Figuring out the best way to handle your cholesterol is important for anyone who wants to live a long, healthy life. Statistics say 71 million American adults (33.5%) have high cholesterol levels. And less than half of that number are currently getting treatment. In addition, high cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart health issues and disturbing heart events. What makes the whole thing even more disconcerting is the fact that high cholesterol doesn’t present too many traditional symptoms.1
Now, chances are you’ve got a vague idea that cholesterol is bad. Ironically, that misunderstanding is a big part of the issue. There are a lot of misconceptions about cholesterol, ranging from the role of cholesterol in the body to how it contributes to heart health issues. In addition, high cholesterol is generally treated with cholesterol-lowering drugs. But are drugs the best course of action?
What Is Cholesterol?
Now, cholesterol usually gets a bad rap, but not all cholesterol is alike.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in all of your cells. It’s important when your body makes hormones, vitamin D, and when it comes to the production of the substances that help you digest food. It even plays a role in cognitive function.2 And did you know the bulk of the cholesterol your body uses is created by your body?
One of the little-explained facts about cholesterol is that there are both “good” and “bad” kinds.
LDL cholesterol the “bad” cholesterol — the one everyone focuses on. Experts believe that LDL cholesterol can contribute to fatty buildups in your arteries.
But, HDL cholesterol is the “good” cholesterol. This is because it helps carry LDL cholesterol from different parts of the body to the liver — where it can start the process of being removed from the body.3
Cholesterol and Heart Health Issues
Your heart is not to be neglected. Ever. In fact, heart health issues make up the number one killer of men and women in the United States.4 There are several different risk factors for heart health issues. Smoking and high blood pressure are obviously at the top of the risk factor list, but high cholesterol is right up there too. Other contributors include:
- Poor blood sugar regulation
- Poor diet
- Physical inactivity
- Excessive alcohol consumption5
So, what makes high cholesterol such a major contributor to heart health disturbances?
Well, the answer is actually evolving. The general thought is that when high levels of LDL cholesterol settle in the arteries, they can harden. Cholesterol in the arteries can combine with fat, calcium, and other substances in the blood and this ultimately forms a plaque. This plaque is the source of many heart health issues because it becomes more difficult for your heart to pump blood. This is known as atherosclerosis.6
Now, atherosclerosis is one of the major factors behind cardiac events as well. A heart event takes place when a coronary artery becomes blocked. This can lead to further damage even when one survives such an event. These include abnormal rhythms or, in some cases, more serious heart concerns that occur when the heart becomes too damaged to adequately pump blood to the body.
Are Statins The Answer?
So, when high cholesterol becomes an issue, most people turn to conventional medications. These are usually cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins.
Statins work by blocking substances the body needs to create cholesterol. Other drugs can help the body reabsorb cholesterol that has built up on your artery walls.7
But not everyone wants to use statins. Sometimes, changing your habits can make the difference when it comes to your health.
So, does that mean that you may be able to substitute dietary changes for statins? Not always. In some cases, your body may be producing too much bad cholesterol for dietary changes alone to do the job. But, research supports statin use for:
- People who already have cardiovascular health issues.
- People who have very high LDL cholesterol.
- People with unhealthy blood sugar levels.
- People predisposed to a higher risk of a cardiac event.8
In addition, some studies show other support for statins. In one case, statin use showed a positive effect on cognitive support for the elderly.9
When it comes to heart and cholesterol levels, the best first step you can take is to see a doctor and get your cholesterol levels checked. Remember, symptoms won’t always present themselves, even if your levels are high. And if your levels are low enough that statins aren’t necessary, you should really adopt a preventative mindset.
This means eating less saturated fat and more fiber (whole fruits and vegetables).
Also, avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
The Truth About Cholesterol In Review
Managing high cholesterol is a great way to lower your risk of heart health concerns, cardiac events, and a slew of other issues. But this is only one part of a larger relationship cholesterol has with your body.
An important thing to understand is the fact that supporting good cholesterol is key to maintaining your health. Equally important is understanding what statins can do, but also what their limitations are.
In the end, by eating wisely and living a health-conscious lifestyle, you can avoid high cholesterol and live a healthier life.