Your blood cholesterol numbers are important to know, as they are a way of assessing or evaluating your future risk of heart disease. One number to pay attention to is your “bad” or LDL cholesterol. LDL stands for low density lipoprotein and is an important carrier of cholesterol throughout the body. Since cholesterol is a type of fat and because fat and water don’t mix, in order for cholesterol to be transported in the watery blood throughout the body, it requires a transport vehicle. Think of it sort of like hailing down a taxi or calling an Uber driver to take you from point A to point B.
Once fats are broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream, cholesterol hitches a ride with the body’s solution of providing a transport vehicle to take cholesterol where it needs to go. There are certain proteins that function as a transport vehicle carrying different types of fat such as cholesterol, triglycerides, and phospholipids. These combinations of fats and protein are termed lipoproteins with LDL being one of the body’s lipoproteins.
LDL cholesterol is termed “bad” because this type of cholesterol is carried throughout the body in the blood being deposited within artery walls contributing to plaque formation. Plaque is a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries making them less flexible and can lead to atherosclerosis.
Having high LDL cholesterol places a person at a higher risk of developing heart disease if it is left untreated. But there are certain steps one can take to reduce or prevent high LDL levels. Of course, there are many cholesterol medications that can help lower LDL levels by varying degrees however, making therapeutic lifestyle changes can be a more active way of achieving and maintaining an improved LDL number.
The recommended LDL numbers for both men and women are listed below:
· Less than 100 mg/dl – Optimal
· 100-129 mg/dl – Near optimal/above optimal
· 130-159 mg/dl – Borderline high
· 160-189 mg/dl – High
· 190 mg/dl and above – Very high
To help reach the optimal LDL level reducing the risk of heart disease, here are 5 smart strategies anyone can do to improve their LDL number:
1. Make every bite count
Diet can play an important role in lowering your LDL cholesterol. Foods that are high in soluble fiber and phytosterols have been found to be helpful in lowering LDL cholesterol. Here is a list of the top foods doing their part of lowering LDL numbers:
· Walnuts, almonds and other nuts such as pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, and peanuts
· Olive oil
· Apples, grapes, strawberries, and citrus fruit
· Fiber supplements containing psyllium such as Metamucil and other bulk-forming laxatives
2. Maintain a healthy body weight
Carrying excess weight not only increases the likelihood of elevated LDL numbers but also contributes to the development of heart disease. Losing even just 5 to 10 percent of current body weight can have a positive impact on improving LDL numbers. Once a heathier body weight is achieved, maintaining it is important in that studies have indicated LDL cholesterol can lower to a better number as long as weight loss is long-term.
3. Become physically active
Exercise and physical activity not only can help achieve a healthy body weight but it may also be of help to lowering LDL cholesterol. Aerobic exercise of brisk running, jogging, bicycling, and swimming appear to benefit cholesterol the most by lowering LDL by about 5 to 10 percent. Other forms of exercise, such as yoga waking, and weight-bearing exercise, have been shown to modestly decrease LDL levels.
4. Stop smoking
Smoking is not only linked to higher cholesterol levels in general, but it also can lead to the formation of a damaging from of LDL called oxidized LDL. Oxidized LDL is a form of LDL that contributes to atherosclerosis. Research has shown that as soon as a person quits smoking, their cholesterol levels as well as oxidized forms of LDL decrease,
5. Alcohol and LDL levels
Even though moderate consumption of alcohol may significantly raise HDL levels while also lowering LDL by about 4 to 8 percent, it does not mean drinking more alcohol will necessarily equal better results in terms of improving heart health. Drinking more than three drinks containing alcohol a day could have the opposite effect of increasing the risk of raising LDL and thus increasing heart disease.
Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel’s Medical A-Team. Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, SamadiMD.com and Facebook