Cholesterol is a waxy substance our body needs and produces, however when we have too much, it becomes a serious health issue. “Cholesterol is something we all need for our bodies to function and is the basis makeup of our cells, ” Dr. Ilan Shapiro, FACHE, Chief Health Correspondent and Medical Affairs Officer at AltaMed Health Services in Los Angeles, CA tells us.”Just how oil is used on machinery to function, cholesterol is extremely important for our cells in order for our body to function well.”
Too much of a good thing in this case can turn deadly if we’re not careful and manage our cholesterol. Dr. Shapiro explains, “Having too much cholesterol can lead to problems like heart attacks, stroke, and other health issues. Genetic disposition can play a big part in cholesterol, so getting screened can give the patient information on how to manage their cholesterol numbers. As cholesterol is an ongoing topic, healthy eating and exercise can help regulate our cholesterol and keep our bodies healthy.”
High cholesterol often does not show symptoms, which is why it’s known as a silent killer, but at times there can be warning signals and it’s vital to pay attention. Eat this, Not That! Health spoke with experts who share what to know about cholesterol, red flags your body is sending you and how to lower your levels. As always, please consult your physician for medical advice. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
Dr. Jose Mayorga, executive director, UCI Health Family Health Centers explains, “It is important to know that not all cholesterol is bad. I like to joke with patients, if we did not have cholesterol we would just be puddles or a blob on the floor. In fact, cholesterol is very important to our body’s cells and provides us with organization. In addition, it helps us produce necessary hormones. For the most part, physicians tend to talk to patients about two types of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol throughout the body.
These are low-density lipoprotein (LDL), sometimes called ‘lousy,’ cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or ‘healthy,’ cholesterol. I like to keep it simple for patients and explain this even further. Your ‘Lousy’ or LDL needs to be Low. While your ‘Healthy’ or HDL needs to be High. This helps my patients put these numbers in context. We want to keep our LDL cholesterol as low as possible because this type likes to clog your arteries including those arteries in your heart and brain which puts you at risk for heart attacks and strokes, respectively.”
Dr. Gabriela Rodríguez Ruiz, MD PhD FACS and I’m a board-certified bariatric surgeon at VIDA Wellness and Beauty reminds us, “Anyone can be at risk for high cholesterol, especially those with a family history of heart disease or stroke. Other factors that increase your risk include smoking, lack of physical activity, an unhealthy diet low in fiber and high in saturated fats, being overweight or obese, and having diabetes. It is important to be aware of your risk factors as well as make lifestyle changes to reduce your cholesterol levels. Your doctor can also help you determine if medications are needed to keep your cholesterol under control.”
Dr. Shapiro states, “When we have problems with our diet and food intake, exercise or smoking can lead to hardening of the cholesterol, essentially blocking arteries from working properly. Cholesterol can synthesize in our liver and create more cholesterol, leading to more blockages or health problems. Genetic predispositions can lead to high cholesterol numbers. Getting screened for high cholesterol is important if there are any health concerns within a family.”
Dr. Mayorga emphasizes, “In general, high cholesterol does not cause any symptoms. Many individuals can go years without knowing they have it which can cause irreversible damage to your body. This is why it’s important to have a primary care doctor who can screen you for cholesterol periodically, prescribe medication and provide guidance on healthy living. In some cases, I have seen cholesterol be so high that a patient’s blood has a yellow tinge to it. In these situations, I take it as an opportunity to educate my patients, show them the tube, and tell them there is way too much grease (cholesterol) in their blood…it’s time to make a change.”
Dr. Dev Batra Interventional Radiologist, Owner and Founder of Dallas Vein Institute adds, “High cholesterol typically does not have any symptoms, so it is important to get tested regularly. It is never too late to start managing your cholesterol, and even small lifestyle changes can have an impact. If left untreated, high cholesterol can lead to a number of serious health problems, such as heart attack, stroke, and even death. Additionally, high cholesterol can damage the arteries, leading to atherosclerosis, a condition where cholesterol builds up in the arteries and leads to a blockage.”
Dr. Eric Berg, a chiropractor who specializes in weight loss through nutritional and natural methods and author of several books tells us, “High cholesterol poses dangers. It plays a major role in the development of atherosclerosis, or hardening and narrowing of the arteries, which in turn raises the risk of heart attack and stroke. When your cholesterol increases, it could be that your body is having a difficult time processing excess cholesterol due to liver damage. Fatty liver, scar tissue, inflammation, and endotoxins can all cause liver problems. Not having a gallbladder can also cause high levels of cholesterol.
Dr. Rodriguez explains, “If not controlled, high cholesterol can lead to a buildup of plaque in your arteries. This can restrict blood flow and increase your risk of stroke, heart attack, or other cardiovascular problems. High cholesterol can also damage the walls of your arteries and cause them to become weakened and prone to rupture. Therefore, it is important to monitor your cholesterol levels and make the necessary lifestyle changes to keep them in check. Additionally, visiting your doctor regularly for cholesterol tests and other preventive screenings can help you maintain healthy levels.”
Dr. Mayorga states, “Some of the things patients can do to improve their cholesterol is…you guess it…eat healthier! Eat foods with plenty of fiber, such as oatmeal and beans; and healthy unsaturated fats, such as avocados, olive oil, and nuts. The Mediterranean diet is a good one to follow. In addition, exercise. Exercising helps you burn calories which can help reduce fat and subsequently your cholesterol.”
Dr. Shapiro says, “Eating a balanced diet, regularly exercising and not smoking can help our body manage cholesterol. If cholesterol is high, your health care provider might prescribe medication.”
According to Dr. Rodriguez, “There are many effective lifestyle changes you can make to lower your cholesterol. These include: eating a healthy diet that is low in saturated fat and high in fiber, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, managing stress, and drinking alcohol only in moderation. Additionally, your doctor may also recommend medications, such as statins, if lifestyle modifications alone aren’t enough to manage your cholesterol. Following a comprehensive plan that includes both lifestyle changes and medical treatment, if deemed necessary, can help you keep your cholesterol levels in the healthy range.”
Dr. Batra says, “There are a number of effective ways to lower cholesterol, including:
- Eating a balanced diet that is low in saturated and trans fats
- Exercising regularly
- Quitting smoking
- Taking medication, such as statins
- Avoiding or reducing stress”