What is cholesterol?
Your body needs some cholesterol to work properly. But if you have too much in your blood, it can stick to the walls of your arteries and narrow or even block them. This puts you at risk for coronary artery disease and other heart diseases.
Cholesterol travels through the blood on proteins called lipoproteins. One type, LDL, is sometimes called the "bad" cholesterol. A high LDL level leads to a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries. Another type, HDL, is sometimes called the "good" cholesterol. It carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver. Then your liver removes the cholesterol from your body.
There are steps that you can take to lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise your HDL (good) cholesterol. By keeping your cholesterol levels in range, you can lower your risk of heart diseases.
What are the treatments for high cholesterol?
The main treatments for high cholesterol are lifestyle changes and medicines.
Lifestyle changes to lower cholesterol
Heart-healthy lifestyle changes that can help you lower or control your cholesterol include:
- Heart-healthy eating. A heart-healthy eating plan limits the amount of saturated and trans fats that you eat. It recommends that you eat and drink only enough calories to stay at a healthy weight and avoid weight gain. It encourages you to choose a variety of nutritious foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Examples of eating plans that can lower your cholesterol include the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet and the DASH eating plan.
- Weight Management. If you are overweight, losing weight can help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol. This is especially important for people with metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors that includes high triglyceride levels, low HDL (good) cholesterol levels, and being overweight with a large waist measurement (more than 40 inches for men and more than 35 inches for women).
- Physical Activity. Everyone should get regular physical activity (30 minutes on most, if not all, days).
- Managing stress. Research has shown that chronic stress can sometimes raise your LDL cholesterol and lower your HDL cholesterol.
- Quitting smoking. Quitting smoking can raise your HDL cholesterol. Since HDL helps to remove LDL cholesterol from your arteries, having more HDL can help to lower your LDL cholesterol.
Medicines to lower cholesterol
For some people, making lifestyle changes alone does not their lower cholesterol enough. They may also need to take medicines. There are several types of cholesterol-lowering drugs available. They work in different ways and can have different side effects. Talk to your health care provider about which medicine is right for you.
Even if you take medicines to lower your cholesterol, you still need to continue with lifestyle changes.
Lipoprotein apheresis to lower cholesterol
Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is an inherited form of high cholesterol. Some people who have FH may get a treatment called lipoprotein apheresis. This treatment uses a filtering machine to remove LDL cholesterol from the blood. Then the machine returns the rest of the blood back to the person.
Supplements to lower cholesterol
Some companies sell supplements that they say can lower cholesterol. Researchers have studied many of these supplements, including red yeast rice, flaxseed, and garlic. At this time, there isn't conclusive evidence that any of them are effective in lowering cholesterol levels. Also, supplements may cause side effects and interactions with medicines. Always check with your health care provider before you take any supplements.
- Being active when you have heart disease (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Cholesterol - what to ask your doctor (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Cholesterol and lifestyle (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Cholesterol Levels (National Library of Medicine) Also in Spanish
- Give your heart a workout (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Healthy habits for weight loss (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Heart disease - risk factors (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- How to take statins (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Managing your weight with healthy eating (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Tips on how to quit smoking (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Tips to Reduce Salt and Sodium (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute) - PDF
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Hypercholesterolemia (National Institutes of Health)