High cholesterol affects hundreds of millions of people around the world. Although cholesterol is necessary for the body to build new cells, produce hormones and insulate nerves, too high a cholesterol level can cause serious health risks. High blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and cancer can all be caused by untreated high cholesterol.
The best way to lower cholesterol may be different for each individual, but doctors agree a systematic approach is best. Gradual changes to diet, lifestyle and physical activity levels will help lower cholesterol safely. Medication is also an option, as a last resort, but all medications are not suitable for everyone.
The main lifestyle changes needed to lower cholesterol include maintaining a healthy body weight, increasing exercise, reducing fat and cholesterol in the diet, and eating more foods rich in carbohydrates and fiber. Some foods that may help lower cholesterol include fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. According to the Mayo Clinic, oatmeal and oat bran, walnuts, almonds, olive oil, and fish can help maintain or even lower cholesterol levels.
Other changes in lifestyle that can have a significant impact on lowering cholesterol include reducing sodium levels and quitting smoking. In addition, these changes will reduce the risk for heart disease. Adopting a healthier lifestyle overall will result in lower cholesterol levels over time.
Reducing saturated fat is the key to lowering high cholesterol. A study conducted by the Heart Research Institute in Sydney, Australia, found that even one meal high in saturated fat can impede the ability of “good” cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL), to protect the arteries from plaque. This single meal can also reduce the arteries’ ability to expand and carry blood to organs and tissues.
Saturated fat is so important to the level of cholesterol in the body that for every one percent decrease of saturated fat in the diet, the cholesterol level decreases approximately 2 points. Research has shown that a diet which obtains 30 percent of its calories from fat is best for maintaining normal cholesterol levels.
Weight loss and control is another important step in lowering cholesterol. Cutting calories and boosting activity levels is the only safe, effective way to lose and/or manage weight. By lowering saturated fat and increasing fiber, calories are automatically lowered. Keeping dietary cholesterol to less than 300mg per day and limiting red meat and eggs is also beneficial.
A goal of total cholesterol under 200 points is optimal. An HDL count of 39 to 59, and an LDL count of 130 or less is recommended by doctors. Overall, a diet low in saturated fat, increased exercise, and medication where suitable, is the best way to lower cholesterol.