Healthy Cholesterol Levels – How to Achieve and Keep Them Steady?
Before worrying about how to achieve healthy cholesterol levels, you must first understand what cholesterol is and just what an ideal level of cholesterol is. The National Institutes of Health explains that cholesterol is a fatty substance with a waxy sort of consistency that is found all throughout the body, and in every cell. While high cholesterol levels may carry a negative connotation, cholesterol is important and necessary to an incredible amount of physiological processes, including the very construction of cells. When the amount of cholesterol in our blood gets to be above and beyond acceptable amounts, the risk of heart related illnesses is increased, because cholesterol can contribute to blockages within the arteries of the body.
Cholesterol is sort of a catch all term because there are multiple types. The one most associated with heart related conditions is called LDL cholesterol, which stands for low density lipoprotein. This is the type of cholesterol that is associated with arterial buildup, according to NIH. An inability to achieve healthy cholesterol levels in terms of LDL can be caused by many things including lifestyle, diet and genetics.
Conversely, HDL cholesterol is known as the “good” cholesterol. It helps to keep LDL cholesterol levels under control. When HDL cholesterol is present in the blood highways of the body, it seeks out excessive bad cholesterol that has affixed itself to existing arterial plaques. Once it finds the LDL cholesterol, HDL serves as an arresting police officer of sorts, scooping it up and sending it away for disposal. Similarly to what causes high bad cholesterol, HDL levels can also be affected by genetics, diet and lifestyle factors as well.
So at what magic number should these two lipids be at in order for healthy cholesterol levels to be attained? Well, in terms of total cholesterol, the National Institutes of Health considers anything over 240 mg/dL to be high, with the range below that (200 mg/dL – 239 mg/dL to be considered borderline high). Ideal cholesterol levels in terms of total cholesterol is anything under 200 mg/dL. However, the Mayo Clinic points out that total cholesterol is not the only important number to consider, and notes that measurements specific to good and bad cholesterol are also important. In terms of LDL (bad) cholesterol, numbers above 190 mg/dL are considered high, with anything from 130-189 mg/dL being moderately high to high. In terms of healthy cholesterol levels with regards HDL or, the good stuff, an ideal range includes those above 60mg/dL and up, with anything under 40 mg/dL being considered inadequate or poor.
So, now that we know what cholesterol is and where we want our target cholesterol numbers to be, how can we achieve these goals and maintain healthy cholesterol levels? Well, it is important to start by knowing your enemy. If you have a characteristically high incidence of high cholesterol and heart related illness in your family, you are likely going to have to work harder to get your lipids in line than someone without a genetic or hereditary predisposition. And, for many people in these cases, medications like statins may be necessary if other accommodations prove ineffective. However, family history or not, there is a lot that can be done to be proactive and reduce the risk of heart attacks and heart disease later in life.
Diet is one of the very most important methods to achieving and keeping healthy cholesterol levels. This is for many reasons. For starters, diets that are lower in bad fats (like saturated fats) tend to produce reductions in LDL levels (in fact, Harvard School of Public Health emphasizes that fat intake is more related to cholesterol levels than actual ingested cholesterol). And, believe it or not, sugar may play a role as well. Studies have shown that people on high sugar diets tended to have higher cholesterol levels than those who did not and the increased weight that comes from sweet binging can also negatively impact lipid levels. But, achieving and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels through diet is not just about eliminating foods like those with bad fats and excessive sugar, it is also about incorporating foods that contain natural compounds that have been shown to lower bad cholesterol. Avocados, nuts, oatmeal, garlic and many others have all been linked to lower LDL levels (some super foods raise HDL cholesterol as well). What type of diet is ideal for each individual will depend on their current health status, medications and lifestyle factors, but one that is low in bad fats and excess sugar will tend to be ideal for cholesterol reduction.
Diet alone however may not be enough to achieve and maintain healthy cholesterol levels in some people. And, what is missing from the equation is often exercise. Like it or not, exercise can be just as important if not more so to getting lipids in line, and WebMD notes that while the scientific community is still perplexed as to how exercise positively impacts blood fat levels, what is certain however is that it does. If nothing else, moderate and regular exercise can contribute to lower body weights which in itself, can help to balance out blood fats within the body.
Lifestyle also plays an important role as well. While smoking has not been linked to raising LDL levels, it has been shown to negatively impact HDL levels, and this can prevent the attainment of healthy ratios of total cholesterol. And, while occasional alcohol use (like a glass daily of red wine) has actually been linked to reducing cholesterol, excessive alcohol use can heavily contribute to high cholesterol (alcohol is chock full of sugar).
When diet and exercise combined with positive lifestyle changes is not enough, some people consider supplements to lower cholesterol. The Mayo Clinic also points out that there are numerous natural choices the supplements that may lower LDL levels, raise HDL levels or, both. Artichoke extract, flaxseed, barley, garlic and green tea have all been linked to helping to promote healthy cholesterol levels in many users.
Essentially, achieving ideal levels of total cholesterol starts with healthy lifestyle approaches. Diet and exercise combined with supplements if necessary can make remarkable amounts of difference in the numbers that come back on a lipid panel. These changes will also help contribute to better overall health and a reduction in the related risks of coronary illnesses later in life.