When it comes to heart health, your cholesterol and blood pressure numbers count. High cholesterol, especially when combined with high blood pressure, is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke. It is important to note that not all cholesterol is bad cholesterol. Learning more about how your numbers affect your heart is one of the best ways to lower your risk for heart disease.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that comes naturally from your liver and from the food you eat. Cholesterol helps your body perform important functions that are necessary for daily life. When you eat foods that are high in saturated and trans fats, such as meat and full-fat dairy products, your liver produces more cholesterol. Excess cholesterol traveling through the bloodstream can form plaque in your artery walls. Over time, the plaque in the arteries can harden and restrict oxygen-rich blood to the heart. If the plaque happens to break open, blood clots can form, which can then lead to a blocked artery that supplies blood to the heart.
The higher the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) in your blood, the greater the chances of developing heart disease.
What numbers should you look for in cholesterol?
- Total cholesterol level
- LDL (“bad” cholesterol)
- HDL (“good” cholesterol)
How to lower cholesterol and blood pressure
- Eat a well-balanced diet low in saturated fats and trans fats
- Choose lean cuts of meat or go meatless a few times per week
- Use minimal amounts of fat and oils
- Keep sodium levels to 1500mg/day or less
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Start an exercise plan
- Quit smoking