Did you get a blood test and get high cholesterol? The doctor usually refers to “bad” cholesterol, which I’m sure you’ve heard of, but do you know what it is? In this post we’ll tell you about it and give you some tips to keep it at bay.
Cholesterol: needed to make hormones, bile acids, and vitamin D
Cholesterol is a substance similar to fat and essential for making hormones, bile acids, vitamin D and other substances. Almost everyone in our bodies is naturally produced by our livers. The rest comes to us through food.
Cholesterol has to travel through our bloodstream in order to function, but there is a problem: it is a fatty molecule and the basis of our blood is watery and, as we know, fat is not soluble in water. That’s why our body has devised a way to do this using lipoproteins that create a capsule whose exterior is a mixture of protein and water, and which is able to travel through the blood, but whose interior contains cholesterol.
“Good” and “bad” cholesterol
There are two types of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol in the blood: low and high density.
Low-density or LDL cholesterol, known as “bad cholesterol,” carries cholesterol from the liver to the rest of the body. It is related to the consumption of saturated fats from sausages, cheeses, red meats,… The higher your blood level, the greater the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The high-density, HDL or “good cholesterol” ones, which collect cholesterol from the tissues and carry it to the liver to be eliminated through the bile. It carries unsaturated fatty acids, such as Omega 3 and 6, which come from foods such as nuts, oily fish or olive oil. In fact, they have the ability to drag and remove fats from the arteries and prevent them from building up. The lower your level, the higher your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Ideally, total cholesterol should be below 200 mg/dL.
Cholesterol is measured with a fasting blood test and indicates the amount of total, “good” and “bad” cholesterol we have in milligrams per deciliter of blood.
Although the doctor has to assess each individual case, in general terms, total cholesterol should ideally be below 200 mg/dl, “bad” less than 100 mg/dl and “good” more than 35 mg/dl or 40 mg/dl for men and women respectively.
When we talk about “high cholesterol” in general we are talking about excess LDL, which is produced when there is too much fat circulating in our bloodstream. The medical term is “hypercholesterolemia” or “dyslipemia”.
So how can you reduce cholesterol?
First, it is important to know that high cholesterol can be produced for many reasons. Some of them cannot be changed, such as those related to genetic load, age (from 20 to 65) or sex (men tend to have more than women). But others are in our hands, such as avoiding overweight or having a good diet.
To prevent high cholesterol, the Spanish Heart Foundation proposes two basic health habits:
- A balanced diet, low in saturated fat. It is important to avoid an excess of sausages, red meats, fats (cheese, cream, butter,…), fried foods and processed products. Instead, it is advisable to opt for foods rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids: fish, legumes, nuts, whole grains and raw olive oil.
- An active lifestyle that involves gentle or moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming, running, etc., three to five times a week.
If you already have high cholesterol, in addition to following these recommendations, your doctor may prescribe a stricter diet and specific medications.