How ‘good’ is your ‘good’ cholesterol?

Many factors can cause high cholesterol, yet people can easily change some of those causes.

Risk factors you can change include not eating too much food high in saturated fats, like red meat, butter, cream, and other dairy products, and avoiding foods with refined sugars, such as sweets, baked goods, white bread, and fizzy drinks. Cutting down on alcohol, stopping smoking, and getting more exercise can also help, says the New Zealand Heart Foundation.

Some risk factors are passed down through families, and may require medication, as well as lifestyle changes. Talk to your doctor about checking your cholesterol.

Here are some ways to manage your cholesterol:

Eat heart-healthy food
Cut back on foods high in saturated fats, such as pies, cakes, and chips. Instead, eat a wide variety of heart-healthy foods including whole grains, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables, and oily fish.

Drink less alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol, particularly heavy drinking (binge drinking), can increase your bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. So drinking less can help to lower your cholesterol. If you don’t currently drink any alcohol, don’t start drinking. If you do drink alcohol – it’s better to drink less, advises the heart foundation.

Quit smoking
Smoking makes your LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) stickier and reduces the amount of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) in your blood. It also damages the artery walls. This increases the build-up of plaque in your arteries and can cause a risk of heart attack and stroke. Quitting smoking is a great way to lower cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease.

Move more
Sitting less and being more active are great ways to reduce high cholesterol. This doesn’t mean you have to join a gym or take up running – it just means you need to move your body more throughout the day. Ideally, you should do 30 minutes of activity a day. Try using the stairs, not the lift, parking 10 minutes away from work or getting off the bus a stop early, walking the dog twice around the park instead of once, taking a walk outside during a break at work, or even half an hour of gardening or cleaning.

Natural remedies
Talk to your health professional before using supplements, vitamins, natural remedies or complementary therapies, as they may interfere with any medication you’re taking, which can be dangerous. They can also make your medication less effective, says the heart foundation.

If you’ve been prescribed cholesterol-lowering medication, make sure you take it as directed by your doctor. This is one of the most effective ways to lower cholesterol levels. Having more of the good cholesterol (HDL) usually means less risk of high blood pressure. Recent research suggests it’s not just about how much HDL you have; it’s also about how well it works. While the traditional focus has been on increasing HDL levels, emerging research suggests that the functionality of HDL, and its ability to perform its protective roles, is equally crucial in reducing the risk of hypertension and associated cardiovascular complications.

HDL is like a clean-up crew in your body, hauling away extra cholesterol from your arteries and sending it to your liver to be disposed of. Sometimes, factors such as stress and inflammation can damage HDL, making it less effective at its job. Understanding and addressing HDL functionality potentially unlocks new avenues for preventing and managing hypertension, which is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and other serious health conditions.

HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, sometimes called “good” cholesterol, absorbs cholesterol in the blood and carries it back to the liver. The liver then flushes it from the body. High levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.

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