I consume about a half dozen eggs every day of the week, and have done so for several years because they are a most excellent source of inexpensive protein. And of course the first question people have for me when they learn how many eggs I eat each day is;
Don’t you worry about getting high cholesterol?
No, I do not worry about getting high levels of cholesterol as a result of my dietary habits.
No I do not worry about getting high cholesterol because I am mindful and accountable to myself in making sure that everything I eat has a significant nutritional value. I do not eat unhealthy foods that are loaded down with added sugar, unhealthy fats, high levels of sodium and preservatives. I do not worry about it because I make a daily, concerted effort at keeping my body healthy. Every day, with everything I consume, I track my caloric and macro-nutrient intake as a normal part of my healthy lifestyle. And just because I am able to, I have blood labs done on a regular basis at my local Veterans Administration hospital in order to re-evaluate any of my habits should my labs ever show a change towards the negative, which has never happened.
Of course, there are some people who do everything right who are genetically prone to higher levels of cholesterol coursing throughout their blood vessels, but this is not the case for most of us when we have a healthy diet and include regular exercise as an integral part of our lifestyles.
What exactly is Cholesterol?
Simply put in layman’s terms, Cholesterol is a fat like, waxy substance produced by our liver and is found in our blood. Our bodies actually require cholesterol in order to help your body make cell membranes, many hormones, and vitamin D. The problem is, high levels of cholesterol can increase our risk for heart disease. Have you ever heard the term of having “too much of a good thing”? With the obesity epidemic we now have, we have a far too many who are guilty of this as a result of their unhealthy lifestyle habits.
When we have “high cholesterol”, we develop fatty deposits in our blood vessels. Eventually, these deposits grow, which make it difficult for enough blood to flow through your arteries. The result is similar to how it is when we are trying to suck a thick milkshake through too skinny of a straw, it’s just not efficient. And then one day as you go about your business, one of these deposits can break suddenly and form a clot that causes you to fall over dead from a heart attack or stroke. High cholesterol has no symptoms. A blood test is the only way to detect if you have it.
High cholesterol can be inherited, but it’s often the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices, which make it preventable and treatable. A healthy diet, regular exercise and sometimes medication can help reduce high cholesterol.
Bad and Good Cholesterol
Cholesterol and other fats are carried in your bloodstream as spherical particles called lipoproteins. The two most commonly known lipoproteins are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). (1)
LDL (low-density lipoprotein) Cholesterol
LDL (‘bad”) cholesterol is a type of fat in the blood that contains the most cholesterol. It can contribute to the formation of plaque buildup in the arteries (atherosclerosis). This is linked to higher risk for heart attack and stroke. You want your LDL to be low. To help lower it:
Avoid foods high in saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, and extra calories
Maintain a healthy weight
Stop smoking (1)
HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol
HDL (“good”) cholesterol helps to remove cholesterol from the blood. This keeps plaque from building up in your arteries. You want your HDL to be as high as possible. Some people can raise HDL by:
Exercising for at least 30 minutes 5 times a week
Not eating saturated fats
Others may need medicine. Because raising HDL is complicated, you should work with your healthcare provider on a treatment plan. (1)
Checking your blood cholesterol level
A cholesterol screening is an overall look at the fats in your blood. Screenings help find people at risk for heart disease. It is important to have what is called a full lipid profile to show the actual levels of each type of fat in your blood: LDL, HDL, triglycerides, and others. Talk with your healthcare provider about when to have this test. (1)
What is a healthy blood cholesterol level?
High blood cholesterol is a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
You can lower your risk by getting more exercise, losing weight if you are overweight, quitting smoking, and eating a healthy diet.
Blood cholesterol is very specific to each person. Your healthcare provider will determine your total cholesterol and LDL goals based on other risk factors. For that reason, a full lipid profile is an important part of your health history and important information for your healthcare provider to have. (1)
What treatments are available for high cholesterol?
Medical treatment may include:
Changing risk factors. Some risk factors that can be changed include lack of exercise and poor eating habits. (1)
Cholesterol-lowering medicines. Medicines are used to lower fats in the blood, particularly LDL cholesterol. Statins are a group of medicines that can do this. They include simvastatin, atorvastatin, and pravastatin. Two other types of medicines that lower cholesterol levels are bile acid sequestrants such as colesevelam, cholestyramine, and colestipol, and nicotinic acid (niacin). (1)
Statistics about cholesterol
High cholesterol is a risk for many Americans. Consider these statistics:
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), about 95 million American adults have total blood cholesterol levels of 200mg/dl and higher. Of those, about 28.5 million American adults have a level of 240 or above.
Slightly more than half of the U.S. adults (55%, or 43 million) who could benefit from cholesterol medicine are currently taking it.
95 million U.S. adults age 20 or older have total cholesterol levels higher than 200 mg/dL. Nearly 29 million adult Americans have total cholesterol levels higher than 240 mg/dL.
High cholesterol levels early in life may play a role in developing atherosclerosis as an adult.
7% of U.S. children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 have high total cholesterol.
According to the AHA, high blood cholesterol that runs in families will affect the future of an unknown but probably large number of children. (1)
What are triglycerides?
Triglycerides are another class of fat found in the bloodstream. The bulk of your body’s fat tissue is in the form of triglycerides. (1)
Triglyceride levels and heart disease
The link between triglycerides and heart disease is being studied. But many people with high triglycerides also have other risk factors, like high LDL levels or low HDL levels. (1)
What causes elevated triglyceride levels?
High triglyceride levels may be caused by health conditions like diabetes, hypothyroidism, kidney disease, or liver disease. Dietary causes of high triglyceride levels may include drinking a lot of alcohol, and eating foods containing cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat. (1)
Lifestyle changes that help high Cholesterol
Of course there are medical needs for medications, but I believe that we are much better off if we can address our health needs through good nutrition and exercise if we can do this in lieu of finding ourselves tethered to prescription medications for the rest of our lives.
1. Eat heart-healthy foods. A few changes in your diet can reduce cholesterol and improve your heart health:
- Reduce saturated fats. Saturated fats, found primarily in red meat and full-fat dairy products, raise your total cholesterol. Decreasing your consumption of saturated fats can reduce your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol.
- Eliminate trans fats. Trans fats, sometimes listed on food labels as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” are often used in margarines and store-bought cookies, crackers and cakes. Trans fats raise overall cholesterol levels. The Food and Drug Administration has banned the use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils by Jan. 1, 2021.
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids don’t affect LDL cholesterol. But they have other heart-healthy benefits, including reducing blood pressure. Foods with omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, herring, walnuts and flaxseeds.
- Increase soluble fiber. Soluble fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Soluble fiber is found in such foods as oatmeal, kidney beans, Brussels sprouts, apples and pears.
- Add whey protein. Whey protein, which is found in dairy products, may account for many of the health benefits attributed to dairy. Studies have shown that whey protein given as a supplement lowers both LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol as well as blood pressure.
2. Exercise on most days of the week and increase your physical activity. Exercise can improve cholesterol. Moderate physical activity can help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol. With your doctor’s OK, work up to at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week or vigorous aerobic activity for 20 minutes three times a week.
Adding physical activity, even in short intervals several times a day, can help you begin to lose weight. Consider:
- Taking a brisk daily walk during your lunch hour
- Riding your bike to work
- Playing a favorite sport
To stay motivated, consider finding an exercise buddy or joining an exercise group.
3. Quit smoking. Quitting smoking improves your HDL cholesterol level. The benefits occur quickly:
- Within 20 minutes of quitting, your blood pressure and heart rate recover from the cigarette-induced spike
- Within three months of quitting, your blood circulation and lung function begin to improve
- Within a year of quitting, your risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker
4. Lose weight. Carrying even a few extra pounds contributes to high cholesterol. Small changes add up. Snack on pre-measured nuts, seeds, greek yogurt or foods that are high in protein between meals if you feel the need to.
5. Look for ways to incorporate more activity into your daily routine, such as using the stairs instead of taking the elevator or parking farther from your office. Take walks during breaks at work. Try to increase standing activities, such as cooking or doing yardwork. (2)
As I have addressed above, there are some people who are genetically prone to high Cholesterol levels, as well as other ailments too. However, the vast bulk of us can suffer ailments that are entirely self inflicted.
How do you know that you are genetically prone to your health problems?
Have you ever had any type of medical testing to see if you are genetically prone to what ails you?
Or, is it an assumption on your part that your family’s genes have caused you to be a loser in life’s lottery?
I want to say, I am not discounting the role that genetics play in our lives, they obviously do have some impact. The larger point is we do not always have to fall victim to genetics if we instill healthy habits into our lives beginning at an early age. Brenda Sue just wrote an excellent article on this topic, It’s Fun at 21. We have also addressed familial/cultural issues regarding weight and health in this article, Genetics, Reason or Excuse. Another great article where we have addressed the issue of genetics can be found in this article, The Generational Curse, What is It?
Sometimes what we might assume to be a genetic trait within a family when it comes to weight and health is actually a cultural thing instead. Quite often, multiple family members suffer the same maladies because they have the exact same lifestyle habits as each other. It is not rocket science to figure out that unhealthy kids raised by unhealthy adults, will only grow into unhealthy adults who will raise unhealthy kids. And the cycle continues on and on…
(1) John Hopkins Medical
(2) Mayo Clinic