High Cholesterol

Symptoms of high cholesterol levels and information on the benefits of lower cholesterol.

Select a Topic

  1. What is High Cholesterol?
  2. Diagnosing High Cholesterol
  3. What Causes High Cholesterol?
  4. Help for High Cholesterol
  5. More Information on High Cholesterol

What is High Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is something we all have. This fat-like substance is found in every cell in your body and plays an important role in a variety of vital functions, including building and maintaining cell membranes, hormone synthesis, and the manufacturing of Vitamin D.

However, the body naturally manufactures adequate amounts of cholesterol to sustain optimal body functioning and so any extra cholesterol added through our diet, is unnecessary and when levels become too high cholesterol becomes potentially dangerous.

The body manufactures two types of cholesterol - LDL (which is seen as a bad form of cholesterol) and HDL (which is seen as a good form of cholesterol).

When LDL levels are too high, fatty deposits, or plaque, can start to build up on the walls of your arteries, decreasing the amount of blood that can flow through them and putting you at greater risk of heart attacks, stroke, arteriosclerosis or coronary heart disease.

Healthy levels of HDL will help to clean away cholesterol in the arteries before it has a chance to build up. In order to maintain healthy levels, we need to keep the LDL levels down and the HDL levels up.

Being diagnosed with high cholesterol can be a scary thing and it is something that cannot be ignored. The good news is that cholesterol can be controlled and many people use this as an opportunity to make positive life-style changes.

Diagnosing High Cholesterol

To test your cholesterol levels, your physician will take a blood sample which is later sent to a laboratory for a lipid profile or analysis. This analysis will be able to tell you what your levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) and triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood) are.

What are the Symptoms of High Cholesterol?

Like high blood pressure which is often referred to as the silent killer, high cholesterol generally has no symptoms and is usually only discovered during a routine check up or when something goes wrong.
If your cholesterol levels are very high, you may notice small yellow nodules beneath the skin of your eyes, eyebrows or elbows.

However, a blood test is the only way to determined cholesterol levels and according to the American Heart Association, all adults over the age of 20 should have their cholesterol levels checked every 3-5 years, especially if they are overweight, already have a cholesterol problem or if there is a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol.


Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood and there are some standard guidelines that will help you determine if your cholesterol levels are too high.

Standard Guidelines for Healthy Cholesterol Levels

The following cholesterol levels are considered desirable:

Total cholesterol: below 200 mg/dL
LDL cholesterol: between 100 and 130 mg/dL
HDL cholesterol: above 40 mg/dL
Triglycerides: below 150 mg/dL


Keep in mind that cholesterol levels will change from person to person depending on the presence or absence of a number of factors that may put you at increased risk of heart disease. These factors include smoking, age, family history, blood pressure levels as well as HDL cholesterol levels. For the most accurate measurements, don't eat or drink anything (other than water) for nine to 12 hours before the blood test

What Causes High Cholesterol?

There is a definite link between high cholesterol levels and a diet high in dietary cholesterol and saturated fat, although genetic factors also play an important role. Smoking, diabetes, being overweight and insufficient exercise can also contribute to high cholesterol levels.

Help for High Cholesterol

It is very important to take steps to control your cholesterol levels. If it is left untreated, high cholesterol can result in serious medical consequences such as heart disease or a stroke.

The good news is that high cholesterol can be well controlled by combining a healthy lifestyle with the correct medical treatment. Treatment can include synthetic prescription medication and other therapies.

Research has demonstrated that a combination of  regular exercise and dietary changes can make a significant difference to LDL levels and reduce or even eliminate the need for prescription drugs.

Conventional Medical Treatments For High Cholesterol

Many people are prescribed synthetic medication to help reduce their high cholesterol. In response to soaring rates of high cholesterol and atherosclerosis, the pharmaceutical companies have produced a class of drugs which are collectively known as statins.

Statins have a one dimensional effect of reducing the body's ability to synthesize cholesterol. They do not, however, distinguish between the 'bad' cholesterol (LDL) and the 'good' cholesterol (HDL) and can also reduce levels of Co-enzyme Q10 and L-carnitine, two very important molecules which are involved in energy production and fat metabolism.

Myalgia and even stomach, lung and liver tumors have also been associated with the use of these drugs. It is very important that people who are taking prescription medication for high cholesterol be regularly monitored by their doctor.

More information on High Cholesterol

It is very important to take steps to control your cholesterol levels. If it is left untreated, high cholesterol can result in serious medical consequences such as heart disease or a stroke.

The Facts about Fats
  • Modern day society has taught us that "fats" are bad and while we so often try to avoid them, they are usually present in most of the tasty foods we all like to eat. The fact is that we all need fats.

    A certain amount of dietary fat helps in some very important bodily processes such as nutrient absorption, nerve transmission, maintaining cell membranes and hormone production.

    However, when consumed in excess, fats can lead to a number of health concerns such as weight gain, heart disease and certain types of cancer.
  • It is important to replace the bad fats with good fats in our diet, an essential key in trying to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Bad fats include saturated and trans fats, while good fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
  • Limit the amount of saturated fats consumed. Saturated fats are mainly found in animal products such as meat, dairy, eggs and certain types of seafood (especially shell fish). Plant foods that are high in saturated fats include coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil.
  • Trans fats are another type of bad fat with absolutely no nutritional benefit and should be at the top of the list of fats to avoid. Also known as trans fatty acids this unhealthy substance is man-made through a chemical process of hydrogenation of oils.

    This hydrogenation process solidifies liquid oils and increases the shelf life and the flavor stability of oils and the foods that contain them.

    Unfortunately, Trans fats are found in many tasty treats including products with vegetable shortenings, most margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods, fast foods (especially French fries) and the list goes on.
  • Monounsaturated fats are known as good fats as they lower total cholesterol as well as LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), while increasing the HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) in your system. In moderation, these fats are good for you and can be found in nuts, canola, and olive oil.
  • Polyunsaturated fats are also a good source of fats as they too lower LDL cholesterol. Foods containing polyunsaturated fats include salmon and fish oil, most grain products, soy, and sunflower oil.

    Some mayonnaise and soft margarine may also be good sources, but this will differ between brands so be sure to check the product label.


Tips for Managing High Cholesterol
  • Try replacing bad fats with healthy fats. The daily recommended amount of healthy fat should be near 25 g. When you do eat "bad fats", make sure it is not often and limit the amount of these fats where possible.
    For example, you can reduce saturated fat intake by making the meat potion of your meal far smaller than your portion of vegetables and whole grains, by opting for low-fat or fat-free products and choosing lean and skinless meat.
  • Replace your cooking oils that are high in saturated fats or trans fats with fats high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats such as canola oil, olive oil and flax seed oil. Also look for soft margarines that include plant- sterols, as these lower cholesterol levels (also present in some orange juices).

    Foods to eat: garlic, fish such as tuna and salmon, nuts (especially walnuts and almonds), oatmeal and oat bran, soy, beans, lentils, sweet potatoes, fruits, vegetables (carrots are especially good), whole-grain, and high-fiber foods. When choosing dairy products, always opt for the fat-free and low-fat products.

    Foods to avoid: many processed foods, French fries, doughnuts, cookies, crackers, muffins, pies, pastries and cakes, egg yolks, duck, organ meats (such as chicken livers, brains, hearts, kidneys, or sweetbreads), shellfish snacks and meats that are high in saturated fats, fried food, whole-milk dairy products, butter, cream, ice cream, cream cheese.
  • If high cholesterol is a known problem, or tends to run in your family, make sure you get your levels checked at least every 3 years.
  • Smoking dramatically increases your chances or heart disease and so if you already have a problem with your cholesterol levels, to continue smoking puts your heart health at serious risk. If you do smoke, then perhaps its time to consider quitting smoking naturally!
  • Maintain a healthy weight. One of the first steps to lowering your cholesterol is to lose excess body weight. While many people find this is the most difficult part, with a little dedication, a healthy diet, regular exercise, and some help from a reputable weight-loss program your can gradually work towards your goal weight.
  • Keep physically active. Exercise helps to raise HDL levels and lower LDL levels, and is especially important for people who are overweight, and those who have high triglyceride and/or low HDL levels.
  • If you do drink alcohol, then do so in moderation as binge drinking or excessive alcohol intake can increase your chances of heart conditions. Some research shows that moderate intake of certain alcohol, particularly red wine, shows a small increase in HDL or "good" cholesterol. Remember that ‘moderate’ refers to no more than one or two glasses daily!


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