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The right amount of cholesterol keeps your cells healthy, but too much can lead to a heart attack or stroke. One in three Americans has been diagnosed with cholesterol levels approaching or exceeding dangerous levels, and you may be one of them. 

But don’t panic, if this is the case. 

The board-certified staff at AMA Medical Group help patients manage their cholesterol levels every day. Treating this condition doesn’t always require medications, just some lifestyle changes. If that doesn’t work, the medications can serve as a backup plan. This article will provide the tips you need to better manage your cholesterol levels.

What Is Cholesterol?

To put it simply, cholesterol is a fatty, waxy substance that can build up in your blood vessels. Cholesterol is made up of cellular waste products and fat that can line the arteries and eventually slow or stop the flow of oxygen and nutrient rich blood from reaching parts of your body. 

When too much cholesterol builds up in the blood it can harden into plague, a condition known as atherosclerosis. This “clogging” of the body’s arteries can be serious. Not only are your blood vessels thwarted in their efforts to send blood throughout the body, but a piece of the hardened cholesterol, or plaque, can break off and lead to a blood clot. This can be life-threatening.

An increase in your cholesterol levels is normal as you age. Medical conditions like diabetes or chronic kidney disease can also contribute to high cholesterol. Even certain types of medications can increase your risk of developing a cholesterol problem. Even though high cholesterol can feel outside of our control, there are plenty of tools we can use to treat the problem in a healthy way.

Man manages high cholesterol

What’s the Difference Between HDL and LDL Cholesterol?

Sometimes cholesterol gets a bad reputation, but the truth is that you need a certain level of it in your blood for your body to function. Your liver normally manufactures just enough cholesterol to aid the body in hormone and cell production, and digesting fatty foods. 

Cholesterol is carried in the blood by proteins. Together, these cells are known as lipoproteins.

There are two main types of lipoproteins, and your doctors carefully measure these during health exams to be sure you have a balance of both:

  1. High-density lipoprotein (HDL)
  2. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL)

It’s the HDL that your body manufactures. Known as the “good cholesterol,” the job of HDL is to move cholesterol to the liver to be discarded from the body. Normally, this process functions smoothly so the cholesterol doesn’t end up lining your arteries. 

LDL is the bad cholesterol your doctor worries about. Too much LDL is what causes atherosclerosis. This “hardening of the arteries” can lead to diseases of the kidneys or a condition known as peripheral arterial disease. Both conditions can be quite serious. Your doctor regularly watches your blood work to make sure your cholesterol numbers aren’t too high. 

At AMA Medical Group, we follow a rigorous protocol for patients whose test results come back with a high HDL reading. Part of our process is to determine your risk factors and assess if there are other conditions that might affect your cholesterol.

Daughter recognizes the signs of stroke in her mother

What Causes High Cholesterol?

Some of the typical causes of high cholesterol include:

  • A poor diet rich in saturated fats
  • Smoking; cigarettes contain a chemical that stops the body from sending cholesterol to the liver
  • Diabetes or high blood pressure can contribute to the disease
  • A family history of heart disease or stroke can also contribute to your condition
  • An inherited condition known as familial hypercholesterolemia which can cause high cholesterol no matter how healthily you eat

If your bloodstream is saturated with more cholesterol than your body can discard through the liver, it ends up elevating your cholesterol—and hanging out along the walls of your arteries. 

Your diet can have a huge impact on blood cholesterol levels. If you eat a diet rich in meat and dairy products, your bloodstream may be saturated with too much cholesterol. However, even vegetarians and vegans can develop high cholesterol if they eat too many processed foods.

Doctor examines patient for signs of stroke

How Can You Manage High Cholesterol?

If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol, one of the first things we try and work on are lifestyle modifications. Here are a few of the lifestyle changes our team at AMA Medical Group often suggest to patients:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating a more balanced diet
  • Reducing stress
  • Maintaining your weight
  • Exercising

Balanced eating and exercise are two major behavior modifications. For patients, exercising doesn’t have to mean running on a treadmill or training for a marathon. It just means staying active and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle.

If these interventions don’t end up working, doctors have more tricks up their sleeves to get you back on the road to health. There are medications and supplements that can help with high cholesterol. When we decide a patient can benefit from medication management, we always start them on the lowest doses possible.

If you’re trying to manage your high cholesterol, the typical menu should include:

  • Fatty fishes high in omega-3, like salmon or tuna
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Skinless baked poultry or other lean meats
  • Unsalted nuts
  • Vegetable and olive oils
  • Whole grains

Some of the foods to avoid that increase your LDL cholesterol include:

  • Baked goods made with saturated or trans fats
  • Fried foods
  • Full-fat dairy
  • Highly processed foods
  • Red meats

Even small changes that you make in your eating habits can help lower your cholesterol. For example:

  • Avoid frying meats
  • Eat more baked fish rather than fried fish
  • Eat whole wheat instead of traditional pasta
  • Eliminate soda from your diet and replace it with no sugar seltzer water
  • Select whole grain healthy cereals over those filled with sugar

Even exercising in moderation can help your cholesterol. If you work at a desk, set an alarm to get up three or four times a day and take a 10-minute walk. Track your steps with a fitness app. Your goal is around 10,000 steps or about 30 minutes of movement a day.

The point, though, is to develop lifestyle changes that aren’t so rigorous you won’t follow them. We work together with patients to develop a plan that will not only help with cholesterol, but will increase the quality of a patient’s life.   

AMA Medical Group is focused on high quality patient care and disease prevention. If you haven’t had your cholesterol checked lately or need some help managing your health, please call to set your appointment using our 24/7 phone line at (727) 331-8740 or contact us online.