Cholesterol Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that makes up important parts of your cells and brain. Cholesterol is carried throughout the blood to assist with healthy brain function, proper hormonal function, vitamin D absorption, and digestion. Different types of cholesterol are made by the body and are also found in animal products. As cholesterol moves throughout the body it attaches itself to proteins. The combination of the two is called lipoproteins. High-density lipoprotein (HDL or good cholesterol) retains excess cholesterol and takes it back to the liver. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL or bad cholesterol) are smaller particles that attach themselves to the arterial walls, narrowing these pathways are causing them to harden (atherosclerosis) over time.
Causes: High cholesterol levels won’t produce many tangible symptoms, but high levels of LDL or bad cholesterol can have serious consequences like chest pain or sudden heart attacks and strokes.
You may be at risk for high LDL cholesterol if:
- You consume a diet rich in trans fats (including margarine and vegetable oils)
- You consume a diet rich in all fat dairy products
- You consume a high-sugar diet
- Lack of exercise
- You’re overweight or obese
- You have diabetes
- You are over 50 years of age
Treatment: As a general rule, keeping bad cholesterol under control is achievable with a healthy diet and exercise routine. Replacing the majority of processed foods that are laden with sodium and trans fats with fresh foods and healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, flaxseeds, omega-3s, etc.) can reduce your bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as boost your HDL or good cholesterol. Adding more fiber to your diet can cut cholesterol levels down dramatically. Research shows that Mediterranean and DASH diets have been very successful in lowering bad cholesterol levels and lowering blood pressure. A physician may check your lipid profile and prescribe statins to lower cholesterol if it exceeds healthy guidelines, but keep in mind that losing weight (if you’re overweight) and sticking to a healthy diet can potentially reduce the need for medications and any side effects they may cause.