If you suffer from high cholesterol, then you know how important it is to get your cholesterol back down to a healthy level. Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance that is mostly made from the liver, and when at healthy levels it plays an essential role in brain and nerve function. However, when cholesterol levels in the blood reach levels that are considered to be high, fatty deposits composed of both cholesterol and calcium accumulate in the arteries, which make it difficult for blood to flow through them, and this subsequently increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

While high cholesterol can be inherited, it’s more often due to unhealthy lifestyle choices. One of the most common reasons for high cholesterol is diet; such as eating foods that contain saturated fats (i.e. animal products such as red meat, full-fat dairy products, and baked goods such as cookies, pastries, and crackers.) In addition, obesity, lack of physical activity, smoking, and diabetes are also contributing factors of high cholesterol. Certain medications can also cause an increase in cholesterol levels. The best way to reduce your cholesterol and get it back to a healthy level is to change your lifestyle, which is entirely within your control. This means eating healthy and getting regular exercise.

When it comes to the food you eat, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends having a low-salt diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains. Some great foods with cholesterol-lowering activity include almonds, apples, avocado, barley, beans, carrots, garlic, grapefruit, mushrooms, oats, brown rice, soybeans and walnuts. When cooking, instead of using butter, opt for olive oil. Because certain animal fats can also contribute to high cholesterol, you should limit those and only eat them in moderation. Alcohol should also be avoided.

If you’re a smoker, consider asking your physician for tips on smoking cessation. Cigarette smoke can damage the walls of the blood vessels, increase the accumulation of fatty deposits, and will lower your HDL level – also known as the “good” cholesterol. Having diabetes also contributes to high cholesterol, and high blood sugar levels can damage the lining of the arteries, so it’s important to ensure that you have your diabetes under control.

Despite making as many changes as you can to get your cholesterol back to a healthy level, there can also be complications as a result of high cholesterol – the most concerning being heart attack and stroke. During a heart attack, blood flow to your heart stops; similar to a heart attack is a stoke, where blood to the brain is blocked by a blood clot. These can be life-threatening and potentially fatal conditions. Chest pain is also often associated with high cholesterol, especially if you have coronary artery disease. For more information on how cholesterol and the heart go together, visit www.heartandstroke.ca.

High cholesterol typically has no symptoms, therefore the only way it can be diagnosed is through a blood test ordered by a physician. If your cholesterol levels aren’t where they need to be, your physician may suggest having your blood tested on a more frequent basis – especially if there is a family history of high cholesterol or if you have other risk factors as mentioned above.

Whether you have high cholesterol or not, Dr. Ghahary says that everyone should strive to eat as healthy as possible. For more healthy eating tips, click here.