Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in our bodies that plays a vital role in various functions. However, having high levels of cholesterol can pose serious health risks. In this article, we will explore what cholesterol is, delve into the side effects of high cholesterol, and discuss natural ways to manage it through diet and exercise.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a type of lipid present in our bloodstream and cells. It is essential for the production of hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids, which aid in digestion. Our bodies produce it naturally, while it is also obtained from certain foods.
There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol because it can accumulate in the arteries, leading to plaque formation and potential blockages. HDL, on the other hand, is known as “good” cholesterol as it helps remove excess LDL from the bloodstream, reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems.
Side Effects of High Cholesterol
Having high levels of LDL can significantly impact your health. Excessive LDL can lead to atherosclerosis, a condition where plaque buildup narrows the arteries and restricts blood flow. This increases the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. High levels can also contribute to the formation of gallstones and cause peripheral artery disease.
Additionally, individuals with high levels may experience symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, and frequent heartburn. However, it is worth noting that high levels often do not exhibit noticeable symptoms, making regular screenings important.
Managing Cholesterol Naturally with Diet and Exercise
Fortunately, lifestyle modifications can help manage its levels naturally. Here are some strategies to consider:
- Adopt a Heart-Healthy Diet: Incorporate fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, & legumes. Include sources of healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, & olive oil. Reduce saturated fats & trans fats found in fried and processed foods. Limit cholesterol-rich foods like red meat and full-fat dairy products.
- Engage in Regular Physical Activity: Regular exercise, such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling, can increase HDL levels and improve cardiovascular health. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight: Shedding excess pounds can help lower LDL levels. Focus on a balanced calorie intake, portion control, and sustainable eating habits.
- Limit Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol intake can raise cholesterol levels and contribute to other health problems. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation.
- Quit Smoking: Smoking damages blood vessels, lowers HDL levels, and increases the risk of heart disease. Seek professional help or join support groups to quit smoking successfully.
The recommended levels can vary slightly depending on individual factors and specific health conditions. However, here are the general guidelines for its total levels and its subtypes in adults:
- Desirable level: Less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)
- Borderline high: 200-239 mg/dL
- High: 240 mg/dL and above
- Optimal level: Less than 100 mg/dL
- Near or above optimal: 100-129 mg/dL
- Borderline high: 130-159 mg/dL
- High: 160-189 mg/dL
- Very high: 190 mg/dL and above
- Optimal level: 60 mg/dL and above
- Higher risk: Less than 40 mg/dL (for men) or less than 50 mg/dL (for women)
It’s important to note that these are general guidelines, and the interpretation of cholesterol levels may vary based on an individual’s overall health, medical history, and specific risk factors. For example, individuals with existing cardiovascular conditions or diabetes may have different target levels recommended by their healthcare providers. It’s always best to consult a healthcare professional who can evaluate your health profile and provide personalized guidance regarding cholesterol levels and management.
Understanding cholesterol and its impact on our health is crucial. High cholesterol can have severe side effects and increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. By making simple lifestyle changes, such as adopting a healthy diet and regular exercise, we can effectively manage cholesterol levels and improve our overall well-being.