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How to Lower Cholesterol and Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease?

Cholesterol is the fat-like substance found in your body. It’s not inherently “bad.” It is required for your body to build cells and make vitamins and other hormones. But having too much cholesterol can be harmful.

Cholesterol comes from two sources. Your liver makes all the cholesterol you need, and it travels in blood on proteins called ‘lipoproteins’. The remaining cholesterol in your body comes from foods of animal origin like meat, poultry and dairy products all contain dietary cholesterol. These foods are high in saturated and trans fats. These fats trigger your liver to produce more cholesterol than it would normally. For some people, this increased production causes their cholesterol level to rise.

Saturated fats are found in some tropical oils, including palm, palm kernel, and coconut oils, which can raise bad cholesterol. Usually, baked foods contain these oils.

There are 3 main types of cholesterol in your blood:

  • Triglycerides – It’s the cholesterol which your body uses for energy. When you eat your meals, the body converts the calories it doesn’t need into triglycerides, which are stored in your fat cells. Later, when you need energy between meals, these triglycerides are converted into energy.


  • HDL or high-density lipoprotein – Also known as good cholesterol. It absorbs circulating cholesterol in the blood and transports it back to the liver. Thereafter, the liver flushes it out from the body. HDL aids in the removal of excess cholesterol from the body, making it less likely to end up in the arteries. High HDL levels can lower your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.


  • LDL or low-density lipoprotein – Also known as bad cholesterol, it makes up most of the cholesterol in your body and collects on the walls of your blood vessels if the levels are high. Excessive cholesterol in your arteries may cause formation of plaque referred to as atherosclerosis. This increases the possibility of blood clots in the arteries.


You could experience a heart attack or a stroke if a blood clot separates and blocks an artery in your heart or brain. Plaque buildup may also impair the flow of blood and oxygen to vital organs. Oxygen deprivation in your organs or arteries can cause renal disease or peripheral arterial disease.

It’s the combination of high triglycerides and high LDL/low HDL that raises your risk for heart diseases.

Health Risks associated with High Cholesterol

1. Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis, often known as “hardening of the arteries,” develops when fat, cholesterol, and other substances accumulate in the artery walls. As the plaque gets bigger and bigger, the blood vessels get narrower, compromising the blood flow to the affected area. When the blood vessels supplying the heart get completely blocked, it leads to a heart attack, and when those supplying the brain get blocked, it leads to a stroke. Atherosclerosis can affect blood vessels supplying the heart, muscle, brain, legs, or arms.

People who have atherosclerosis are more susceptible to various medical conditions. That’s because your blood vessels perform important tasks throughout your entire body. When there is an issue in any of your blood vessels, there’s a ripple effect.


2. Hypertension or high blood pressure

Raised levels of cholesterol for long periods trigger inflammation and release of hormones that constrict your blood vessels and increase the blood pressure. High blood pressure is further associated with heart disease. When the body can’t clear cholesterol from the bloodstream, that excess cholesterol can deposit along artery walls.

When arteries stiffen and constrict because of deposits, the heart has to work extra hard to pump blood through arteries. This causes blood pressure to rise.

With time, high blood pressure can cause damage to the arteries on its own.


3. Diabetes

People with high and unmanaged cholesterol also show low glucose tolerance and thus, increased risk of developing Type-2 Diabetes.

Understand your risk of heart disease – High Cholesterol Symptoms

The biggest irony is that high cholesterol doesn’t pose any symptoms. High cholesterol is a “silent” condition. You won’t know you have high cholesterol unless you get a blood test done.

Therefore, it’s always recommended to get your cholesterol levels checked if:

  • You are male above 40 years of age or a female above 50 years of age/post-menopausal age
  • Have a waist circumference above 37 inches (male) or 31.5 inches (females)
  • Have any heart disease or high blood pressure
  • Have a parent/sibling with high blood pressure or heart disease
  • You currently smoke or have ever smoked
  • Have erectile dysfunction
  • Have a sedentary lifestyle
  • Consume alcohol

And once you get your blood cholesterol checked, here are the normal and high levels:

Type of Cholesterol


Borderline High /At risk


Very High


< 150 mg/dl

150-199 mg/dl

200-499 mg/dl

500 mg/dl or above


60 mg/dl or above

40-50 mg/dl or lower



< 100 mg/dl

100-129 mg/dl

130-159 mg/dl

160 mg/dl or above

How to lower cholesterol?

Our experienced doctors at Carefirst believe making a few lifestyle changes is a sure-shot way to lower cholesterol and keep heart problems at bay.

1. Be More Active

Adults should engage in 2 ½ hours of moderate to intense physical activity per week. Children should have 60 minutes of play and structured activities every day.

You can choose from a variety of triglyceride trimming exercises like:

      • Brisk Walk, Jogging or running – There’s no need to hit the treadmill or elliptical at full speed. In fact, if you’re not used to running, are overweight or have issues with your joints, it could do more harm to your body than good. Begin with a short and easy walk in the park or around the block then gradually start walking for longer distances, you can move to brisk walking or jogging once you get comfortable. Not only will you be lowering your cholesterol, but you’ll be lowering your blood pressure, too.
      • Cycling – can burn the same number of calories as jogging, but it is gentle on your knees. All you have to do is find an appropriately sized and comfortable bike and ride off into the healthy cholesterol level or try a stationary exercise bike to lower cholesterol.
      • Yoga – The best news for those who aren’t very fond of cardio is that yoga is equally beneficial.

 Yoga is also great for:

      • Improved flexibility.
      • Working your physical and mental muscles as well as improving sleep, leading to improvements in other lifestyle habits.

Yoga’s slower pace can be less intimidating than other activities, especially if you have never exercised regularly before.

      • High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) – HIIT is probably one of the most efficient ways to reduce cholesterol and decrease overall body fat percentage. HIIT combines strenuous exercises with short breaks, called recovery periods, between each exercise. A typical HIIT session might last anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes, depending on your fitness level. As it is a difficult type of workout regimen, it requires quite a bit of motivation to maintain a consistent program. If you suffer from back pain, poor heart health, or joint issues, you might need to avoid HIIT.
      • Strength training – Lifting weights stimulates your metabolic rate and maintains an efficient fat-burning rate, which means fat continues to burn even after you stop working out. In addition to burning fat, weightlifting exercises also build muscles and tone the body. Strength training should be paired with HIIT and aerobic exercises like running, swimming, or cycling for the best results.

The ideal workout is always “the one you will practice regularly”. Choose an activity you like to do and stick with it. However, before beginning a new or more demanding fitness regimen, please consult your doctor.

People with sedentary profession can add physical activity in their daily routine in these ways:

      • Pace while you talk on the phone
      • Take stairs instead of the lift or an escalator
      • Track your daily steps with a smartwatch. Challenge yourself and keep adding in steps till you get 10,000 steps a day.


2. Achieve and maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight raises your triglyceride and LDL levels and lowers good cholesterol. Carrying extra weight raises your chances of having heart problems and other serious issues. Every 10 pounds you are overweight causes your body to make approximately 10mg of extra cholesterol per day. Body mass index, a numerical value of your weight in relation to your height, is a useful gauge. Optimal BMI is 25. You can calculate it online or consult a healthcare professional.

Reduce your weight by indulging in a regular physical activity of your choice.

Males mostly accommodate fat around the belly and females around the butt. Go for exercise specifically to reduce fat from these areas and achieve a healthy weight.


3. Get Healthy Sleep

Getting enough sleep promotes healing, lowers the chance of developing chronic diseases & enhances brain function. Getting too little sleep (less than 6 hours per night) also raises your triglyceride levels. Sleeping too little increases the release of stress hormones, cortisol, and appetite boosting hormone, but too little leptin, which regulates your body weight.

This hormonal imbalance also pushes your cholesterol out of balance.

On the flip side, too much sleep (over 8 hours) also raises your LDL and lowers your HDL.

So, take these steps to combat stress and get quality sleep each night:

      • Cut back on alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine products as they hamper your sleep.
      • Ease stress and muscle tension before going to bed by gentle stretches and meditation.
      • Don’t go to bed immediately after a meal or hungry.
      • Read your favorite novel to relax before going to bed.
      • Set a regular time for sleeping and waking up. Try to get 7-8 hours of peaceful sleep.
      • Avoid using smartphones immediately before going to bed. Don’t place your smartphone next to your bed, otherwise, you may be tempted to scroll through in the midst of the night.


4. Eat Better: Foods to lower cholesterol

What you eat impacts your cholesterol. So, choose your food mindfully. Consume foods rich in fiber and low in fat content. Aim for a nutritious diet that includes whole foods, a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, nuts, and seeds. To maintain a desirable weight, you should take in only as many calories as you burn each day. You must consume fewer calories than you burn if you want to lose weight.

It is also important to limit the intake of foods high in saturated fat, as these can increase LDL cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease, stroke, and obesity.


5. Manage your Blood Sugar

High levels of sugar in your blood can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerves over time. Monitoring HbA1c levels can provide a more accurate picture of long-term control in people having diabetes and prediabetes.

If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, you know that controlling your blood sugar levels is important. The more you can keep these levels down, the lower is your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other health problems.

An unhealthy cholesterol level is frequently associated with type 2 diabetes. You stand a higher chance of developing high cholesterol if you have diabetes. As you watch your blood glucose numbers, watch your cholesterol numbers too. Diabetes tends to lower “good” cholesterol levels and raise triglycerides and “bad” cholesterol levels, which increases the risk for heart disease and stroke. People who have both conditions are at increased risk of developing premature coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis.

Prevention and treatment of abnormal levels of sugar and cholesterol is important in maintaining optimal health.


6. Manage Blood Pressure

You may live healthier for longer if you keep your blood pressure within normal limits.  Levels less than 120/80 mm Hg are optimal. Make sure to keep track of your blood pressure because prolonged high blood pressure damages your arteries and other blood vessels. They just aren’t built to manage a constant high-pressure blood flow. As a result, they begin to experience tears and other forms of damage.

Those tears are perfect places for extra cholesterol to dwell. The harm caused by high blood pressure to the arteries can exacerbate plaque deposition and arterial narrowing due to high cholesterol. As a result, your heart needs to work harder to pump blood, which puts too much stress on the heart muscle.

Your heart, arteries, and general health are all negatively impacted by these two disorders. Over time issues with your eyes, kidneys, brain, and other organs can develop because of high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Medications prescribed by your healthcare professional can help you a lot but lifestyle modifications can help medications work more effectively.


7. Quit smoking

If you smoke, quitting will have a positive impact on both your HDL and LDL cholesterol levels. Cigarette smoking is associated with higher cholesterol levels as well as the formation of a bad type of LDL known as oxidized LDL, this, in turn, contributes to atherosclerosis.

Your cholesterol levels will begin to drop as soon as you stop smoking. With each month after quitting, LDL levels continue to drop, even partially reversing the effects of smoking on cholesterol after only 90 days.

Role of medications in lowering cholesterol

Sometimes following a healthy lifestyle and eating a balanced diet doesn’t suffice in lowering your cholesterol levels. If your cholesterol levels don’t improve even after 4-5 months of following a healthy diet and lifestyle, it’s time to consult your doctor who will prescribe cholesterol-lowering drugs to manage its levels.


Statins are the most common type of medication prescribed for high cholesterol. They work by inhibiting the substance required by your body to make cholesterol.

Statins have more benefits than just lowering cholesterol. These drugs have also been associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. These medications may aid in the stabilization of plaques on blood vessel walls and lessen the risk of certain blood clots.

Avoid grapefruit and grapefruit juice when you take statins. Grapefruit makes it harder for your body to use these medicines.


When it comes to cholesterol, remember: Check, Change and Control. That is:

Check your cholesterol levels.

Change your eating habits and do some lifestyle modifications to improve your cholesterol levels.

Control your cholesterol & take the advice of a doctor, if necessary.

In most cases, high cholesterol has no symptoms. But without treatment, high cholesterol can cause serious health issues.

The good news is that doctors at CareFirst can help you manage this condition, and in many cases, can help you avoid complications. But the first step is awareness! You must know that you have raised cholesterol levels.

Get a blood test to know where your cholesterol levels stand. Unhealthy cholesterol often goes undiagnosed due to the lack of regular tests by the patient.

Adopt healthy lifestyle habits and adhere to your doctor’s treatment plan to reduce your risk of complications from high cholesterol. A good cholesterol level can be achieved and maintained by eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding tobacco products.

Consult experienced doctors at Carefirst if you can’t manage your cholesterol level despite following a healthy diet and lifestyle.

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