Let’s start with the basics. There are two kinds of cholesterol, good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL). You may feel just fine, but it’s important to realize that untreated high cholesterol can lead to devastating and debilitating medical consequences. High cholesterol leads to heart disease and can cause heart attacks or congestive heart failure. High cholesterol also causes vascular disease that leads to pain in legs, carotid disease, and strokes.
Before you start any medication, your medical provider is going to recommend “lifestyle modification”. You really should take this seriously. Lifestyle modification includes weight loss in overweight people, aerobic exercise, and eating a healthy diet. These lifelong changes can contribute to a significant impact on your health.
Let’s start with a healthy diet. Research has shown that marked dietary change can lower LDL cholesterol by 30%! A Mediterranean diet is the perfect model for a healthy diet to both lose weight and lower your cholesterol. A Mediterranean diet consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. It also includes olive oil as an important source of healthy fat. Those following a Mediterranean diet eat low to moderate amounts of fish, poultry, and dairy products. They also eat very little red meat. Increasing omega-3 fatty acids in your diet can also reduce your LDL. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish, especially salmon, flax seed, canola, soybeans, and nuts. If those natural foods are not palatable to you, you can always try an omega-3 supplement. Research has also shown soy, red yeast rice, garlic, walnuts, tea, fiber (psyllium) and calcium can improve cholesterol.
Nancy has already shared a recent blog on aerobic exercise in her “Cardiovascular Fitness” article on 10/30/14. When you add aerobic exercise to a healthy Mediterranean diet, LDL cholesterol levels are significantly reduced in both women and men.
After 6-12 months of lifestyle modification, your health care provider will recheck your cholesterol levels and determine if the changes you made did the trick or suggest further treatment options. It is always healthier to reduce your cholesterol naturally rather than taking medications that can have significant side effects. Sometimes high cholesterol is hereditary and leading the perfect lifestyle can still not reduce it. In those cases, you may need a medication to get your cholesterol under control.
For now, get motivated to eat better, exercise, and maintain a healthy weight!