Lower Cholesterol - Be Heart Smart

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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Lower cholesterol is very important to our health, no matter how old we are or aren't, especially if we want to avoid a heart attack or stroke. To understand what this means and how to achieve it, we need to understand a few concepts and terms. Among them are cholesterol, HDL, LDL, lipoproteins, serum cholesterol, dietary cholesterol, saturated fats, atherosclerosis, and coronary artery disease.

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found throughout the body. It gets there in one of two ways, either from the body itself or in the foods we eat. It is a very common, very important molecule. Too much of it, however, is not healthy. Too much of it can clog our arteries, block our hearts, and gravely threaten our lives. More often than not we need to lower cholesterol in our bodies.

A Little Bit about Cholesterol

There are two kinds of cholesterol, which may be confusing at first. High density lipoprotein, commonly known as HDL, sometimes called the good cholesterol because it can protect the heart, is one. Low density lipoproteins, commonly known as LDL, sometimes called the bad cholesterol because it can clog arteries, is the other. We have both and we need both. The balance between them is critical. It is what helps determine whether a heart is healthy.

The link between cholesterol and heart disease has been established in numerous studies. Specifically, the higher the cholesterol, the greater the risk of heart disease. It's that simple. High cholesterol is common. We want lower cholesterol. The challenge most of us face is to control this, to lower cholesterol levels.

Lifestyle and Lower Cholesterol

Cholesterol in our body is produced in the liver, which uses the fats in our diet as fuel. What it produces is all the cholesterol the body needs. Why does it need cholesterol? Among other things, producing bile to help with digestion, protecting nerve fibers, building cell membranes, creating hormones, manufacturing vitamin D.

Cholesterol in our foods comes only from animal products rich in saturated fats. Plant foods have no cholesterol. Our bodies need fats, of course, and we get a natural mix of them in many foods. But a diet too rich in saturated fats and transfatty acids—those in processed foods—is a proven health risk. Studies indicate that polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, such as those found in olive and fish oils, are better for us and can help lower cholesterol.

Dietary fats are, of course, a concentrated source of calories and thus one of the two main causes of overweight and obesity. Lack of exercise is the other. Decreasing dietary fat and increasing regular exercise are the first and easiest steps to lower cholesterol and improve overall and heart health.

Health Care and Lower Cholesterol

There is another factor, however, that can have a significant impact on the levels of cholesterol in the body: genetics. When this comes into play, diet and exercise will not be enough to lower cholesterol levels.

Among the medications, both holistic and pharmaceutical, available to lower cholesterol are beta glucan, beta-sitosterol, isoflavones, statins, to name a few. Common side effects of cholesterol lowering medications can include muscle aches, abnormal liver function, allergic reaction, heartburn, dizziness, abdominal pain, constipation and diminished sexual desire.

It is important to determine your cholesterol levels. Home cholesterol tests are available in addition to those your doctor can give. Consult your doctor to determine the most appropriate treatment.

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