 2014.
- Gepner A, D, Piper M, Johnson H, et al. Effects of Smoking and Smoking Cessation on Lipids and Lipoproteins: Outcomes from a Randomized Clinical Trial. American Heart Journal. U.S. National Library of Medicine, January 2011.
- Lowering Your Cholesterol With TLC. NHLBI. U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services, December 2005.
- Toshinori H, Wissuwa B, Tian Y, et al. Omega-3 Fatty Acids Lower Blood Pressure by Directly Activating Large-Conductance Ca²⁺-Dependent K⁺ Channels. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. National Academy of Sciences, March 19, 2013.
- Watson, K. Lecithin Benefits for Your Skin, Digestion, and More.” Healthline. Healthline Media, August 3, 2017.
- Amouni M, Pincinato E, Mazzola P, et al. Influence of Soy Lecithin Administration on Hypercholesterolemia. Hindawi Publishing Corporation, 2010.
- Cleveland Clinic. Phytosterols & Cholesterol. Cleveland Clinic, 2019.
- Hidekatsu Y, Masui Y, Katsuyama H, et al. An Improvement of Cardiovascular Risk Factors by Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids. Journal of clinical medicine research. Elmer Press, April 2018.
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.