Do you ever worry about your cholesterol levels? The bottom line is that high blood cholesterol levels are a main risk factor linked to heart disease, the number one killer of adults in the U.S. So it’s a good idea to make sure that your cholesterol levels are in the optimal range.
What Is High Cholesterol?
Cholesterol may sometimes get a bad rap, but it is a natural substance that does many good things for your body. It promotes cell growth, aids in digestion, produces vitamin D, and helps the body make certain hormones.
While 75% of the cholesterol in your blood is made by the liver, the rest of it comes from foods and drinks that you consume. As you can imagine, problems arise when you consume too much cholesterol through unhealthy food choices. But it's not quite that easy.
You've probably heard about bad cholesterol and good cholesterol and wondered what makes them different. The answer lies in tiny particles called lipoproteins that carry the cholesterol around the body.
What we call "bad cholesterol" is actually low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which causes a buildup of fatty deposits in your arteries and increases the risk for heart disease. But high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good cholesterol” helps carry LDL back to the liver to be eliminated, protecting you from heart disease.
Essentially, too much LDL and too little HDL can trigger some serious health complications.
Symptoms of High Cholesterol
If you feel just fine and have no obvious signs of high cholesterol, then that means your cholesterol couldn't possibly be too high, right? Oh, not exactly.
High cholesterol can be an elusive condition and may often go undetected because you may have no overt symptoms. In many cases, the damage done to your health and your heart may go undetected for many years until it is finally too late.
However, you may also have some potential warning signs of high cholesterol.
A few of the most common symptoms may include:
- chest pain (also called angina)
- fatigue (severe)
- shortness of breath, difficulty taking deep breaths
- pain in the jaw, neck, jaw, intestinal area, or along the back
- numbness or coldness in your arms or legs
How Can Cholesterol Levels Be Monitored?
The only sure-fire way to find out if you have high cholesterol is through a blood test called a lipid profile, typically done in the morning after fasting. With this test, your doctor will measure total cholesterol. It includes both LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol along with triglycerides, all types of fats found in your blood.
If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, you may be motivated to make some key lifestyle changes to manage your cholesterol levels. Top considerations are:
- Cut out trans-fats, most vegetable oils (especially corn oil, soy oil, and canola oil), and increase soluble fiber
- Eat a healthy diet, rich in naturally healthy fats such as avocadoes, olives, and wild-caught salmon
- Exercise on most days
- Reduce alcohol consumption
- Quit smoking
- Lose weight, if you are overweight or obese
You may want to get your cholesterol checked more frequently, particularly if you have a family history of cholesterol problems, heart disease, or conditions like diabetes or obesity.
In fact, you may want to get a cholesterol screening every four to five years. Knowing your cholesterol risk level can help empower you to maintain a healthy routine.
When to Seek a Health Professional
Seek immediate medical attention if you develop symptoms of stroke or if you feel any left-sided chest pain, pressure, or fullness.
Other symptoms include: dizziness, unsteady gait, slurred speech, or pain in the lower legs and should prompt you to seek medical attention immediately.
Know Your Cholesterol Levels
Now that you have the lowdown on high cholesterol, you can continue to educate yourself about how to manage your levels. The good news is that high cholesterol can easily go back into range with specific lifestyle changes, including a healthy diet and targeted nutritional supplements. Remember, the goal is to keep the bad cholesterol down with “good” cholesterol as dominant.
Make daily choices to optimize your health and wellbeing, as well as keeping your cholesterol levels in range, so you will be able to enjoy an optimal life.