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High Cholesterol: A Contributing Factor for Heart Disease

Posted Date: 7/28/2014
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Did you know high cholesterol is a contributing factor for heart disease? High blood cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. In fact, the higher your blood cholesterol level, the greater your risk for developing heart disease or having a heart attack. Heart disease is the number onekiller of women and men in the United States each year, greater than all cancers combined.

We need cholesterol to stay healthy. Cholesterol builds healthy cell membranes in the brain, nerves, muscles, skin, liver, intestines, and heart. However, the human body only needs a small amount of cholesterol to meet its needs. Cholesterol causes a problem only when we have too much of it in our blood, which can build up in artery walls.

“The mechanism involving cholesterol in heart disease and stroke is the same,” explains Dr. Suzy Bibawy, Medical Director of Ambulatory Services at Richmond University Medical Center. “Plaque buildup within arteries decreases blood flow, affecting the function of the cells and organs that these blood vessels supply.”

Blood carries oxygen to the heart, and if enough blood and oxygen cannot reach the heart, the body can suffer chest pain. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by a blockage, the result is a heart attack.

High cholesterol does not cause symptoms, and many people are unaware if their cholesterol level is too high. “The goal is to keep bad cholesterol low and the good cholesterol high,” Dr. Bibawy continues, “Some risk factors like family history can’t be modified, but high cholesterol can be controlled by diet, exercise and using medication if needed. Healthy diet is the main key, and this should start early in life as the narrowing and hardening of arteries starts early and progresses over decades. The second and natural way of prevention is exercising on a regular basis.”

Cholesterol should be checked at least every five years, starting at age 20. The most accurate test is a lipoprotein profile, a group of blood tests given after fasting for 9 to 12 hours. Lowering cholesterol levels that are too high lessens the risk for developing heart disease and reduces the chance of a heart attack or dying of heart disease, even if you already have it.

•     Heredity is the main factor in determining cholesterol levels.
•     Diet is the second risk factor. Foods containing cholesterol, saturated fats, or trans fats all contribute to bad cholesterol.

•     Weight: Being overweight can raise bad cholesterol. Losing weight can lower bad cholesterol level, as well as triglycerides, while boosting good cholesterol.
•     Exercise: Getting regular exercise can lower the bad cholesterol while raising the good.
•     Age and Gender: Until menopause, women usually have lower total cholesterol levels than men. After age 50, women often have higher total cholesterol levels than men of the same age. For both men and women, total cholesterol levels rise until about age 65.
•     Alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol increases cholesterol.
•     Smoking: If you smoke, giving up tobacco will increase good cholesterol levels.

1.     Oatmeal, Oat Bran and High-Fiber Foods: Eating high-fiber foods can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Soluble fiber is also found in such foods as kidney beans, apples, pears, barley and prunes.

2.     Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Eating fatty fish can be heart healthy because of its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce your blood pressure and risk of developing blood clots. Highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids are found in: Mackerel, Lake trout, Herring, Sardines, Albacore tuna, Salmon, and Halibut.

3.     Walnuts, Almonds and Other Nuts: Eating about a handful of nuts a day of most nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachio nuts and walnuts, may reduce your risk of heart disease by helping to reduce bad cholesterol. Rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, walnuts also help keep blood vessels healthy.

4.     Olive Oil: Olive oil contains a potent mix of antioxidants that can lower your bad cholesterol and leave your good cholesterol untouched. The cholesterol-lowering effects of olive oil are even greater if you choose extra-virgin olive oil, meaning the oil is less processed and contains more heart-healthy antioxidants. 

5.     Foods with Added Plant Sterols or Stanols: Foods are now available that have been fortified with sterols or stanols — substances found in plants that help block the absorption of cholesterol. Margarines, orange juice and yogurt drinks with added plant sterols can help reduce LDL cholesterol by more than 10 percent.