In this article, we discuss the most important cholesterol guidelines for changing your health for the better.
Just hearing the name makes us a little nervous and worried about our fitness, especially our cardiovascular health.
But among many myths and misunderstandings involving our body and health system, cholesterol may be at the top.
It is important to completely comprehend the effects, dangers, and even uses of this perhaps the most misunderstood chemical in our body.
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We will cover the following sections in this guide:
- What is Cholesterol?
- Good Cholesterol vs. Bad Cholesterol
- What are Triglycerides?
- Diseases Caused by High Cholesterol
- Are you at Risk?
- Common Medications to Lower Cholesterol
- Lowering Your Cholesterol Naturally
- Improving Your Lifestyle
- Foods to Avoid in High Cholesterol
- Foods That Naturally Lower Cholesterol
- Cholesterol-Lowering Supplements
- Cholesterol Guidelines in a Nutshell
What Is Cholesterol
Cholesterol is the waxy, odorless, fat-like substance, which can both be produced by the liver and can also be ingested by a food source such as dairy and animal products.
It is found in all the cells of our body and is actually important for many body functions such as producing hormones and digestive substances.
It’s useful in building cell membranes and insulating nerve fibers.
It is also helpful in maintaining the number of fat-soluble vitamins required by our body and synthesizes vitamin D.
Without cholesterol, our bodies will not function properly.
In fact, it is so essential that our liver produces approximately 85% (800 to 1000 milligrams) of the total cholesterol required every day.
The rest we consume through our diet.
Our bloodstream transfers cholesterol to the cells in the form of tiny packets called lipoproteins, which are the fat molecules surrounded by protein molecules outside.
Within cholesterol guidelines, it’s said that if we consume cholesterol-rich food in an amount greater than what is required by our body, this fat-protein substance forms a coating of plaque in the membranes of our arteries.
This may restrict the normal blood flow in the arteries, hence causing blockages and cardiovascular problems.
However, studies have shown that cholesterol is not the only cause of heart problems.
In fact, a healthy level of cholesterol is a must for our well-being.
There are two types of lipoproteins that deliver cholesterol throughout the body. High Density and Low Density. They are commonly known as Good Cholesterol and Bad Cholesterol.
Good Cholesterol vs. Bad Cholesterol
For starters, you must learn the most important rule within the recommended cholesterol guidelines. That rule: There is good cholesterol and there is bad cholesterol.
Knowing the difference is important. See below:
Good Cholesterol: The High-Density-Lipoprotein or HDL brings the cholesterol from the cells to the liver through the bloodstream to be broken and flushed from the body.
Hence it is also called “good” cholesterol as it helps to remove the cholesterol from the body and protects against heart diseases.
Bad Cholesterol: The Low-Density-Lipoprotein or LDL transports the cholesterol through the bloodstream to the tissues.
LDL is used to build cells but is harmful in excess quantities, as the surplus amount deposits on the walls of the arteries.
The higher LDL range is considered a high-risk factor for heart diseases and hence gets the name “bad” cholesterol.
The healthy and normal range of HDL and LDL may be different for different people depending on the age, weight and lifestyle choices.
The HDL cholesterol level range of 60 mg/dl or higher is generally considered best, while the LDL cholesterol level less than 130 mg/dl is optimal.
What are Triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a type of fat (lipid) found in the body that is formed by glycerol and three fatty acids molecules.
They are the fat molecules of the lipoproteins packets that are used to transfer cholesterol to the cells and are majorly sourced by the fats and oils of the foods we eat such as butter, margarine, and oil.
The body also converts the excess unused calories into triglycerides.
Therefore, if you are consuming more calories than is required by your body, it will store the rest in the form of triglycerides.
In addition, if the triglycerides level is more than the healthy range, you might be at a risk for cardiovascular diseases or stroke.
Your triglyceride levels are measured by doing a Lipid Profile, which is a blood test to measure the levels of Total Cholesterol, HDL, LDL and Triglycerides in the body.
See the cholesterol guidelines for triglyceride levels below:
- Normal Triglyceride Level: Less than 150
- Intermediate Triglyceride Level: 150 – 199
- High-Risk Triglyceride Level: 200 – 499
- Extremely High-Risk Triglyceride Level: greater than 500
Diseases caused by High Cholesterol
If there is a lipid disorder in your test results, it means you might have high LDL cholesterol levels and/or high triglyceride levels.
It can cause various serious conditions, depending on where the blockage due to fats is, including stroke and heart diseases.
Following cholesterol guidelines can save your life and reduce your risk of getting these diseases.
Some of the risks linked with high cholesterol are:
- Coronary heart disease: Heart disease is the main risk if a high level of cholesterol is found in your lipid profile. The excess cholesterol builds-up on the walls of the arteries, which reduces the blood flow to the heart. This may cause chest pain (Angina) or even heart attack if they are blocked completely.
- Stroke: If the arteries carrying blood to the brains are narrowed or they burst due to blockage, the blood supply to the brain will reduce (or stop). When the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen, it causes a stroke and eventually dies.
- Reduced Blood Flow + Atherosclerosis: because your arteries are being blocked by plaque buildup, the arteries harden (atherosclerosis) and the artery narrows, therefore the blood flow is reduced and therefore flow to all parts of the body is slower and can cause all kinds of health issues, and possibly lead to stroke.
- Peripheral Vascular Disease: When the arteries and blood vessels leading to the legs and feet get cholesterol deposits, it affects the blood circulation in the body and causes Peripheral Vascular Disease. The most common symptoms are leg pain and cramps.
- High Blood Pressure: If the blood vessels and arteries walls are blocked with plaque, it will take more work for the heart to pump blood. As a result, there is hypertension or the blood pressure is high.
- Diabetes: The diabetic condition affects cholesterol levels in the body. The glucose molecules attach themselves to the lipoprotein molecules (the tiny fat-protein packets), that stays for a longer time in the bloodstream, increasing the chance of depositing plaque on the walls of the arteries. This raises the LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the bloodstream.
- Abdominal Pain + Gallstones: excess cholesterol can create hard stones in your gallbladder that are called gallstones. These will cause abdominal pain.
- Memory Loss + Dementia: With reduced blood flow to your brain, you’re increasing your risk for memory loss and it could lead to dementia.
Are you at risk? Cholesterol Guidelines to Follow
Who is at risk of high cholesterol?
In general, high cholesterol levels can be because of your genes or lifestyle choices.
Here are the main factors to consider when trying to stay within recommended cholesterol guidelines:
- Genetics: If there is a family history of high cholesterol, you should consider getting the lipid profile test done periodically. Everyone over the age of 20 should get it measured at least once in 5 years, while more frequently for men over 35 and women over 45 years of age.
- Age and Sex: With age generally, the cholesterol level increases in the body. And it raises more quickly for women than men after 55 years, because of the hormonal changes at that age. Until then the LDL levels are generally lower for women than for men.
- Body Mass Index: The chances of cholesterol accumulation greatly increase in obesity and if BMI is greater than 30. The waist circumference is also a factor along with BMI. For men, if it is more than 40 inches and for women, 35 inches, with a BMI greater than 30.
- Poor Diet plan: Including food frequently in your diet that is high in saturated fats, such as red meat and oily food, may increase your LDL cholesterol levels.
- Diabetes: The glucose in the body enables cholesterol to stay in the blood for a longer time, increasing the chances of depositing plaque on arteries walls. This increases bad cholesterol levels and decreases good cholesterol levels.
- Smoking: Chemicals in cigarette or tobacco smoke damages the blood vessels and makes them swollen and inflamed. The arteries become narrow, which increases the chance of forming plaque on their walls.
Common Medications That Lower Cholesterol
If your lipid profile results are not in a healthy range, your doctor may prescribe you certain medications.
Always consult with your doctor before taking any medication since individual cases may vary.
These medications listed below are usually prescribed based on cholesterol guidelines and recommendations. However, they’re not required to lower your cholesterol (see below this list for naturally healing your cholesterol).
Some of the common prescriptions are:
- Statins – They are the lipid-lowering medications for reducing LDL levels.
- Bile Acid Sequestrants – They also help to treat high cholesterol. Works best with diet modifications.
- Nicotinic Acid – Nicotinic Acid or Niacin is Vitamin B3, which naturally occurs in food. When used as a medicine, it helps improve levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.
- Fibrates – The Fibric Acid derivatives lower the triglyceride levels in the blood, and may increase HDL levels.
- Ezetimibe – This medication is generally used along with Statins and dietary changes. It lowers high cholesterol by restricting the cholesterol absorption from the intestine.
Lowering Your Cholesterol Naturally
There are a few ways that might help in reducing the cholesterol levels the natural way, especially if they are still at moderate levels, or even might help along with the medications to control the cholesterol.
1. Improving your lifestyle:
Incorporate healthy lifestyle and physical activities in your routine to lower the risk of cholesterol and its bad effects.
- Dietary habits: Try and maintain a healthy weight by following a diet full of nutrients and less in saturated fats. Consume fiber-rich food such as Oats, Legumes, Fruits and vegetables that naturally help lower the bad cholesterol.
- Exercising: Exercising at least 30 minutes for 3 days a week is recommended to control cholesterol levels. Losing excess body weight and maintaining healthy BMI helps lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol.
- Avoiding Harmful Habits: Smoking and excessive drinking should be absolutely avoided. Both these unhealthy habits are linked with damaging blood vessels and increasing LDL.
2. Avoiding specific foods:
- Simple sugars: Simple sugars increase triglyceride levels. It is best to limit foods containing simple sugars such as candies, sweetened drinks, and desserts. Most of them have empty calories and provide no nutrition.
- Fried foods: Fried foods are rich in trans fats and calories. Regular consumption of fried food should be avoided as they are linked to increasing bad cholesterol levels, obesity, and diabetes.
- Processed Meats: Processed meats like sausages, hot dogs, and bacon are cholesterol-rich foods and their intake should be limited as they have been connected to increased risk of coronary diseases and colon cancer.
- Fast Foods: Fast foods also have high cholesterol and its frequent consumption is associated with the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart diseases.
Foods That Naturally Lower Cholesterol
There are some foods that have the ability to lower cholesterol levels naturally. These should be included in the diet plan regularly for healthy living.
- Soluble Fibrous Foods: Foods like oats, bran, beans, and legumes are rich in soluble fiber and help to excrete bad cholesterol from the body.
- Fruits and Vegetables: These are rich in nutrients and antioxidants, which prevent forming plaque on the arteries walls and lowers LDL cholesterol levels. Apples, berries, green leafy vegetables, etc. should be included in the diet plan often.
- Herbs and Spices: Both fresh and dried herbs and spices are rich in antioxidants along with many minerals. This can help lower bad cholesterol. Oregano, Mint, Thyme, clove, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, etc can be consumed in small quantities with food.
- Unsaturated Fats: Healthy fats like olives, avocadoes, fatty fish, and nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios, etc.) help to reduce cholesterol levels.
- Soy Products: Soybeans (edamame), tofu or soy milk are also linked with lowering the cholesterol levels.
- Green Tea: Green tea is also rich in antioxidants and has cholesterol-lowering properties.
Some natural supplements can also help along with the diet to lower the cholesterol levels. Remember to consult with your doctor before adding any supplements to your routine as they may have some side effects.
- Niacin: Niacin is vitamin B that may help reduce triglyceride levels.
- Psyllium husk: Psyllium husk is rich in soluble fiber and may help reduce bad cholesterol.
- L-carnitine: This is an amino acid derivative that helps burn fat and lose weight.
- Phytosterols: Phytosterols are a group of naturally occurring compounds found in plant cell membranes that help in reducing cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol Guidelines in a Nutshell
Cholesterol is a naturally occurring substance in our body that is essential for our various body functions.
It gets a bad reputation because it is linked to heart diseases and strokes.
But it occurs only when there is an excess amount of cholesterol in our body due to our unhealthy practices.
It can, however, be prevented with leading a healthy lifestyle and following the recommended cholesterol guidelines.
There are also some medications and natural supplements that your doctor can prescribe to help cure high cholesterol.
Remember high cholesterol itself does not have any symptom and a lipid profile should be done periodically to measure the cholesterol levels in your body.