maintaining healthy blood cholesterol level

High cholesterol should become a health concern to be given serious consideration given recent epidemiologic data showing that half of the citizens of western industrialized countries, including the United States, have high cholesterol levels. High cholesterol levels, or better put, high levels of oxidized LDL "bad" cholesterol, is the single most important risk factor of developing atherosclerosis. Sadly, about half of all deaths in the U.S. are atherosclerosis related.

Atherosclerosis is a disease in which cholesterol builds up in the arterial walls and forms bulky plaques that hamper the flow of blood until a clot eventually forms that obstructs an artery and leads to a heart attack or stroke. Atherosclerosis plaques accumulation develops due to the high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol that circulates in the bloodstream.

However, people do not develop high cholesterol levels overnight. High levels of LDL "bad" cholesterol in the bloodstream builds up over time due to two major factors which include genetic makeup and lifestyle choices or a mix of both.

The only way to determine one’s cholesterol level is through a measured blood test. Nonetheless, while some ranges of cholesterol have been considered "too high", it is incorrect to simply think of cholesterol level as being strictly abnormal or normal as there is no "magic number" that separates risky levels from safe levels. Individuals with higher-risk zone cholesterol levels are said to be hypercholesterolemic or hypertriglyceridemic but because such concentrations are so prevalent, they are erroneously considered "normal". Nonetheless, as with all risk factors, being in the "high" range does not necessarily translate into developing atherosclerosis, nor does being in the "low" range guarantee avoiding it.

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Therefore, to achieve and maintain a healthy cholesterol level to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, it is important to find ways to reduce the level of LDL "bad" cholesterol as well as how to increase the level of HDL "good" cholesterol.

Obviously, diet and genetic factors are the two most common reasons for high cholesterol levels; therefore, the first line of defense against high cholesterol is diet and lifestyle modifications. Although, you may not be able to do anything about inherited genetic factors, controlling your diet can however play a key role in keeping cholesterol level low. Medication only becomes necessary when diet and lifestyle changes do not bring down cholesterol levels to healthy goal ranges.

Regular Exercise

Exercising on a regular basis can help lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. Incorporating high intensity interval training (HIIT) exercises will help achieve quicker results with weight loss. Starting an aerobic exercise program could increase HDL "good" cholesterol level by as much as 5% in the first two months in healthy individuals.

If going to the gym is not your kind of thing, then you can alternatively engage in personal exercise regimes while equally incorporating more physical activity into your regular day. Activities such as walking, swimming, gardening, dancing, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, can all play significant roles.

Maintain a Desirable Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight, with a body mass index (BMI) of between 18.5 and 24.9 can help reduce the levels of triglycerides, LDL, and total cholesterol. Losing weight – especially belly fat which is linked to hardening of the arteries – reduces LDL "bad" cholesterol while increase the levels of HDL "good" cholesterol. Losing about 10 percent of excess body weight can significantly improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Quit Smoking

Apart from the fact that smoking raises the risk of a cardiovascular disease, it can lower the level of HDL "good" cholesterol by as much as 15 percent. Smoking also damages the walls of blood vessels thus making them more receptive to the accumulation of fatty deposits. Consult with your doctor about what combination of several smoking cessation strategies are best for you.

Make Better Dietary Fat Choices

Obviously not all fats are the same. Knowing the facts and opting for the healthy fat options with a sense of moderation and balance is the key to achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight and thus effectively lowering high cholesterol levels. Saturated fats from animal products and tropical oils like butter and palm oil respectively raise LDL cholesterol level. Trans fats – hydrogenated vegetable oil found in many baked and fried foods – not only increases LDL "bad" cholesterol but also decreases HDL "good" cholesterol.

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However, while one of the unsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fats, reduce LDL cholesterol, they are also known to reduce some amount of the protective HDL cholesterol. Good sources of polyunsaturated fat include vegetable oils such as safflower, corn, sunflower, soy, and cottonseed oil. Monounsaturated fats, another unsaturated fatty acid, while reducing LDL cholesterol does not however lower the protective HDL cholesterol. They are liquid at room temperature and some good sources include olive oil, canola oil and nuts in general.

Eat More Fiber

Fiber, especially soluble fiber, found in many foods is extremely effective in reducing LDL cholesterol, the bad cholesterol. Fiber essentially lowers cholesterol through two methods. First, the partial or complete fermentation of fiber in the large intestines yields beneficial "short-chain" fatty acids which when absorbed into the body travel to the liver where they inhibit the production of cholesterol.

Secondly, fiber reduces the absorption of dietary cholesterol. This is because fiber combines with bile acids – compounds produced by the liver from cholesterol and used for breakdown of fats. After combining with bile acids, the resultant compound is removed from the bloodstream and does not make its way back to the liver. Consequently, the liver has to remove additional cholesterol from the bloodstream through its LDL receptors and use same to manufacture new bile acids, thus lowering total LDL cholesterol levels. Good sources of soluble fiber include psyllium husks, apples, beans, peas, citrus fruits, barley, oats (which contains beta glucan – a type of soluble fiber), and carrots. Ensure a daily intake of about 20-30g of soluble fiber.

Reduce Carbohydrate Intake

While you need carbohydrates for energy, there is however growing evidence indicating that low-carb diets may be better than low-fat diets for improving cholesterol levels. High intake of glucose through high glycemic index foods causes an increase in blood glucose levels resulting in the excess being converted into triglycerides.

Most of the triglycerides synthesized in the liver and released into the bloodstream are transported as very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL). When a VLDL particle reaches the capillaries of adipose – fat-containing – tissue or muscle, its triglyceride is extracted resulting in a particle decreased in size and composed mostly of cholesterol called intermediate-density lipoprotein, or IDL. The intermediary-density lipoprotein eventually turns into low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – the "bad" cholesterol.

While carbohydrates such as whole grains, whole wheat pasta, and brown rice have more fiber and do not raise blood glucose level much, others, such as white pastries, white rice and white potatoes with high glycemic indexes increase blood glucose level more much rapidly.

Reduce Stress Levels

Research shows that for some individuals, high stress levels can directly increase cholesterol levels. While cortisol helps in regulating fat, carbohydrate, and protein metabolism, over-secretion of this hormone during stress periods can significantly lower metabolism causing increasing in triglycerides (fats) build up which in turn increase the level of LDL cholesterol.

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Also, fat cells around the belly love to attract cortisol, creating a situation of weight gain and fat storage around the abdominal area which is linked to hardening of the arteries. You can reduce your stress level with exercise regular, deep-breathing and meditation as well as other relaxation techniques.

Cholesterol Medications

If the cause of high cholesterol is more of a genetic origin, then diet and exercise alone may not suffice to get your cholesterol level to reasonably safe ranges. There are available medications like statins (HMG CoA reductase inhibitors) which work by inhibiting the manufacture of cholesterol instead of just preventing cholesterol re-absorption from the intestine. Statins are the usual first choice in the medical treatment of cholesterol.

Other cholesterol medications include bile acid resins, nicotinic acid (niacin), fibric acid derivatives (fibrates), and cholesterol absorption inhibitors. Some of these medications can equally be combined to more aggressively lower LDL cholesterol while also increasing the level of HDL cholesterol simultaneously. Considering possible side effects and as with all forms of medication, it is highly recommended to consult with your doctor before attempting to use any cholesterol medication or combination thereof.

Supplement and Herbal Treatment

Also, certain supplements and herbs have been shown to help improve cholesterol levels. One of the most frequently touted herbal remedy for high cholesterol is garlic due to its acclaimed possession of active ingredients that have been shown to block the activities of HMG-CoA reductase, an enzyme that is used to catalyze the synthesis of cholesterol in the liver. However, it should be noted that garlic pills can have side effects as well as interact with other medications. Other cholesterol improving herbs include Yarrow, Artichoke leaf extract, Fenugreek seeds, and Holy basil.

Moderate intake of dietary supplements such as omega-3s from flaxseed and fish oils may also help to improve cholesterol levels. Prescription niacin, a B-Complex vitamin, has also been found to raise the level of HDL cholesterol while reducing LDL cholesterol.