What is LDL Cholesterol?
Before explaining what LDL cholesterol is and why it is bad for you, it is important to first discuss cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is present in every cell of the human body. It serves many important functions, including helping our bodies make hormones and digest food. Cholesterol comes from two places: 1) your liver and 2) animal products that you eat (such as meat, eggs and dairy).
Cholesterol travels through the blood in “carriers” called lipoproteins. These lipoproteins have fat on the inside and protein on the outside. The two main types of lipoproteins are:
- Low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol which is referred to as “bad” cholesterol. LDL cholesterol contributes to fatty buildups in arteries which narrows them and can progress to a heart attack or stroke. High LDL cholesterol increases your risk for heart disease and heart attack.
- High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is referred to as “good” cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is thought to act as a scavenger for LDL cholesterol, removing it from the arteries. Low HDL cholesterol has been shown to increase risk for heart disease.
Common Causes of High LDL Cholesterol and Low HDL Cholesterol
There are a few causes of high LDL and low HDL cholesterol levels. Some of these causes you can control, and some you cannot.
What you cannot control:
- Genetics (family history): High LDL cholesterol can run in families.
- Age and gender: LDL cholesterol tends to increase after age 20 and continues to increase until about age 60. Before age 50, men tend to have higher total cholesterol levels than women of the same age. After age 50 (when women experience menopause), women tend to have higher cholesterol levels than men.
What you can control:
- Unhealthy diet: Too much saturated fat and trans fat in your diet can increase your LDL cholesterol levels. Most saturated fat comes from animal products such as meats (including pork, beef, lamb, poultry with skin), butter, cream, cheese and other whole milk dairy products. Trans fat is found in processed foods which include stick margarine, crackers, and baked goods.
- Smoking: Smoking is known to lower HDL (good) cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease.
- Lack of exercise: Low physical activity leads to low HDL cholesterol.
- Excess weight: Being overweight can lead to higher LDL cholesterol levels and lower HDL cholesterol levels, in addition to higher triglycerides (another type of fat present in the blood). Losing weight can help improve your cholesterol levels.
The Dangers of High Cholesterol
When there is too much LDL (bad) cholesterol, or not enough HDL (good) cholesterol in the blood, cholesterol can build up inside the walls of blood vessels, making them narrower, and making it harder for blood to flow. In time, this can raise the risk of having a heart attack or a stroke.
Having high cholesterol generally does not cause any obvious symptoms, so it’s smart to test your cholesterol level with some frequency to make sure it is in an acceptable range.
How to Lower High LDL Cholesterol Levels
Generally, most physicians recommend lifestyle modification in order to lower LDL cholesterol. Lifestyle modification involves four types of changes:
- Adopting a heart healthy diet: A heart healthy diet involves reducing saturated and trans fat. For example, try to eat less red meat and whole milk dairy products, increase fiber intake, and include plant sterols in your diet.
- Regular exercise: Regular exercise has been shown to increase HDL (good) cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends moderate to vigorous exercise 3 or 4 times weekly.
- Weight loss: Losing weight can decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
- Avoiding tobacco: Quitting smoking can improve HDL (good) cholesterol and directly reduces heart disease risk.
If these lifestyle changes do not reduce your cholesterol adequately, there are also excellent prescription medications worth discussing with your physician.
Reduce High LDL Cholesterol with Piper Biosciences Cholesterol Wellness Kits
In order to minimize your chances of getting heart disease, it is important to maintain the appropriate levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol. This can be achieved by adopting lifestyle changes which include eating a heart healthy diet, engaging in regular exercise, losing excess weight and avoiding tobacco. Eating a heart healthy diet may include adding extra fiber and plant sterols to your diet. The Piper Biosciences Cholesterol Wellness Kit provides chewable fruit-flavored gummies containing plant sterols in convenient, daily pouches.
Individual results may vary. Supplementation with plant sterols typically reduces cholesterol by 5-15% within several weeks. Adding other lifestyle changes, including a heart healthy diet, can reduce cholesterol by up to 30%. Repeat lipid testing is recommended. Speak with your physician if you have questions.