About This Condition
Although it is by no means the only major risk factor, elevated serum (blood) cholesterol is clearly associated with a high risk of heart disease.
Most doctors suggest cholesterol levels should stay under 200 mg/dl. As levels fall below 200, the risk of heart disease continues to decline. Many doctors consider cholesterol levels of no more than 180 to be optimal. A low cholesterol level, however, is not a guarantee of good heart health, as some people with low levels do suffer heart attacks.
Medical laboratories now subdivide total cholesterol measurement into several components, including LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which is directly linked to heart disease, and HDL (“good”) cholesterol, which is protective. The relative amount of HDL to LDL is more important than total cholesterol. For example, it is possible for someone with very high HDL to be at relatively low risk for heart disease even with total cholesterol above 200. Evaluation of changes in cholesterol requires consultation with a healthcare professional and should include measurement of total serum cholesterol, as well as HDL and LDL cholesterol.
The following discussion is limited to information about lowering serum cholesterol levels or increasing HDL cholesterol using natural approaches. Because high cholesterol is linked to atherosclerosis and heart disease, people concerned about heart disease should also learn more about atherosclerosis.
This condition does not produce symptoms. Therefore, it is prudent to visit a health professional on a regular basis to have cholesterol levels measured.
People with high cholesterol are commonly advised to reduce their consumption of dietary cholesterol and saturated fats.
Reducing Your Risk
To help keep you in top health, our experts recommend these steps:
- Adjust your diet. The dietary options for lowering cholesterol are nearly endless. From more fiber to more healthy fat—think walnuts, almonds, fish, and olive oil—there are plenty of places to make dietary changes that support lower cholesterol levels. Select Eating Right, above, for more information.
- Supplement with savvy. Some people require medications to manage high cholesterol, but for others, a few smart supplement choices can bring numbers back into the normal range. Plant-derived substances called sterols and stanols are one option. Click on Vitamins, above, for more information.
- Lose weight, lose the meds. To reduce the need for cholesterol-lowering medications, focus on shedding excess pounds. Losing just five to ten percent of your body weight—that’s 9 to 18 pounds on a 180-pound person—can bring down LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol. Select Eating Right, above, for more information.
- Move toward health. Consider a tool, such as a pedometer to up your game. For some people, tracking steps taken per day, or other get-fit activities, is a great motivator to reaching better health. Select Personal Care, above, for more ideas on tools for a healthier life.
Living With It
Our experts recommend the following top tips to help take control of your high cholesterol levels:
- Maximize benefits. Many people assume that if they take medications to keep cholesterol levels in the healthy range, they do not need to watch what they eat. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cholesterol medications work best to keep heart disease risk low in conjunction with good nutrition. Select Eating Right, above, for more information.
- Supplement safely. If you are taking medications to manage high cholesterol, talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you plan to add cholesterol-lowering supplements into the mix. Some medications and supplements should not be mixed. Click on Vitamins, above, for more information.
- Mind your medications. If you’ve been prescribed cholesterol medications, take them exactly as prescribed. If you are having unpleasant side effects, tell your doctor right away. He or she can work with you to find better options.
- Butt out. If you smoke, quitting is worth your effort. It may be difficult, so consider over-the-counter and prescription products to increase your chances of success.