High cholesterol is one of the leading health problems in the world today. Worldwide, it is estimated that 39 percent of adults aged 25 years and above have raised cholesterol.
According to 2008 trends, it is responsible for 2.6 million deaths and 29.7 million disability adjusted life years. High cholesterol is also the major cause of ischemic heart disease and stroke.
This data is enough to give you pause and think: “Do I have high cholesterol?”
And if you do, you probably want to know how to lower your cholesterol fast.
Well, it’s not as hard as you may think. With just a few changes (which I discuss below) you can pretty quickly lower your cholesterol levels. Read on…
Get a Lipid Panel Done
If you’re worried that you might have high cholesterol, first thing’s first: get that much-needed check up with your doctor now.
Your doctor will order for you to get a lipid panel done. This is just a simple blood test.
Here are the main components of the lipid panel. With the notable exception of HDL cholesterol (or your “good cholesterol”), if you get a number that is higher than what is listed here, your health may be at risk.
- Total Cholesterol = Less than 200 mg/dL. If you get 201 mg/dL, this value is above normal. A value of 240 mg/dL is definitely not good for you.
- HDL Cholesterol = 40 mg/dL or higher, although the ideal value is 60 mg/dL or higher. Having higher HDL cholesterol gives protection to your heart.
- LDL Cholesterol = This is your “bad cholesterol”. You should have a value of less than 100 mg/dL. If you are one of those folks who have a high risk for heart attacks, your value should be much lower, less than 70 mg/dL
- Triglycerides = These are the fats that are stored in your body. Your value should be less than 150 mg/dL.
Causes of High Cholesterol
If your doctor sees that your lipid panel numbers are higher than normal, they will need to determine the cause. This is very important so that your doctor will be able to do something about your high cholesterol and lower your risk for cardiovascular disease.
Let’s take a look at the common causes of high cholesterol…
- Diet: Among all the causes of high cholesterol, diet is the most notorious. It is obvious that if you eat too much, you not only gain excess weight, you also increase your risk for cardiovascular disease.
- Body weight: Speaking of body weight, you should be concerned about your risk for cardiovascular disease if you have a lot of fat around your midsection. Visceral fat is a very bad sign of high triglyceride levels.
- Poor physical activity: If you live the life of a couch potato, it will raise your bad cholesterol and insulin resistance. You need to exercise in order to raise your HDL levels.
- Age and Gender: These are risk factors that you have no control over. Men aged 45 and above and women aged 55 and above have an increased risk for high cholesterol.
- Genetics: Another uncontrollable risk factor. You are at risk of high cholesterol if you have family members with elevated cholesterol levels.
- Smoking: this puts you at twice up to four times the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering your HDL levels.
How to Lower Your Cholesterol Fast: Through Diet
By now, it’s pretty obvious from our list of common causes above that one of the main ways how to lower your cholesterol fast is through diet.
You don’t really have much control over your age and genetics, but you do have control over your physical activity levels and diet.
Speaking about diet, what specific foods should you eat if you want to know how to lower your cholesterol fast?
Here are four foods which help in doing just that:
Foods that are rich in fiber are a much-needed addition to your diet because they help in removing the excess cholesterol and other toxins from our body. It is ideal that your diet should have two types of fiber. The soluble fiber in fruits and veggies mixes with the water that you drink and aids in slowing down digestion. The insoluble fiber in whole grains and bran bulk up your stool so that they are eliminated from the body faster.
Studies have shown that increasing your daily fiber consumption by 5 to 10 grams per day will lower your cholesterol by 15 percent.
So make sure that you add high fiber foods like split peas, quinoa, lentils, artichokes, and broccoli in your diet.
2) Healthy Oils
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat which are primarily found in certain varieties of fish. It not only increases your HDL cholesterol levels (even in patients with genetic hyperlipidemia), it also needed in the brain and cognitive development, the prevention of Crohn’s disease, and the treatment of arthritis.
Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids are sardines, wild salmon, anchovies, herring, mackerel, bluefish, tuna, sturgeon and lake trout.
If fish is not to your liking, great plant sources that contain monounsaturated fats include walnuts, soybean oil, tahini, canola oil, flaxseed and flaxseed oil.
You may have heard from some people that you should not eat too much avocados because it is too fatty for you. Well, this is true. BUT, avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats, which can lower both your LDL and triglyceride levels and increase your HDL levels, thus keeping your risk for cardiovascular disease down.
4) Nuts and Seeds
If you are one of those folks who often get the craving for crunchies, get rid of those high cholesterol chips and switch to healthy nuts and seeds instead. Some heart-friendly substances that you can find in nuts and seeds are unsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, Vitamin E, sterols (which can lower your cholesterol levels), and L-arginine (an amino acid that improves blood flow by relaxing the walls of the arteries).
Foods to Avoid
Now that you know the foods that you should eat, I should also give you a list of foods that you need to avoid if you want to lower your cholesterol. These foods include…
- Saturated fats and oils, like bacon grease, lard, and butter
- Trans fats, especially those labeled “partially hydrogenated oils”. You can find trans fats in cookies or margarine
- Fatty Meats, like sausages and pastrami
- Fast foods, which are very high in trans and saturated fats and refined carbohydrates
What Else Should You Do?
Aside from eating a healthy diet, there are other things that you can do to lower your cholesterol levels fast. Let me enumerate them for you:
1) Get off that couch and exercise
You don’t have to lift heavy weights or run those long miles. Always start with low-impact cardio exercises, like walking and swimming. You can later move up to jogging, running and biking. You should start exercising at a minimum of 15 to 20 minutes, moving up to 30 minutes to an hour.
I’ve made a printable workout sheet you can use. These are excellent exercises you can do from the comfort of your own home. Download it here:
2) Get more sterols and stanols into your diet.
Sterols and stanols are heart-friendly substances that you find in plants, nuts, and seeds. They are very effective in blocking cholesterol absorption by your body, resulting in the lowering of your LDL cholesterol levels. You can also take sterols and stanols in supplement form.
I will admit that I am not a big fan of medications, especially if you can lower your cholesterol levels without resorting to the intake of drugs. However, there are people who have difficulties in keeping their cholesterol levels down due to genetics and other factors and who might benefit from drugs like statins.
In these cases, it is important to go for a checkup with your doctor. Only he/she will be able to determine if you need to take drugs to control your cholesterol levels. Under no circumstances should you self-medicate as this will do more harm than good.
I’ve written about what supplements to take before.
There are certain supplements that can help lower your cholesterol, but again, it is important that you get the go-signal from your doctor to take them.
Some of the best supplements for lowering cholesterol are artichoke extract, barley, psyllium, oat bran, green tea extract, niacin, soy protein and whey protein.
Earlier, I mentioned L-arginine. While there are minute amounts of this amino acid in nuts and seeds, it should not be taken as a supplement because it increases the risk of heart attacks in patients who are under medications.
By now, I hope you know how to lower your cholesterol fast.
If you think you have high cholesterol, schedule an appointment with your doctor today. Aside from dietary modifications, your doctor will give you other healthy advice that will not only lower your cholesterol levels but will also help you to maintain a healthy weight overall.
In the meantime, you can already make that switch to good health by including in your diet the cholesterol-lowering foods that I mentioned above.