Today, roughly 2 in every 5 adults in the United States have high cholesterol (https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/index.htm)- that’s about 94 million Americans. Unfortunately, while high cholesterol can raise your risk of heart disease and stroke, it has no symptoms. Without regular checks, this leaves many Americans in the dark about their own health. That’s the bad news. But here’s the good news- you have the ability to make positive lifestyle changes to lower your cholesterol, and boost your health. Read on to find out how you can take the power back into your own hands, and start making positive changes today.
Before we can go any further, it’s important to discuss what exactly cholesterol is. Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance that is found in cell membranes throughout the body. It’s important to note that cholesterol is not inherently bad- in fact, it is necessary for a healthy body to function! It is essential for proper cell membrane function, sex and steroid hormone production, vitamin D production, bile acid production, and can even help fight off infections!
Unfortunately, you can have too much of a good thing. When cholesterol particles become inflamed, they change in size and characteristics. They become small, hard, and dense- like golf balls and potentially damaging to the walls of the arteries. Imagine your arterial lining as a wall, and imagine hurling golf balls at that wall- it’s going to cause damage. The cholesterol particles can also penetrate underneath the skin of the arteries and promote deposits called plaques, as well as further inflammation. Overtime, these plaques can plug up vessels, leading to heart attacks, and other circulatory disorders.
Luckily, there is plenty you can do to prevent this from happening in the first place! Prevention is key, and the best way you can achieve that is through lifestyle changes. All lifestyle measures work in synergy with each other to reduce inflammation and improve our overall health. However, one of the most powerful components of a healthy lifestyle is your food. Hippocrates got it right nearly 2500 years ago when he said, “let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be food.” Today, that means you should try to emphasize foods that fight inflammation, and lots of plant-based foods. Fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and good fats like olive oil and avocados. Try to avoid highly processed oils like cotton seed, soybean, corn, sunflower or canola.
Another important element of a healthy lifestyle
is movement. Exercise is vital for good cardiovascular health. You don't have to go to the gym and workout (although I don't discourage you having a regular program at the Y). Just try to incorporate movement into your day. Walk as much as you can. If you want a specific goal, even 8000 steps per day will significantly benefit your cardiovascular and whole body health. It’s also important to add in strength training, as muscle mass increases your longevity. And just as important as moving- is not moving. Good quality sleep is important for reducing inflammation. Inadequate sleep and sleep apnea can increase inflammation and increase cardiovascular risks.
And don’t worry- if you need more help than lifestyle changes, those certainly exist as well. Pharmaceutical interventions have their place and do change the prognosis in a positive way. By working with an integrative MD, you can find that happy medium of both, that serves your body and health in the best possible way. Some studies have suggested 80% of what kills us prematurely is modifiable, which means we can change it. So, take your power back, and start making those lifestyle changes to lower your cholesterol, and boost your health. Your body will thank you today, tomorrow, and for years to come.