One of the biggest factors in determining risk for heart disease is high blood cholesterol levels. Thankfully, you can affect a lot of change on those numbers if you know the underlying cause and what you can do about it.
What is Cholesterol?
To understand cholesterol, you’ll need to also realize that there are two types of cholesterol that make up your total cholesterol number. One is considered healthy and one is considered unhealthy. However, you do need both types.
Bad Cholesterol (LDL)
This is the number on your blood tests that is considered bad. The reason is that this is what helps cause plaque buildup. It causes a hard deposit to build up that will clog your arteries and make them less flexible. When a clot forms, it can narrow the artery causing blood to floor poorly. This can lead to problems such as heart attack or stroke.
Good Cholesterol (HDL)
This type of cholesterol helps remove the bad type. Plus, having a good ratio of good to bad cholesterol helps protect against the problems mentioned above such as heart attack and stroke. Low levels of HDL can lead to serious problems too and should be avoided.
There is another type of fat called Triglycerides that store extra energy (calories) you eat in your diet. Having high triglycerides is dangerous and is often found in people who are overweight and inactive people. Smoking, alcohol and a bad diet high in simple carbohydrates can suffer from high triglycerides even when they are of normal weight and BMI.
Keep in mind that for some people their numbers are affected by genetics. You can get tested for this. If you have the Lp(a) type of LDL this is something you inherited and is a marker for developing heart disease and stroke. But it can often be controlled somewhat with a combination of diet, exercise, and medication. So, you’re not destined to have issues if you have this genetic factor but you must be vigilant.
If you develop hyperlipidemia, you’ll need meds and lifestyle changes to protect yourself from cardiovascular diseases more than the average person unaffected by this problem. You can read food labels, exercise at least 20 minutes a day, and potentially try medication. The important thing to note is that you are the one who has control over your health in this case even if you have a genetic predisposition to high lipids.
How Do You Know Your Heart is Healthy?
Most people think they are perfectly healthy. They are unaware of their blood work numbers as well as the subtle signs of trouble to come. If you are experiencing any of these problems even if you’re young, you should bring it to the attention of your doctor.
One of the first signs for men who will have heart disease later in life is erectile dysfunction. Studies have shown that men with ED issues are twice as likely to have heart disease as those without.
What’s more is this sign shows up years before while there is still a chance to fix the problem using diet and exercise. Even if you’re over 50 and start suffering from bouts of ED talk to your doctor. This is not always just a sign of aging. It’s even more important to go to your doctor if you’re under 50.
If you’re female and start having issues with reaching orgasm or wanting sex it’s also important to talk to your doctor. This can be a sign of lack of blood flow which can be the result of narrowing and hardening of the arteries.
Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Most people do not like to admit that they snore. But, it’s an important sign of your health status. If your partner or anyone complains or tells you that you snore, believe them. Go to the doctor and get a sleep study to ensure that you are getting help.
Sleep apnea means that you stop breathing. Some people die in their sleep due to stopping breathing. Snoring is caused by restricted breathing. It can be a very physical thing due to excess weight, but some people who are thin still snore and have sleep apnea.
If you have this problem, you need to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Some studies are showing that these signs increase your chance of having a heart attack or dying in your sleep within five years. This is due to the lack of oxygen getting to your heart and major organs. If you are worried about this problem, get your doctor to not only order a sleep study but to test your heart too.
If you often have bleeding gums that hurt, you likely have periodontal disease. This is not just a problem with your mouth, it’s an early sign of heart disease.
This can be a huge problem since so many people don’t have dental health insurance. It’s important that you go to your dentist at least yearly but every six months is better.
Flossing and gum care on your own may not be sufficient to help avoid this problem.
There are different theories about this. One says that the bacteria produced by poor oral health may contribute to heart disease. Another says that poor oral health is a sign of heart problems due to poor circulation, not a cause of it.
Either way, according to the American Academy of Periodontology periodontal disease is under-diagnosed, so clear that it’s a good idea to make dental and oral care a priority. If you have this issue, ask your doctor to recommend the test for your heart to ensure that you are healthy.
One sign of poor heart health is inflammation. If your legs, hands, or feet swell enough that you notice lines in your ankles or feet when your socks get too tight, or an indentation where your ring goes, or any other pressure marks from your clothing that normally fits unless you start swelling this is a big sign of a problem.
Fluid retention is considered a potential sign of heart failure. If the heart isn’t pumping well enough the waste that is normally carried to your liver to be processed doesn’t happen so it starts affecting tissues that are the farthest away from your heart: feet, ankles, fingers, hands, and legs.
More than 900,000 people die from cardiovascular disease every single year. Most of them had no idea anything was wrong. So, if you notice this sign, while it’s not indicative of certain heart failure it is something in combination with other signs that should be taken very seriously by you and your doctor.
If you have an irregular heartbeat or feel as if your heart is beating too fast, or skipping a beat you may have an arrhythmia. If you have this, you can be in danger of sudden death.
It is caused by restricted blood flow to the heart. If you feel that you have this or your doctor detected it during an exam she’ll likely order an EKG and stress test to help figure out what is happening.
Essentially, they’ll hook you up to monitors and then have you walk or run on a treadmill, depending upon your health and the results they’re getting they can determine if your heart is working right. If not further tests will be done and recommendations will be made regarding diet, exercise, and medication.
Pain in Your Shoulder or Chest
Some people describe the feeling as ‘constricting’ rather than ‘pain’ but if you feel this it’s usually called “angina” and isn’t a hard pain like with a heart attack but more like an ache that you might think is a pulled muscle. Some people feel this in the jawline (especially females).
This occurs due to poor blood flow and clogged arteries. Everyone describes this ‘pain’ differently. Some say they feel heavy. Some say “full”, and yet others say it’s indigestion or heartburn because it can also occur in the lower abdominal area. If you are experiencing these symptoms on a regular basis it’s a good idea to get checked out and don’t assume it’s a pulled muscle.
If you experience these symptoms during any form of strain like sex, exercise, or stress it’s best to get checked out by your doctor. Don’t let them throw it off as a pulled muscle as is often the case. Ask for an EKG and stress test to be safe.
Shortness of Breath
If you start noticing that doing normal activities like walking up your stairs at home, at the movies, or just walking around causes shortness of breath you may want to ask your doctor to do some tests.
This is especially true if it happens with hardly any type of exertion but happens when you are angry, happy or sad. If you’re having issues at night while trying to sleep definitely see your doctor immediately.
According to the NIH, 40 percent of all heart attack victims experience shortness of breath months before the attack. If you notice a trend in these symptoms is that they are happening well in advance so that you can get checked out and get help.
Most people do not want to appear as if they’re hypochondriacs so they don’t seek medical attention when it’s clearly necessary. One problem is the pharmaceutical industry puts commercials on TV that make people think their symptoms are normal. That everyone needs to take heartburn medications all the time normalizing symptoms that could save your life if only you seek medical attention.
Myths About Heart Disease
When it comes to heart disease there are a lot of myths. These myths can be very dangerous. Since over 600K people die from heart disease every single year in the USA alone, over 45K in Canada, and more around the world this is a very important issue.
• I’m a 20-year-old woman, I don’t need to worry about heart disease.
• I can tell if I have high blood pressure without getting tested.
• I will know if I’m having a heart attack due to the excruciating chest pain.
• I can eat whatever I want if I take my meds.
• I’m a victim of my genetics.
• These pains I’m having are just signs of getting old.
• Exercise is dangerous post-heart attack.
You’ve likely thought many of these things over the years. But, the truth is, not one of these myths is reality based. Today, more than ever, because our society is so overweight, living on fast-food, and not eating enough whole plant foods we’re seeing younger and younger people suffer from clogged arteries and high cholesterol. The fact is, one in three Americans suffers from heart disease and they just don’t know it.
The best course of action is to avoid believing in these myths and get regular checkups. Monitor your weight, watch what you eat, and keep moving. Even if you do have a heart incident follow your doctor’s instructions in regard to eating right and exercising.
Many diseases simply have no notable symptoms for some people. For example, some people have high blood pressure but don’t even notice. The only way to know for sure your health status is to go to the doctor on a regular basis.
Don’t just go the doctor either and remain silent about your treatment. Doctors have many patients in their practice so you’ll need to take control of your health by asking questions when any issues present themselves. For example, if you tell your doctor about symptoms you’re having and they only recommend medications, you might want to get a new doctor, or if that’s not possible ask them to send you to a specialist or ask for more tests and natural treatment options for your case.
Alternative Health & Heart Disease
There are many confusing studies and stats that back up almost any type of treatment including many so-called alternative treatments. Please consider any type of treatment you want to do that’s not something your doctor supports or recommends. Remember, they’re the ones who went to medical school. But, at the same time, it’s your body and your life.
There are two diets that are often purported to reduce cholesterol and help make you “heart attack proof”. The low-carb diet and the high carb diet. The thing is, both seem to work at least with the studies available but in both cases, you really need to be religious about the diet.
Low Carb Diet – A whole foods low carb diet high in veggies and low in processed foods, unhealthy fat, and processed sugar seems to show an improvement in cardiovascular issues. This type of low-carb diet involves eating fish, chicken, and plants. This is not the stereotypical low carb diet where you can eat a pound of bacon each day and put butter in your coffee. Some people describe this as a Mediterranean diet without the added processed fats like olive oil.
High Carb, Low Fat Vegan Diet – It seems weird but the opposite has also been shown to improve and even reverse heart disease. This type of diet has been made popular by documentaries like Forks Over Knives and involves eating a diet rich in plants in as close to their natural state as possible without added fats. On this diet, you cannot eat any processed foods, animal products or added salt, sugar and fat.
Both diets have studies backing them up. But, any layperson can see what’s the same about these diets and then choose the one that will be easier for them to stick to long-term.
The things that are the same is the lack of processed foods, salt, sugar and added fat. Everything else is derived from whole foods. In one case, whole foods include lean meat and in the other, it does not. Both diets show promise if you stick with them for the long haul. Which one works best for you depends on your preferences.
Other alternatives such as adding coconut oil to your coffee seem risky but if you go with either of the two diets above you should be safe. Add in drinking plenty of fresh water, and moving every day and you’ll make a huge impact on your heart health. Keep in mind, some people, due to genetic factors still end up taking medication.
Common Heart Disease Risk Factors
Let’s look at some of the common heart disease risk factors. Having more knowledge about this issue can help you know what to do to prevent problems.
Family History – If your mom or dad developed heart disease before age 65 then you need to consider your propensity for developing it too. If this is the case, you want to take special care of yourself. Eat right. Exercise. Visit the doctor regularly and ask for the right tests based on your family history.
Life Style Choices – Smoking, eating a bad diet (rich in processed foods), and lack of intentional exercise are surefire ways to develop heart disease regardless of your family history. It can be hard to change these factors if you work a busy job and have a busy life but today it’s getting easier to find healthy alternatives even at Walmart where you can get a salad (leave off the fatty dressing and eggs) and a fruit bowl to go.
High Blood Pressure – If you have experienced incidences of high blood pressure you’re automatically at a higher risk of cardiovascular issues. Find out what’s contributing to it and do what you can to eliminate it. For example, you may need to go on a low sodium diet.
High Blood Cholesterol Levels – For some, this is hereditary for others it’s diet related only. Either way, you can help combat this problem by watching your diet carefully. For some people, minor changes make a big difference. For others, they need drastic changes in diet to see a difference and some may need medication.
Diabetes – In most cases, it’s type II diabetes which is the issue. Most of the time this type of diabetes can be reversed by maintaining a healthy diet void of processed food added salt, sugar, and fat. In addition, some people may need to avoid animal products like eggs and cheese to see results.
Age & Sex – You can’t do much about your biology when it comes to heart disease. Men are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease and as you get older you have more of a chance to suffer from it if you’re not taking care of yourself or don’t realize you are genetically predisposed to having a problem.
High Stress – Sometimes stress cannot be avoided. But, even people with high-stress lives due to work or family situations can do things to help combat it. Learning to meditate and let go of a controlling nature can go far in reducing stress. Sometimes, it’s just best to change the situation entirely if possible.
Poor Dental Health – If you’re not minding your oral health you could be ignoring important signs of your heart health. Bleeding gums may be a sign of poor circulation that needs to be checked out by your regular physician.
Almost all of these issues can be corrected outside of age and sex. But, it’s clear, regardless of genetic factors with the right diet and exercise (for you) program you can combat most of these risk factors if not reverse them completely.
Natural Ways to Combat High Cholesterol
There are completely natural ways that you can reduce your high cholesterol through diet and exercise without taking any drugs. Keep in mind that it might not work for all people, but due to the side effects and cost of drugs, you should at least try before taking medication if it’s okay with your doctor.
It’s just three things:
1. Eliminate Overt Fat from Your Diet
2. Eat Plenty of Plants
3. Lose Your Excess Weight
Overt Fat – This refers to adding fat to your food. For example, when you sauté veggies for soup, you really don’t need to add oil. Even adding olive oil, which is often seen as good fat can be bad for some people. Try eliminating all overt fat and oils in your cooking. This doesn’t mean you can’t eat avocado or banana two plants high in fat. This just means not to add extra fat like processed oils and butter to your food.
Eat Plants – Whether you want to eat low-carb or high-carb plants are good for you. Eating a diet rich in fiber from plants, and plant protein have been shown to reduce cholesterol (and weight) in almost anyone who does it except for some women who have PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). Those women should avoid eating too much rice and potatoes. But can eat all the other plants to satiation.
Lose Weight – The good thing is if you do the other two things, the third thing comes easy. Losing even 10 percent of your weight can mean the difference between having and not having type 2 diabetes and can lower your cholesterol exponentially.
Even if you can’t move a muscle, doing this will help with your high cholesterol a lot. In a few cases, you’ll need to add more exercise. In others, you may still need medication but why not give it a try to see what happens. Give it 90 days and see what a big change in health you end up with.
Things You Can Do Now to Reduce Your Heart Disease Risks
If you found out today that you have high cholesterol, it’s time to take a deep look into your lifestyle and find out what you can do to change. It’s not just up to doctors to fix you. It’s up to you to accept that this is in your power to fix.
Be Honest About Your Risks – If you have noted that you have several risk factors then it’s up to you to address each one. Don’t just try to fix one thing, instead identify each risk factor, then eliminate the ones that you can naturally.
Get Serious About Your Diet – No one is perfect. The good news is that the 80/20 rule applies to diet and lifestyle too. If you are doing a good job with diet 80 percent of the time you’re likely not going to ruin everything if 20 percent of the time you enjoy a big steak and sour cream on your baked potato. Unless you’re a heart patient already, this should not matter that much.
Make Small Changes – Instead of thinking you have to do it all today, try making small changes. For example, if you normally eat steak every Monday night, why not substitute it for grilled chicken or salmon. If you normally eat meat as your main meal, try making meat a condiment such as with one pan meals and stir-fries remembering to avoid added oils.
Get Moving – If you are very sedentary, don’t decide to join a gym and run 10K right away. Instead, experiment with different activities that get you moving so that you can find the right way to keep moving. Walking even 10 minutes a day is better than nothing.
Finally, find a partner to do it with. If you have people around you who support your efforts and are doing the same thing it will be much easier to stick to. If you don’t know anyone, turn to the internet and sites like meetup.com to find like-minded people to befriend and get healthy with.
10 Ways to Reduce Bad Cholesterol Levels
If you really want to get serious you can reduce your cholesterol levels within 90 days if you implement these 10 ways to reduce bad cholesterol levels starting today.
1. Walk Every Day – Even if you can only turn on music and march up and down in your home, for 10 minutes. Do it. Moving is imperative for good health.
2. Add Weight Bearing Exercise – When you get used to moving, to add some difficulty to it, add some weights to your wrists and ankles. This will cause you to burn more calories but also will help build muscles.
3. Add Fruit & Veggies to Your Diet – If you normally fill your plate with meat, starch and little veggies, make half of your plate veggies. Eat fruit for a dessert.
4. Start Your Day Right – If you get up and get exercise out of the way you’re going to feel better all day long. Plus, if you start your day with something healthy that gives your body a surge of vitamins rather than fat, calories, and caffeine you’re on the right track.
5. Chew Your Calories – While smoothies are good for you, too much of a good thing can be causing you to gain weight. Some smoothies can clock in at over 1200 calories a serving. Instead, focus on chewing your calories unless you need to gain weight.
6. Limit Nuts – Nuts are good for you in moderation but for some people are a dangerous food. If you can’t stop at one handful a day, then you might consider avoiding them all together or only adding them in a measured amount to other food.
7. Eat Less Meat – The fat in chicken and the fat in steak isn’t that different. Although if you’re going to eat meat eating chicken over a steak is better. But having some meatless days will do a lot more for your health than substitutions.
8. Practice Deep Breathing – This might seem odd but you can exercise without running if you learn deep breathing techniques. Deep breathing helps you get more oxygen to your heart and helps reduce stress.
9. Wash Your Hands – This may seem odd but a lot of illness can be prevented by simply washing your hands enough. Anti-bacterial sanitizers really aren’t enough. You need to use soap and water and wash your hands under running water to help prevent disease.
10. Start a Gratitude Journal – Learning how to be grateful for your life can do wonders for your health. If you suffer from stress and are having problems in your personal life a gratitude journal can make a big difference in your outlook on life.
These ten ways to help you lower your cholesterol can change your life. Start today and do them for 90 days. Note where you are right now in terms of your health, then see how much better off you are in 90 days.
Simple Substitutes to a Heart Healthy Diet
It’s not that hard to subtly change things and make a big impact on your health. All it takes is the willingness to try. Don’t automatically assume you won’t like something. Plus, if you don’t like something there are many other things you can eat that you might like. So, don’t give up experimenting.
Fruit = Dessert – This might not sound that great to you right this minute. Especially if you just polished off your grandma’s famous pound cake. But you can eat fruit for dessert and feel completely satisfied. You can create all kinds of desserts from fruit that are tasty and healthy.
Protein = Protein – Everyone is always up in arms about protein. Most adults don’t need more than 10 to 15 percent of their daily intake of protein. Some studies have shown reducing that to about 8 to 10 percent provides many benefits for the heart and kidneys.
Also, studies show that plant-based protein is better for you than animal based protein when it comes to heart disease and the myth of the complete protein has been shattered. This means that most adults will get enough daily protein from just one serving of chicken or by eating a couple of cups of black beans.
Beverages – You should try to eat all your food and drink water for your hydration. You’re going to enjoy eating a whole orange better than drinking OJ from a glass and your body will appreciate it too. Plus, fruit does hydrate your body just as well as drinking something. There are some prepared drinks that are just natural fruit flavors and water that you can use on occasion for something different.
Fun – Most people today have fun by going out to eat. Try to replace eating out with doing something active. For example, if you were going to spend 50 dollars eating out, why not eat in, and then use that 50 dollars to buy some good hiking shoes and take up hiking. Or, you could go play miniature golf or go bowling.
Anytime you can find a healthy substitute for your life it will make it easier than just giving up something cold turkey. Each day just imagine, if I do “this” instead of “this” how will it affect me today and in the future. Obviously, making the choice to go for a 30-minute walk and listening to your favorite books is better than laying down and reading if you won’t have time to get moving. Think of it as a gain, instead of a subtraction.
Simple Heart-Healthy Meal Ideas
Cooking healthy doesn’t have to be difficult. While you can increase your chopping time and prep time cooking healthy, there are ways to cut down on that too.
Chicken & Veggie Meal
This meal is super easy. Buy a pre-roasted chicken from your grocery store, tear off the skin before carving. Save the dark meat for another recipe where meat isn’t the center of the meal. Cook some wild rice in your rice cooker, steam some veggies in your microwave. That’s it, you have an entire meal. The trick here is to make half your plate veggies 1/4 rice, and 1/4 meat.
White Bean Soup
This meal is also easy because you can use canned northern beans. Toss a bag of frozen onion, celery, bell pepper mix into your slow cooker. Throw in two cans rinsed and drained northern beans. 1 to 2 boxes veggie broth depending on how thin you want it. Bring to a boil and when onions are clear add in a small bag of mixed veggies any type you like. You can find freshly chopped veggies in your grocery or you can use frozen. Boil for about 10 more minutes. Season with cumin, chili powder, and other seasonings that you enjoy.
You can use frozen hash browns for this. Look at the label though and avoid the ones with added fat. Trader Joes has fat free frozen potatoes that only have potatoes as the ingredient. Then use a big frozen bag of mixed veggies, such as broccoli, squash, zucchini mixture (sometimes the fajita mix is good for this). Add seasonings. Mix together and bake in the oven for about an hour while you get ready. Adding some black beans can boost the protein.
Baked Sweet Potato Meal
So often we convince ourselves that every meal must have every single element to make it healthy. This is not true. You can bake a sweet potato, top it with black beans and greens and have a complete meal very quickly especially if you use your microwave which has shown to maintain nutrients better than other cooking methods.
As you can see it’s not that hard to make your meals healthier. All you must do is think about what you’re putting in them. Nothing at all is wrong with buying pre-cut veggies from your grocery store or frozen. Just check for additives and buy the ones with no oil and fewer additives and preservatives. Don’t try to make it hard. Simple meals, one-pot meals, are often better.
Heart health and cholesterol levels often go together. It’s imperative that you keep tabs on your health with your doctor but also take matters into your own hands to help improve your chances of living a long, healthy life without the risk of heart disease and high cholesterol. Hopefully, this information has helped you figure out how to change your life for the better. You can do it.