While cardiovascular disease is a broad term that encompasses many different kinds of heart or blood vessel problems, it is often used to refer to damage to your heart or blood vessels by atherosclerosis or a buildup of fatty plaques in your arteries.
This type of plaque buildup can thicken and stiffen artery walls, ultimately inhibiting blood flow to vital organs and tissues. This is the most common cause of heart disease, and high cholesterol is a significant contributor.
What is Cholesterol?
Created by the liver, cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance found in your bloodstream and in many foods – mainly animal products – from meats to eggs to dairy. The one rub is that your body needs cholesterol to function normally. There are “good” and “bad” types of cholesterol; not enough of one, or too much of the other, can cause excess cholesterol to build up in your arteries. Over time, your arteries may narrow and that increases the risk for heart attack and stroke.
Most often, however, high cholesterol levels are not usually accompanied by any symptoms. Because of this, too many people do not realize that their cholesterol levels are elevated. This is one of the many reasons to schedule and get regular checkups – your doctor can order a simple blood test to check cholesterol levels.
In addition to regular visits to your primary care physician, here are five simple things you can do to reduce your cholesterol levels:
- Reduce or Remove Saturated Fats and Trans Fats From Your Diet. Quite often, too much LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, is the result of eating fatty red meat like beef or pork, or consuming other animal-based products like butter, lard, and whole-milk dairy products frequently. Many processed foods and all fast food are laden with unhealthy trans fats, which are made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. By eliminating these types of foods from your diet, you will immediately begin to improve your LDL blood levels.
- Add Some Avocado. Avocados are a great fuel for heart health. The healthy fat in avocados will make you feel full and satisfied, and the oleic acid in them will also help lower your cholesterol levels. In a recent study, people who ate an avocado-rich diet lowered their total cholesterol levels, while showing a decrease in their LDL. They also had an 11 percent increase in their levels of HDL, the “good” type cholesterol.
- Focus On Eating More Omega-3s. Several recent clinical studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon, other fish and walnuts and flaxseed, help to reduce LDL. Our bodies don’t naturally create omega-3 fatty acids – we have to eat them. Typical Americans don’t naturally eat many foods that are rich in omega-3s. Whenever possible, try to get your omega-3s from the foods you eat rather than through supplements – eat fatty fish such as salmon twice a week. Eating more omega-3s creates a better balance of fat – those that tend to reduce inflammation, like omega-3s, and fats that tend to promote inflammation, like omega-6s.
- Up Your Intake of Soluble Fiber. Oatmeal, apples, prunes and beans are all very high in soluble fiber, which can help lower bad cholesterol. Research has shown that those who increase their intake of soluble fiber by five to 10 grams each day may see a significant drop in their LDL levels. A side benefit of eating more fiber is that you will feel more satisfied, which cuts down on cravings.
- Move More. Move Often. As your body fat percentage goes down, your cholesterol level will also go down along with other risk factors for heart disease. Lack of physical activity may increase the amount of bad cholesterol in your body and also decrease your good cholesterol. A good rule of thumb is to get at least five hours of exercise per week. By doing so, you will boost your metabolism and burn more calories every day, adding more good cholesterol to your body.
Don’t put off regular checkups with your primary care physician, including routine tests of cholesterol levels. The American Heart Association recommends getting a cholesterol test every four to six years for people 20 and older who haven’t been diagnosed with heart disease. If you’re at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, your cholesterol may need to be checked more frequently.