Top 10 Tips to Improve Cholesterol Levels and Optimize Your Heart Health
If you have been anywhere near the hospital or popular media recently, you have no doubt heard the unchanging mantra about the importance of reducing cholesterol levels for heart health.
While your heart is a single organ made up of several muscles connected to different blood vessels, the number of things that could go wrong with it is infinite.
Any damage to the vessels supplying the heart or the vessels supplying the remainder of the body or even the heart muscle itself can be fatal.
It is no wonder then that there is a huge focus on the health of the heart and its accompanying vessels.
In recent times, science has been able to pinpoint high cholesterol levels as one of the more damaging conditions that can affect not only the heart but also all the other blood vessels in the body as well.
As you read on, expect to find advice on simple lifestyle changes that can help to change the trend of heart disease and failure resulting from elevated cholesterol.
How Cholesterol Affects Heart Health
Cholesterol is a normal product of the liver. In fact, it helps your body build new cells, repair old ones and heal damage. Enough cholesterol for our daily needs is produced in the liver and you can get more cholesterol from the food you eat.
It is not all bad and there are several functions that it plays a vital role in. Not only is cholesterol responsible for a part in the production of new cells, it also acts as an insulator for nervous tissue and helps in hormone production.
When there is an excess of cholesterol, it can be detrimental. An excess of cholesterol affects heart health in two ways;
It may lead to the formation of arterial plaque or what is more formally known as atherosclerosis. In this condition, cholesterol along with other substances is deposited on the artery walls and leads to a narrowing of the blood vessel.
As the vessel narrows, the amount of work t get the blood and nutrients to the heart from other parts of the body become more strenuous. This leads to a higher level of stress placed on the heart and can ultimately lead to arrhythmias and heart failure.
In addition to narrowing the arteries supplying blood to the body, cholesterol may also narrow the arteries supplying the heart.
The coronary vessels that supply the heart are essential to the survival of the muscles that make up the heart. If the blood flow to the heart is obstructed or compromised, heart failure will occur.
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How to Improve Cholesterol Levels
There are several ways to improve cholesterol levels. Most of them will require a modification of lifestyle. It is definitely worth giving up a few things to be able to live longer and healthier.
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times. Exercise is especially beneficial to the health of your heart.
The best exercise you can do to improve heart health is cardiovascular exercise. Cardiovascular exercises will raise your heart rate for a while and help your body use up any extra energy.
Other great options for exercise include strength training to improve muscle strength, HIIT for stamina and endurance, aerobics, etc. Remember, the goal is to get you moving and get your heart rate up.
If you are in doubt about where to start, you can try a few of these beginner exercises.
Being overweight is not only a risk factor for metabolic syndrome but also has numerous side effects. One such effect is an increase in the level of ‘bad cholesterol’ in your body.
Low density lipoprotein more commonly known as LDL or ‘bad cholesterol’ is the type of cholesterol that is laid down in the blood vessels that causes obstruction of these vessels. High density lipoprotein (HDL) on the other hand, is good and beneficial cholesterol.
Being overweight and obese can more than triple the risk of heart disease and may lead to other co-morbid conditions such as high blood sugar, hypertension and high blood pressure.
Getting your weight under control is not a one day endeavour and should never be approached as such. Instead, make lifestyle changes that will get you healthier and watch the weight fall off.
Know your fats:
Our food contains several types of fats. Some of them are awesome for our health. Others, not so much.
Trans fats, saturated fats and highly refined carbohydrates are all culprits in the formation of bad cholesterol in your body.
Learn to read nutrition labels correctly and avoid foods that contain a lot of these fats. These fats are liable to increase your bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels and can be detrimental in the long term.
Heart disease is not a condition that develops overnight. Many sufferers experience no symptoms until they get older.
As a result, it is even more important to be careful of what you eat. Eating clean may not seem to matter in the short term, but it definitely will in the long term.
Eat foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids:
Omega 3 fatty acids are particularly able to reduce inflammation. In addition to this, they reduce the risk of clotting, decrease triglycerides, reduce blood pressure and strengthen the heart.
These amazing fatty acids also reduce the risk of heart failure and can help to prevent the development of heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats).
While omega 3 fatty acids are beneficial to our health, our bodies cannot make them and they must be gotten from food.
Omega 3 fatty acids can be gotten from oily fish, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, fish roe (eggs), fatty fish, seafood, soybeans, and spinach. (Read about micronutrients for mental health here…)
Increase soluble fiber:
There are several classifications of fiber. Most people associate fiber with the digestive system and bulking up waste products.
However, fiber does so much more than that. Though scientists are trying to figure out exactly how it works, there have been several studies that prove that fiber is beneficial to heart health and lowering cholesterol levels.
One school of thought believes that soluble fiber is able to bind cholesterol particles and move them along quicker ensuring they are excreted from the body.
In addition to its ability to decrease bad cholesterol, fiber is also able to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, high blood sugar and help you maintain a healthy weight.
The best kind of fiber for reducing cholesterol is the plant based type. Eating a lot of vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts and seeds can help to lower your cholesterol without negatively affecting your health.
Eat whole grains:
The argument for whole grains to reduce cholesterol is very similar to that for soluble fiber.
Whole grains contain an amazing amount of fiber, vitamins and minerals when compared to the more processed grains.
In addition to this, they will fill you up quicker, leave you full for longer and help to stabilise your blood sugar levels.
Eat nuts, seeds and protein rich plant foods:
One of the better ways to control dietary cholesterol is to transition from eating an animal protein based diet to eating proteins from plants.
The majority of animal proteins contain some cholesterol and this can build up over time. In your best interests stick to a plant based diet and have animal protein no more than two to three times a week.
Some sources of plant protein that you can consider include nuts, seeds, legumes like beans and peas, etc.
Use supplements and/or medication:
Supplements or medications should only be used along with a healthy diet and lifestyle and not in spite of them.
Furthermore, you should never use them without the consent and supervision of your doctor.
Some options for supplements/medication include;
Cholesterol-lowering drugs include:
Statins are able to stop the liver from producing cholesterol. They also help to reduce the amount of bad cholesterol and triglycerides and may be able to increase good cholesterol.
On the flip side, statins have side effects like memory loss, confusion, diabetes, etc.
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Bile is largely made up of cholesterol. Bile acid resins or sequestrants are used to bind bile and ensure its excretion. This reduces the amount of cholesterol in the body.
The most likely side effects of using these drugs are gas, constipation and an upset stomach.
- Fibric acid derivatives:
Also known as fibrates, their mechanism of action is unknown. Fibrates can lower the levels of bad cholesterol and increase the good cholesterol.
Some scientists believe that they do this by enhancing the breakdown of triglyceride rich particles and enhancing secretion of lipoproteins.
- Cholesterol absorption inhibitors:
There are several drugs that can help selectively decrease the absorption of cholesterol. These drugs may be used along with other drugs.
In severe cases, some doctors may prescribe a combination therapy using two or more of the drugs listed.
Drink a lot of water. You should aim to drink at least two litres of water a day. You may need more water if you live in a warmer climate or work out very often.
Drinking water is one of the best ways to rid your body of toxins that could be causing you untold harm and causing your body to hold on to other unhealthy substances.
Talk to your Doctor:
If your cholesterol levels are high, it is essential you talk to your doctor about it. Not only will he be able to steer you on the right path, he will also make sure that your medication is checked and will not worsen your condition.
In addition to this, your doctor can help you decide how to structure your diet for optimum results or send you to a dietician who would.
In summary, it is possible to lower your cholesterol levels with a little effort on your part. The most important things to take into consideration when you need to lower cholesterol levels are your diet and lifestyle.
When you optimize your diet and lead a more active lifestyle, a reduction in bad cholesterol will be one of the positive effects.