Maintaining a healthy heart and arteries is one of the keys to leading a healthy lifestyle. One component that plays a key role in doing so is cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a wax-like material that resembles fat that is present in all cells of the human body. Some cholesterol is necessary to have a properly functioning body, and the liver produces some cholesterol to help in this effort. Certain foods such as meat and dairy products also contain cholesterol and can play a factor in increasing cholesterol levels in the body when consumed. Too much cholesterol in the body can have negative consequences and play a major role in the development of coronary artery disease, which is a type of heart disease. Heart disease is problematic and is currently the leading cause of death in the United States.
What is a Healthy Cholesterol Level?
There are two main types of cholesterol. One form is low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol, and this amount indicates the amount of cholesterol in the body that is contributing to blocking the arteries. Another form is high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, cholesterol, and this type of cholesterol helps to move cholesterol out of the body. Because of their functions, LDL cholesterol is often referred to as the bad cholesterol, and HDL is referred to as the good cholesterol. For adults aged 20 or older, a healthy LDL cholesterol level is less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). A healthy HDL cholesterol level for an adult man is 40 mg/dL or higher while a healthy level for an adult woman is 50 mg/dL or higher. The total cholesterol value, a figure that adds the LDL and HDL cholesterol values together, is also viewed as an indication of health. A healthy total cholesterol level for adult men and women is between 125 to 200 mg/dL.
Cholesterol Healthy Foods
While many foods can play a key factor in increasing undesirable cholesterol levels, thankfully many foods can also help lower undesirable cholesterol levels. Some foods contain soluble fiber which attaches to cholesterol in the body and removes them during the digestive process prior to cholesterol reaching the bloodstream. Soluble fiber can be found in oats, barley, beans, pears, eggplants, okra, grapes, apples, oranges, strawberries, and grapefruit.
Polyunsaturated fats in foods directly move LDL cholesterol from the body. This type of fat can be found in nuts such as walnuts, almonds, and peanuts as well as in vegetable oils such as sunflower, corn, canola, and safflower. Certain fish also contain a high level of polyunsaturated fats including salmon, trout, albacore tuna, and herring. Some seeds such as sunflower seeds and flax seeds also contain polyunsaturated fats.
Other foods help lower cholesterol by prohibiting the body from absorbing cholesterol which is found in plant stanols and sterols. These substances are extracted from plants and added to foods by manufacturers. Foods containing stanols and sterols include chocolate, orange juice, margarine and granola bars.
Treatment for Unhealthy Cholesterol Levels
There are a number of ways to treat unhealthy cholesterol levels, and most of them are guidelines for leading a healthy life in general. One of the most important ways to lower cholesterol is to maintain a healthy diet that's full of nutrient-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limiting intake of saturated and trans fats are specifically beneficial to lowering cholesterol levels.
Maintaining a healthy weight also helps in having a healthy cholesterol level. Losing weight, for those who are overweight, can lower cholesterol levels. All individuals, despite their weight, should engage in regular exercise of at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. Not smoking and keeping a low-stress level also helps in keeping cholesterol at a healthy level.
For some individuals, drug therapy will be necessary because they are unable to adhere to non-drug recommendations or they simply aren't effective enough for their particular situation. In these instances, medications are prescribed to lower the level of cholesterol in the body. There are a few different types of medications that are commonly prescribed based on the health and conditions of each patient.