Hyperlipidemia, or high cholesterol, is a common and often silent health concern affecting millions worldwide. Cholesterol is a naturally occurring waxy substance found in every cell of your body and is essential for several bodily functions, including building cell membranes and producing hormones. Some cholesterol comes from the foods we eat, but most cholesterol is produced by the liver. When cholesterol levels become imbalanced, it can pose significant health risks. There are two primary types of cholesterol to be aware of:
1. Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL): Often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, LDL cholesterol can accumulate in your arteries, leading to atherosclerosis (build-up of plaque in the arteries).
2. High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL): HDL, known as “good” cholesterol, helps remove excess LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream.
High levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to the formation of plaques in your arteries, which can narrow and eventually block blood flow. When blood flow is restricted, your heart has to work harder to pump blood, and it’s harder for blood to travel to your organs. This can cause your heart to overwork itself or reduce the amount of blood flow to vital organs like the brain, resulting in serious health issues like heart attacks and strokes. High cholesterol is often a silent condition, with no apparent symptoms until it causes a significant health problem. That’s why regular cholesterol screenings are so crucial.
You can improve your cholesterol and overall health by –
- Knowing your numbers: Schedule regular check-ups with your primary care provider to monitor your cholesterol levels. Understanding your numbers is the first step in managing cholesterol effectively.
- Adopting a heart-healthy diet: Incorporate foods low in saturated and trans fats into your diet. Opt for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon and trout can also help improve cholesterol levels. Ask your provider for our Healthy Eating Habits handout for more on diet.
- Staying active: Regular physical activity can raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels and promote heart health. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
- Quitting smoking: Smoking damages blood vessels and lowers HDL cholesterol levels. Quitting smoking is one of the most significant steps you can take to improve your cholesterol health.
- Limiting alcohol consumption: While some studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption may have cardiovascular benefits, excessive drinking can negatively affect cholesterol levels. If you do drink, do so in moderation.
- Getting regular check-ups: Schedule regular check-ups with your primary care provider. They can perform cholesterol screenings and assess your overall heart health. Your provider will help you determine what lifestyle changes you may need to make and prescribe medication if necessary.