Ask Dr. Lo –
Is High Cholesterol Having An Effect On Your Health?
by Dr. Thomas K. Lo, Advanced Chiropractic & Nutritional Healing Center
Blood cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by your liver. It is essential for good health. Your body needs cholesterol to perform important jobs, such as making hormones and digesting fatty foods. Unfortunately, cholesterol (plaque) can build up in arteries, and as it builds up in the arteries, they begin to narrow, which lessens or blocks the flow of blood.
Your body makes all the blood cholesterol it needs, but there is also dietary cholesterol found in animal foods, including meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. For a food item to have dietary cholesterol, it would need to come from an animal or contain a product from an animal. However, vegetables also contain fat, such as polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat, both of which can affect your cholesterol levels. Though these two fats are considered healthier than saturated fat, you still need to pay attention to your consumption. High amounts could eventually affect your cholesterol levels, causing them to rise and increasing your risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Cholesterol is produced by the liver and also made by most cells in the body, including the brain. It is carried around in the blood by little “couriers” called lipoproteins. We need a small amount of blood cholesterol because the body uses it to build the structure of cell membranes; make hormones, like estrogen, testosterone and adrenal hormones; help your metabolism work efficiently; and produce bile acids, which help the body digest fat and absorb important nutrients. These are important functions; however, too much of a good thing is not good at all.
Healthy blood cholesterol levels will differ by age and sex. Your doctor will order routine lipid panel blood tests to screen for high blood cholesterol. They use these tests to check whether you have healthy levels of cholesterol in your blood. The test measures the total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and non-high-density lipoprotein (non-HDL) cholesterol levels in your blood. Non-HDL cholesterol includes low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and is calculated by subtracting your HDL cholesterol levels from your total cholesterol levels. You may also see a measurement for triglycerides on your lipid panel.
HDL cholesterol can be thought of as the “good” cholesterol. (So, in the case of HDL cholesterol, higher levels are actually better). Experts believe that HDL acts as a scavenger, carrying LDL (bad) cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where the LDL is broken down and passed from the body. However, HDL cholesterol does not completely eliminate LDL cholesterol. It carries only one-third to one-fourth of blood cholesterol back to the liver. Experts agree that a healthy HDL cholesterol level may protect against heart attack and stroke. Studies show that low levels of HDL cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease. With less HDL, your risk of atherosclerotic plaque and blockages increases.
If you have a high LDL level, this means that you have too much LDL cholesterol in your blood. This extra LDL, along with other substances, forms plaque. It contributes to fatty buildups in arteries (atherosclerosis). This condition narrows the arteries and increases the risk for heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease, and since your blood carries oxygen to your heart, this means that your heart may not be able to get enough oxygen. This can cause angina (chest pain), or if the blood flow is completely blocked, a heart attack.
Like cholesterol, triglycerides are a type of blood fat. Triglycerides form when you eat more calories than you need. They store excess energy from your diet and they can supply energy to your muscles. When triglyceride levels are too high, they can put you at risk of a heart attack or stroke. They are the most common type of fat in the body. A high triglyceride level combined with high LDL (bad) cholesterol or low HDL (good) cholesterol is linked with fatty buildups within the artery walls, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
If your blood cholesterol levels are not within the healthy range for your age and sex, your doctor may recommend heart-healthy lifestyle changes to help you lower or control your high blood cholesterol.
Often, changing behaviors will go a long way toward bringing your numbers into line. Some changes are eating healthy, being physically active, aiming for a healthy weight and quitting smoking
Eating a heart-healthy diet is the first step in lowering cholesterol. That would include reducing saturated fat and trans fat. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to 5 to 6 percent of daily calories and minimizing the amount of trans fat you eat. Decreasing your consumption of saturated fats can reduce your LDL cholesterol, as well as eliminating trans fats, sometimes listed on food labels as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” often used in margarines and store-bought cookies, crackers, and cakes. Trans fats raise overall cholesterol levels. The Food and Drug Administration has banned the use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils by January 1, 2021.
Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids do not affect LDL cholesterol and have other heart-healthy benefits, including reducing blood pressure. Foods with omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, herring, walnuts, and flaxseeds.
Increase soluble fiber. Soluble fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Soluble fiber is found in such foods as oatmeal, kidney beans, fruits, and vegetables. A diet high in fiber can help lower cholesterol levels by as much as 10 percent.
A heart-healthy diet also emphasizes curbing sugary foods and beverages. To be smarter about what you eat, you may need to pay more attention to food labels.
Exercise can also improve cholesterol. It can help raise HDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol. With your doctor’s OK, work up to at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week or vigorous aerobic activity for 20 minutes three times a week. Adding physical activity, even in short intervals several times a day can help you begin to lose weight, which can also lower cholesterol. Consider taking a brisk daily walk during your lunch hour, riding your bike to work, or playing a favorite sport. Try incorporating more activity into your daily routine by using the stairs instead of taking the elevator or parking farther from your office.
Quitting smoking improves your HDL cholesterol level. The benefits occur quickly: Within 20 minutes of quitting, your blood pressure and heart rate recover from the cigarette-induced spike. Within three months of quitting, your blood circulation and lung function begin to improve. Within a year of quitting, your risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker.
If you are struggling to control your cholesterol and would like a free screening, call the Advanced Chiropractic & Nutritional Healing Center at 240-651-1650 for a free screening. Dr. Lo uses Nutritional Response Testing® to analyze the body to determine the underlying causes of ill or non-optimum health. He also offers free seminars, held at the office on rotating Tuesdays and Thursdays. The office is located at 7310 Grove Road #107, Frederick, MD. Check out the website at www.doctorlo.com.