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Prevention of high cholesterol

It’s possible to eat your way to good health

Karen Miller
Prevention of high cholesterol
The chemicals in cigarette smoke damage the linings of arteries, which can promote the buildup of plaque. (Photo: Thinkstock.com/iStock/weerapatkiatdumrong)

In many cases high cholesterol can be prevented by following a healthy lifestyle. So powerful is healthy living that when first diagnosed with high cholesterol the first choice of treatment is often lifestyle change. When this recommendation is not as effective as desired in reducing cholesterol levels, medication — in conjunction with healthy lifestyles — is prescribed.

Smoking

Cigarette smoking might provide a “buzz” from that quick jolt of nicotine, but it wreaks havoc on your health. Cigarette smoking is the most preventable cause of death and illness in this country. Most people associate it with cancer, and rightfully so. Lung cancer is the most common cancer death in this country and cigarette smoking is linked to 80 percent of those deaths. But smoking does its fair share of damage to the cardiovascular system. More than 480,000 deaths a year are attributed to smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The chemicals in tobacco smoke harm your blood cells and damage the structure and function of blood vessels making them fertile ground for atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque attributed largely to cholesterol. The American Heart Association has found that smoking lowers the level of the so-called good cholesterol in the blood and raises triglycerides, another type of lipid in the blood associated with heart disease.

Switching to smokeless tobacco doesn’t avert the problem. Smokeless tobacco actually puts more nicotine into the bloodstream than do cigarettes. Although it is chewed rather than inhaled studies suggests that it still raises blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and can increase your risk of having a heart attack.

It might be difficult to quit smoking, but the advantages are huge. The Mayo Clinic reports that quitting smoking can increase HDL by up to 10 percent.

Call 800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) for information and help quitting.

BMI: Body Mass Index

Obesity is measured by the Body Mass Index, or BMI, a correlation of height and weight.

BMI = Weight in pounds/(Height in inches x Height in inches) x 703

BMI — Definition

18.5-24.9 — Healthy

25-29.9 — Overweight

30 or more — Obese

Waist Size — Desired Measurement

Men — Less than 40 inches

Women — Less than 35 inches

Obesity

Correlating a few extra pounds to cholesterol seems a bit of a stretch. If that is true, that explains why high cholesterol is so common. According to the CDC, more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese as well as 17 percent of children age 2 to 19.

In fact, body weight has a direct association with cardiovascular risk factors, including high cholesterol. This means that as weight increases, so does LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Yet, it does not take an excessive weight loss to reverse the direction of these numbers. In an article published by the Obesity Action Coalition the researcher found that losing just 5 to 10 percent of body weight can result in a five-point increase in HDL cholesterol and an average 40-point decrease in triglycerides. That means a 200-pound person can realize improved health by losing just 10 pounds.

Obesity is measured by the Body Mass Index, or BMI, a correlation of height and weight. The BMI is not perfect. It cannot distinguish between muscle and fat and can push a muscular person into the “overweight” category.

It also cannot take into consideration the location of the fat. Abdominal, or visceral, fat is centered at and above the waist giving a person an apple shape. Unlike the external fat that can be grasped, visceral fat is internal and lies between the organs in the abdomen. As opposed to fat found in the thighs, for instance, visceral fat is biologically active and can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, and is linked to high cholesterol levels.

Healthy eating

It is hard for many people to eat healthy foods for many reasons. Time and money are high on the list. Demanding work schedules and inadequate salaries make it easier to grab a quick bite at a local fast-food restaurant. The food may be fast and not make a huge dent in one’s wallet, but it comes with a heftier price.

Fast food is often higher in added sugar, trans fat, sodium and artificial chemicals. In addition, it typically comes in larger portions, thereby providing unnecessary calories. These calories accumulate in the body as fat deposits, which increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

The Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Eating Plan developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute are recommended choices. Both emphasize plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, such as whole wheat bread, and healthy fats, like those found in fatty fish and nuts.

It does not mean that meat lovers have to go cold turkey. It is suggested to limit red meat to a few times a month.

The good news is that neither plan controls exactly what a person should eat. Individual preference and taste dictate choices. The key is to choose a variety from all food groups and minimize foods high in sodium, trans fats and saturated fats.

A dietitian can help design an individual healthy eating plan.

Exercise

Next to healthy eating, exercise is the most difficult lifestyle change to adopt. People prefer to watch television. In the 2014 survey on American use of time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that persons age 15 and older spent 2 hours and 49 minutes a day watching TV and 17 minutes in sports and exercise. This lack of activity, when combined with an unhealthy diet, provides fodder for high cholesterol and other cardiovascular risks, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

Yet, studies have shown that moderate-activity aerobic exercise can raise HDL cholesterol levels and lower triglycerides. More intense and longer bouts of exercise have an impact on LDL levels.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults engage in 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise, like walking or biking, and two days a week of muscle-strengthening exercises.

It’s hard to get going, and 150 minutes a week sounds insurmountable. Ten minutes a day is a good start.

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