Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in nearly every cell in your body. And while it’s not always bad – your body depends on it to build cells – too much of it can be a real problem. Dubbed ‘the silent killer,’ when cholesterol levels are too high it can put you (especially men) at significant risk for cardiac complications and heart disease with little to no signalling or warning. While genetics does play a role in some high cholesterol, so does diet and lifestyle. And, the good news? High cholesterol and heart disease don’t happen overnight. So with some basic understanding, a blood test to monitor your levels, and some attention to the foods and supplements you eat on the daily, you can feel good proactively protecting your body.
Here’s what you should know.
There are two types of cholesterol: “bad,” otherwise known as LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and “good,” classified as HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Think of it like this: LDL stands for lousy cholesterol and is the bad one.
Both HDL and LDL circulate in the blood. HDL is good because it acts as a scavenger, clearing harmful LDL cholesterol out of your arteries and bloodstream. But when LDL is more prevalent and rises at a greater rate than HDL, it results in a thick hard build-up of the waxy substance in your artery walls, narrowing them and making them less flexible. These build-ups and blockages of arteries are the reason behind many heart attacks and strokes.
The cholesterol in your body comes from two sources: your liver and your diet. Your liver typically produces all the cholesterol that your body requires. Foods, specifically those higher in saturated fats, contribute to the cholesterol levels in your body beyond what’s already being made. This additional cholesterol sometimes results in levels that are higher than desirable. Let’s get a bit more specific.
High cholesterol is one of the most significant risk factors for heart attack, heart disease and stroke. And, if you add smoking, diabetes or high blood pressure into the mix, your risk is even greater.
The good news? While cholesterol is a major risk factor for these diseases, it’s also a controllable one. This means that there are lifestyle habits, foods and supplements that can all help you naturally lower your cholesterol.
Certain foods and supplements have been associated with decreasing your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Two of the most well known include soluble fibre foods and omega-3 fats.
In addition to focusing on a heart-healthy diet, regular exercise works in your favour. A sedentary lifestyle lowers HDL (that good cholesterol), and low HDL means more LDL in your arteries. So, keep hitting the gym and working towards those fitness goals.
And remember, while following these diet and lifestyle tips can help control your cholesterol, the best place to start is with your doctor or healthcare provider. It’s critical to get your levels checked to determine the best healthcare regimen for maintaining heart health for you.
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