A Quick Guide to Cholesterol: What Is It and Should You Lower It?

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If you have ever gone to the doctor, read a health blog, or watched television, you have probably heard the term “cholesterol,” but if you’re like many people, you may not know exactly what it is. Simply put, cholesterol is a waxy substance that your liver creates and then distributes around your body. However, you can also find cholesterol in your food, especially if you eat a lot of products that are high in trans fats.

CholesterolWhile it’s true that your body needs cholesterol to survive, putting too much extra into your system can be unhealthy. Depending on your age, your doctor may already check your cholesterol when you go in for a checkup, but if you want to be sure, simply ask if you need to lower yours.

How Too Much Cholesterol Affects Your Body

High cholesterol can affect your body in a number of ways. Most commonly, it can affect your heart. When you have too much cholesterol, it will begin to rest and harden in your arteries, clogging them and making it more difficult for blood to pump to your heart. When this happens, clots can begin to form, sometimes leading to heart attack or other heart-related problems.

High cholesterol levels also affect your overall energy levels. Even if they do not cause you to have a heart attack, your heart will still be working overtime to compensate for the clogged arteries. Because of this, your body will use energy faster, meaning you will tire out more quickly as you go about your everyday activities.

If your cholesterol levels are too high, you may find that you have issues with your digestive system. In severe cases, you could develop gallstones or a clot that blocks your stomach and kidneys. If either of these situations arise, you may notice nausea, vomiting, pain or blood in the stool, in which case you should see your doctor as soon as possible. Less commonly, it may cause jaw pain or numb legs.

Finally, high cholesterol can cause you to have a stroke. Just because you don’t have a heart attack, doesn’t mean you don’t have clogged arteries that have created a blood clot. If a clot bursts, you could have a stroke. Strokes can be minor, serious or even fatal. Most commonly, they cause problems with speech, movement and memory.

How to Lower Your Cholesterol

If your cholesterol levels are too high, it is very important for you to do everything you can to lower them as soon as possible. If your levels are severely above the recommended limits, your doctor may prescribe medication that helps to lower it for you. Never take someone else’s cholesterol medication because doing so could cause serious side effects that leave you even worse off than if you just had high cholesterol.

Most people begin to lower their cholesterol by taking up an exercise regimen. Any type of exercise is better than none at all, but most doctors recommend at least 30 minutes of cardio per day. Many people find exercise boring, but you would be surprised at what counts as cardio. It doesn’t mean you need to slave away at the gym. You could play a game of tennis, go for a long swim, or even go hiking. The possibilities are nearly endless.

Finally, one of the most important ways to lower your cholesterol is to cut back on or completely remove fat-laden foods from your diet. Switch out red meat and poultry for fish or other types of seafood, and trade in your full fat creams, milks and other dairy products for reduced fat or fat-free alternatives.

Many people hear they need to change their eating habits and get scared, but changing how you eat does not mean you need to stop treating yourself to your favorite foods. Many companies are creating healthier alternatives to traditional staples. For example, Hamptoncreek Foods now sells cholesterol-free cookie dough that they made without eggs.

It is important to remember that not all cholesterol is bad cholesterol. Your body does need some cholesterol in order to create Vitamin D, make hormones, and build up the substances you need to properly digest food. In addition, you should never begin a diet or exercise plan without first talking to your doctor. Your doctor will be able to check your levels and determine whether you are truly at risk, and if so, how you should treat the problem.

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