‘Good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol and how to manage it
Managing cholesterol is something we should all be familiar with. Cholesterol is both good and bad. At normal levels, it is an essential substance for the body. However, if concentrations in the blood get too high, it becomes a silent danger that puts people at risk of heart attack.
Cholesterol has four primary functions, without which we could not survive. These are:
- contributing to the structure of cell walls
- making up digestive bile acids in the intestine
- allowing the body to produce vitamin D
- enabling the body to make certain hormones
Cholesterol is carried in your blood by proteins. When the two combine, they’re called lipoproteins.
There are two main types of lipoproteins:
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): Cholesterol that travels in this way is unhealthful or “bad” cholesterol.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL): Cholesterol that is present in HDL is known as “good” cholesterol.
Triglycerides are another type of lipid. They’re different from cholesterol. While your body uses cholesterol to build cells and certain hormones, it uses triglycerides as a source of energy. If you regularly eat more calories than your body can use, your triglyceride levels can get high. This may raise your risk of several health problems, including heart disease and stroke.
People of all ages, genders, and ethnicities can have high cholesterol. Although high cholesterol can be inherited, it’s often the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices, which make it preventable and treatable.
Factors that put you at risk
Factors that can increase your risk of bad cholesterol include:
- Poor diet
- Lack of exercise
Reducing the intake of fat in the diet helps to manage cholesterol levels. In particular, it is helpful to limit foods that contain:
- Cholesterol: This is present in animal foods, meat, and cheese.
- Saturated fat: This occurs in some meats, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods, deep-fried, and processed foods.
- Trans fats: This occurs in some fried and processed foods.
Pay attention to the saturated and trans fats on your food labels, as well as added sugars. The less of these you consume, the better.
Other conditions that can lead to high cholesterol levels, include:
- liver or kidney disease
- polycystic ovary syndrome
- pregnancy and other conditions that increase levels of female hormones
- underactive thyroid gland
- drugs that increase LDL cholesterol and decrease HDL cholesterol
The same heart-healthy lifestyle changes that can lower your cholesterol can help prevent you from having high cholesterol in the first place. To help prevent high cholesterol and to ultimately manage cholesterol, you can:
- Eat a low-salt diet that emphasises fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Limit the amount of animal fats and use good fats in moderation
- Lose extra pounds and maintain a healthy weight
- Quit smoking
- Exercise on most days of the week for at least 30 minutes
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all
- Manage stress
A person with high cholesterol levels often has no signs or symptoms, but routine screening and regular blood tests can help detect high levels. A person who does not undergo testing may have a heart attack without warning, because they did not know that they had high cholesterol levels. Regular tests can help to reduce this risk.
Changes to make for managing cholesterol
To help you achieve and maintain healthy cholesterol levels, your healthcare provider may recommend changes to your diet. If lifestyle changes are unsuccessful or cholesterol levels are very high, a doctor may prescribe a lipid-lowering drug.
Your healthcare provider may also suggest you have your cholesterol checked more frequently if you have a family history of high cholesterol. Or if you demonstrate the following risk factors:
- have high blood pressure
- are overweight
- genetic conditions
Because high cholesterol doesn’t cause symptoms in the early stages, it’s important to make good lifestyle choices. Eat a healthy diet, maintain an exercise routine, and regularly monitor your cholesterol levels by getting them checked at your healthcare provider.
Visit your nearest The Local Choice Pharmacy to speak to our pharmacist about managing cholesterol.
Disclaimer: All content on the The Local Choice Pharmacy is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to serve as a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health advice.