According to the Center for Disease Control about 73.5 million adults in the United States suffer from high “bad” cholesterol. This is an astounding number and chances are if you aren’t dealing with it yourself, you know someone who is. While controlling your cholesterol levels can seem like a daunting task it doesn’t have to be. This post addresses what it truly means to have high cholesterol, how to prevent certain risk factors and tips for lowering existing bad cholesterol.

What Does High Cholesterol Mean?

stethoscope and cholesterol friendly foodsYour physician checks your cholesterol levels along with other factors to help understand if you’re at risk for suffering a cardiac event, such as heart attack, stroke, or TIA. But when someone says that they have high cholesterol what does that mean? First, it’s important to understand the different types of cholesterol and how they impact your overall cholesterol level.

There are three types of cholesterol:

  • HDL or high density lipoprotein cholesterol is considered “good cholesterol.” It helps your body rid itself of the bad cholesterol by carrying it back to your liver, which breaks it up and passes it out of your body. It’s possible that good HDL may help protect you from stroke and heart attack, although more study needs to be done.
  • LDL or low density lipoprotein cholesterol is considered “bad cholesterol.” It builds up in the arteries and can increase your risk of heart disease.
  • Finally, there’s total cholesterol, which is the total amount of both HDL and LDL in the blood. The higher your total cholesterol, the more at-risk you are for stroke and heart disease.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of High Cholesterol?

High cholesterol is known as a silent disease because it’s very difficult to see any signs of it until you’ve had a stroke or a heart attack. In fact, there usually aren’t any symptoms until you’ve suffered from a cardiac event.

One extremely rare physical sign of high cholesterol is a genetic disorder called familial hypercholesterolemia. This disorder causes a person to develop yellowish patches of skin on the body. These patches are cholesterol-rich fats in the body coming to the surface.

Without a blood test, however, most people are unable to detect high cholesterol. That’s why it’s so important to understand how to prevent high cholesterol and what to do to lower it.

Here are our six tips for lowering bad cholesterol.

Tip 1: Understand High Cholesterol to Prevent It

What causes high cholesterol? There are a number of different factors that can result in your numbers increasing:

  • Your diet. If you eat a lot of foods that are high in unhealthy fats such as trans fats and saturated fats, your bad cholesterol will increase.
  • Your weight. Being overweight can decrease your HDL.
  • Poor exercise habits. Lack of exercise will lead to being overweight and can cause your LDL to increase.
  • Family history. High cholesterol can actually be passed down through the generations, so if you have relatives with high cholesterol, you may be at risk of developing it too.

While you can’t completely remove all high cholesterol risk factors, there is still a lot that you can do to help prevent it such as: watching your weight, eating healthy and exercising.

The best case scenario is to begin high cholesterol prevention when you’re young. Eating foods with high saturated fats can cause even children as young as 10 to develop a moderate amount of plaque build-up in the arteries that can eventually lead to high blood pressure, stroke, or heart attack later in life.

Tip 2: Check your Cholesterol Level Consistently

Generally, you should have your cholesterol checked once every year if you’re over the age of 35. For people younger than 35, once every two years is probably sufficient, although if you have a family history of high cholesterol, you should discuss testing frequency with your doctor.

If you are deemed high risk for cholesterol, or if you’re on medication to treat this issue, your doctor may ask that you have your level checked every four to six months.

healhty cholesterol levels chart 

Tip 3: Watch Your Saturated Fat Intake to Lower Cholesterol

If you have high cholesterol, what can you do about it? The first is to start looking at what you eat. Cut out foods that are high in trans fats and saturated fats. Read the labels on any canned goods and avoid foods with a lot of these unhealthy fats and that are high in sodium, which can lead to weight gain.

For other fatty foods, make sure you’re eating them in moderation. Be sure you have some vegetables, grains, and other foods in addition to anything with fat in it. Nuts and grains are excellent additions to your diet because they can help limit the buildup of plaque. Remember, you don’t have to give up the foods you love, just don’t over-indulge.  

Tip 4: Reduce Cholesterol Naturally with Exercise

Next, exercise! You don’t have to go to the gym every day. In fact, you don’t have to go to the gym at all. As little as walking for 30 minutes three times a week can do wonders for your health. You may be able to get your exercise in by walking to work, walking to lunch, or simply strolling around the block a few times. Walking laps at the mall is a good option for when the weather is bad.

Tip 5: New Medications to Reduce Your Cholesterol

Medication is another option.  Statin medications (such as Lipitor, Crestor, Zocor) have been the mainstay to help lower cholesterol.  However, there are new medications that have just received FDA approval for battling high cholesterol that are more effective and have fewer side effects. One of these new products is a PCSK9 inhibitor. It’s an injection that affects how the liver produces cholesterol. By turning off a certain protein found in the liver, the amount of LDL in the body drops dramatically. This new medication is likely to change how high cholesterol is treated.

Tip 6: Consider a Medical Trial for High Cholesterol

If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol and want to help change how this disease is treated, you can learn more about how you can participate in medical research trials for high cholesterol. Participating in these trials may help you lower your cholesterol and provide vital information about potential lifes-saving medications.