Haims: What you should know about cholesterol management

Your chances of having a heart attack or stroke can be reduced by managing your cholesterol.  If all you know about cholesterol is that it’s either HDL or LDL which is bad for you, you need to read further.

So, what is cholesterol and what does it do?

Cholesterol is a type of fat that is found in your blood. When there is too much of it in your blood, it can permeate and build up on the walls of the arteries (plaque) which can restrict blood flow to organs and tissues. This is called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a specific type of arteriosclerosis.

While the two words are sometimes used interchangeably, atherosclerosis is different than arteriosclerosis. Arteriosclerosis occurs when the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients from your heart to the rest of your body (arteries) become damaged, thick, and stiff. Healthy arteries should be flexible and elastic.

Think of the difference in relation to a gardening hose. Arteriosclerosis is damaging to the hose itself, and atherosclerosis is the clog/narrowing inside the hose.

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As a whole, cholesterol is not bad. In fact, cholesterol is very much needed by our bodies. It is an essential component for many processes of a cell including hormone production (cortisol, testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen), developing cellular membrane, making vitamin D, and is used in the liver to make bile.

While cholesterol is not a disease, it is often called a “silent disease” because it produces no clinical symptoms that you or your medical provider may notice. Unfortunately, once symptoms become obvious the results can be catastrophic.

There are two types of cholesterol — good and bad.

Good cholesterol is HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. HDL cholesterol absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver where it is then broken down and flushed from the body by excreting it through bile and urine.

Bad cholesterol is called LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. LDL cholesterol unfortunately is more prevalent in our bodies than HDL. High levels of LDL cholesterol raise our risk for heart disease and stroke because the cholesterol can build up on the walls of the arteries causing cholesterol plaque. As plaque builds up, it ultimately causes a narrowing of the arteries which limits blood flow and exacerbates the risk of developing blood clots.

While you literally cannot flush excess cholesterol out of your body, you can reduce your cholesterol levels by making simple lifestyle changes.  The No. 1 change that will reduce your cholesterol is lowering your intake of saturated fats.

Saturated fats are found in animal products like butter, hamburgers, poultry skin, marbled steaks, ribs, cheese (one of my favorites), yogurt, and some plant foods such as palm and coconut oils.

Instead of whole milk, fried tortilla chips, ice cream, French fries, cheeseburger, lamb, or fatty beef you would be better of trying fat-free or low-fat milk, baked tortilla chips, frozen fruit bars, baked potato, steamed/grilled vegetables, poultry (without skin) or fish.

High cholesterol can develop at any age. This is worth repeating — high cholesterol can develop at any age. It can also develop despite lifestyle choices. Studies have found that atherosclerosis (narrowing inside the hose) can begin in children as young as their teens. Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic believe, “cholesterol levels in children are linked to three factors: heredity, diet, and obesity. In most cases, kids with high cholesterol have a parent who also has elevated cholesterol.”

There are many ways to slow the progression and even mitigate the development of high cholesterol and atherosclerosis. Scientists believe a quality diet, reducing salt intake, avoiding smoking, and exercising can provide substantial benefits.

Although statins (a type of drug that lowers the level of cholesterol) are often the go-to solution many medical providers suggest for controlling cholesterol, there are other options. There is evidence that suggests supplements can be helpful in modifying cholesterol.  Take some time and learn about niacin, curcumin, CoQ10, high-quality red yeast rice (some products are not pure), ground flax seed, fish oil, artichoke extract, and soluble fiber. Above all, eat foods low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. Nowadays, making good food choices can be as simple as educating yourself why it’s important to shop on the perimeter of the grocery store and use caution when shopping on the interior isles.

You should always consult your medical provider before you choose any supplements to make sure there are not potential conflicts with other medications. Be proactive in your health. Get your blood checked and talk to your medical provider.  What you don’t know can kill you.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and available to answer questions. His contact information is and 970-328-5526.

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