High Cholesterol: What’s the Deal With That?

Trimming the fat…it’s not what you want to hear this Thanksgiving season, but it’s what you need to hear to get ahead of your heart health. High cholesterol is the common culprit of life-threatening conditions like atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke – and when you’re in the harvest season of the year, you’re due for an extra lesson on the risks of fatty foods. 

So put down the devilled egg and pick up your reading glasses because we’re taking you on a “scroll” through the world of high cholesterol. 

So…What Is Cholesterol? 

Cholesterol often gets a bad name, but despite its infamous reputation, you might be surprised to learn that it’s actually completely necessary for your body’s proper functioning. These waxy, fatty molecules help your body build new cells and create hormones – which means that, like many things in life, the cholesterol conundrum is really more about moderation than total elimination.

A Jekyll & Hyde Effect

While there are many types of cholesterol, there are two main types that you should understand: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Unfortunately, as good as one is for the body, the other can wreak havoc in equal measure. This dichotomy sets the scene for a Jekyll and Hyde effect that shows the dual nature of cholesterol and how it works in our bodies. 

Jekyll: The Good Cholesterol

Your liver is in charge of your body’s cholesterol production, and if left alone, it could theoretically produce all of the cholesterol you would ever need without any input from your diet or supplements. This self-sustaining system creates the healthy kind of molecule known as HDL cholesterol, which can protect against heart disease and stroke when it exists in the right quantity in your bloodstream.  

In addition to creating cells and hormones, HDL cholesterol acts like a chimney sweep, cleaning up any of the bad cholesterol molecules and returning them to the liver for processing. 

But the liver doesn’t live in a vacuum, and your dietary intake can affect the amount of bad cholesterol in your system…which ushers in the Mr. Hyde of the cholesterol question: LDL.  

Hyde: The Bad Cholesterol

As opposed to HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol contributes to a number of harmful conditions that pose serious risks to the body. By creating fatty buildups in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis, LDL cholesterol can narrow the arteries, increasing the likelihood of heart attack or stroke. 

All in all, when your body has more of this “Hyde-like” bad cholesterol, or when it doesn’t have enough of the “Jekyll-like” good cholesterol, you may be at risk. 

There are other cholesterol components that increase risk, some of which are genetic some of which are not. At ZüpMed, we typically measure beyond just LDL and HDL so we can see the full picture. (Ask us about our Cleveland Heart Lab testing.)   

How We Measure Cholesterol

The best way to stay ahead of your cholesterol levels is to check them regularly and follow your doctor’s instructions to reduce your risk as needed. To determine how much good and bad cholesterol exists in your system, ZüpMed will conduct bloodwork and order a lipid panel. This test will then show us your total HDL, LDL, and triglyceride levels to help us estimate your risk of developing issues related to this profile.  

Normal cholesterol levels typically look like this: 

  • Less than 200 mg/dL of total cholesterol
  • More than 60 mg/dL of HDL cholesterol
  • Less than 100 mg/dL of LDL cholesterol
  • Less than 150 mg/dL of triglycerides

If your results are higher than normal, we’ll categorize your numbers into one of the following: borderline, intermediate, or high-risk for cardiovascular problems and have discussions on medications or additional testing that can modify your risk.  

Who Should Get a Cholesterol Test

Regular screenings are your best bet, but the frequency at which you should be screened depends on a variety of factors, including age, genetic background, and current health status. 

The American Heart Association recommends screening every 4-6 years beginning at the age of 20.   

Your doctor may recommend additional screening if you check any of the following: 

  • You have diabetes
  • You are overweight or obese
  • You smoke cigarettes
  • You have a family history of high cholesterol

Next Steps: Prevention & Management

It’s not all lipid panels and cholesterol levels! The most important factor affecting your cholesterol levels is you, which means you have the power to feed into the “Jekyll” over the “Hyde,” or the good cholesterol over the bad – and we’re here to help you do exactly that. 

High Cholesterol: What's the Deal With That?

Your Cholesterol To-Do List

#1: Adjust Your Diet

Because all of the excess cholesterol in your system comes from your diet, adopting a heart-healthy menu can reduce your risk of cholesterol-related conditions. The key to this step is limiting fat, and while this is no one’s favorite chore, there are several ways you can do this. 

You might want to be sitting down for this one: we recommend limiting or avoiding red or processed meats altogether. You should also steer clear of whole milk and opt for skim instead. And finally, you should cut down on the fried foods (for Memphians, this one hurts). 

Overall, the goal is to get your saturated fats to less than 10% of your daily calorie intake, and that may take some sacrifices – but they’re worth it! 

#2: Exercise, Exercise, Exercise

A body in motion tends to stay in motion, and motion is what you need to limit your LDL levels. Getting active can take a number of different forms – a brisk walk, a rousing pickleball game, chair yoga, or whatever you can manage. As long as you’re moving, you’re reducing your cholesterol. 

#3: Shed Some Lbs

If you’re working a heart-healthy diet and exercising, you’re well on your way to checking off this little number. Losing weight by even a marginal amount can help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels. 

#4: Quit Smoking

It’s been a long time since doctors recommended the habit, so there’s no excuse for keeping this vice in your shirt pocket, especially if you’re concerned about your cholesterol. Smoking and vaping can decrease your HDL count, which in turn can cause major problems. 

#5: Join ZüpMed’s Cardiometabolic Program

Following through on the steps above can sometimes feel impossible without a strong support system. By joining our cardiometabolic program, you’ll get access to a realistic plan that can help you prevent or manage your cholesterol levels and maintain a heart-healthy state. 

You don’t have to go it alone. We’re here to help. 

High Cholesterol: What's the Deal With That?

Becoming Heart-Healthy Starts with a Team You Can Trust

High cholesterol may seem like a complicated issue, but it doesn’t have to be. With our team of experts by your side to encourage and guide you through a heart-healthy lifestyle, you’ll improve your cholesterol levels and feel better faster than you would on your own. 

Want to learn more about our Cardiometabolic Program? Call our office to speak with a team member!