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Having healthy levels of cholesterol to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke is a lifetime commitment. It takes effort and it takes time. To lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides with diet and lifestyle changes may take 12 weeks or longer. There is no magic number since everybody has different levels, body types, and genes.
You may be able to improve your numbers a bit faster with medications called statins. With these meds you could see changes in six to eight weeks, but in many cases, diet and lifestyle are tried before resorting to drugs. If you take a statin drug, you are not off the hook for diet and lifestyle changes, you need to do all three.
Statins do not come without side effects, learn more about the potential side effects of statins.
Total Cholesterol: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Your total cholesterol number is a combination of good cholesterol, bad cholesterol, and some ugly fats. Although it is a fatty substance, cholesterol itself is not harmful. Your liver makes cholesterol because it is important for building cells, vitamins, and chemical messengers called hormones. Cholesterol is also found in animal foods like meat and dairy products. Eating foods with cholesterol is not the problem, because they only account for a small amount of cholesterol in your blood. The real problem is eating foods with unhealthy fats. These fats cause your liver to make more bad cholesterol.
Bad cholesterol from your liver – called LDL cholesterol – can get deposited inside arteries where it forms plaques with other fats called arteriosclerosis. These plaques can block blood flow that supply blood and oxygen to your brain and heart. A plaque can then rupture, form a clot, and completely cut off blood supply causing a stroke or heart attack.
The ugly fat is triglyceride. Triglycerides are the most common fats in the body. They come from saturated and trans fat in your diet and they are part of the fatty buildup that forms plaques inside arteries. The good cholesterol – called HDL – removes bad cholesterol from your blood before it can form arterial plaques and returns it to the liver where it is broken down and eliminated. The purpose of diet, lifestyle changes, and medications is to increase good cholesterol and decrease bad cholesterol and triglycerides.
Lifestyle and Diet and Statins
The best diet to increase HDL and lower LDL and triglycerides is to avoid trans fats and saturated fats. Trans fats were banned by the FDA but they may still be in some processed foods like crackers, microwave popcorn, pies, shortening, coffee creamers, margarine, packaged frosting, and frozen pizza. Saturated fats are much more common and are found in animal products, especially dairy foods and red meat. A cholesterol healthy diet is one that features fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, unsweetened foods and beverages, and vegetable oils.
Lifestyle changes include not smoking, using alcohol only in moderation, and getting about 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise every week. Exercise along with diet will help you maintain a healthy weight. Your doctor may recommend a statin drug if you still have high LDL cholesterol after a good trial of diet and lifestyle changes.
For more information about preventing and treating high cholesterol, purchase Managing Your Cholesterol.