As part of your routine checkup at your doctor’s office, your primary care physician will likely order some blood tests. These tests will provide your doctor with critical information about the health of your organs, arteries, and immune system.
One of the standard blood tests ordered is a lipid panel. This test measures the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood. Your doctor will use this information and other factors to determine your risk of developing heart disease.
What is Cholesterol?
Your body needs cholesterol to make healthy cell membranes and many types of hormones and vitamin D.
Because cholesterol is a waxy material, it does not dissolve or move easily in the bloodstream. To be transported through the blood, it needs special carriers called lipoproteins.
There are two main types of lipoproteins: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
LDL is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol because it can be deposited on the walls of your arteries, causing them to stiffen and narrow. This condition is called atherosclerosis and can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
HDL is typically considered the “good” cholesterol. This is because HDL cholesterol removes LDL cholesterol from the arteries and carries it back to the liver, where it can be safely dealt with.
If your LDL levels are too high or your HDL levels are too low, this means that cholesterol will build up in your tissues faster than it can be cleared, leading to potentially life-threatening health consequences.
In addition to damaging your lungs, cigarette smoking also damages your heart and cardiovascular system.
Cigarette smoke contains high levels of acrolein—a substance that has been shown to interfere with HDL cholesterol transport, making it less effective at removing LDL cholesterol from the arteries.
If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your heart and overall health.
This sedentary behavior can contribute to high LDL cholesterol levels if you don’t engage in much physical activity. Exercise can improve your heart health by boosting HDL cholesterol, which helps reduce and remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries.
Physical activities, such as running, biking, or lifting weights, are particularly effective at reducing LDL cholesterol and improving HDL cholesterol levels. However, any type of movement and activity is better than none at all.
Eat Less Saturated Fats
Saturated fats are primarily found in animal products, such as meat and dairy. These fatty acids appear to clog the cholesterol receptor sites in your liver, making it difficult for your body to regulate the balance of cholesterol.
Diets high in saturated fats (with lots of red meat, processed meats, butter, and milk, for example) are closely associated with unhealthy cholesterol numbers and a higher risk for heart disease.
To improve your cholesterol levels, limiting the amount of saturated fat in your diet can go a long way toward better health.
Eat More Vegetables
Vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are all rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These nutrients are vitally essential for maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system and can help break down cholesterol buildup and clear out those clogged cholesterol receptor sites.
Include various healthy foods in every meal to improve your cholesterol and reduce your heart disease risk.
You May Need Prescription Medications
If you have tried making changes and your cholesterol levels are still too high, your doctor may recommend prescription medications to help get them under control.
Statins are the most common type of cholesterol-lowering medication. These drugs work by inhibiting an enzyme in your liver that is responsible for making LDL cholesterol. They may also help reduce inflammation and plaque buildup in your arteries.
Have a conversation with your doctor about what you should do to lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease. Don’t underestimate or overlook the seriousness of high cholesterol levels; don’t wait until it’s too late to make improvements.