High cholesterol is generally a silent condition however when it deposits in vessels, the organs to which those vessels supply blood can show signs. If vessels in the heart are affected, then individuals can have a heart attack or angina (chest pain felt on exertion). Blood vessels of the brain being affected can lead to stroke, while those in the extremities can lead to pain or overt gangrene.
The diagnosis of high cholesterol is made using a blood test. Your doctor will ask you to get a lipoprotein panel (lipid profile) to determine the levels of cholesterol in your blood. The blood test looks at your levels of LDL, HDL, triglycerides, and total cholesterol. You will be diagnosed with high cholesterol if your numbers are greater than the following standards:
- HDL cholesterol: 50 mg/dL or higher
- LDL cholesterol: less than 100 mg/dL
- Total cholesterol: less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)
Your doctor will also ask for a full medical history and give you a physical exam which included checking your blood pressure and listening to your heart.
Treatment starts with changing one’s lifestyle. Exercise and healthy eating are a must to help prevent further damage to organs. Making these changes can help to not only lower bad cholesterol but also increase the good variety. Medications called statins are also used to lower LDL cholesterol. If vital organs like the heart or brain are severely affected, surgery may be required.
Alternative Treatments and Home Remedies
Be sure to check with your doctor before you take any supplements, vitamins, or herbal, to make sure they are safe and to not interact with medications you are taking. Alternative treatments for high cholesterol include:
Ginger. Studies have shown that ginger can lower cholesterol levels and help to boost HDL cholesterol.
Hawthorn. The berries, leaves, and flowers of this shrub have been used to treat heart-related problems for centuries.
Garlic. Can be eaten cooked or raw. Garlic may help to lower blood cholesterol levels and lower pressure while slowing the progression of atherosclerosis.
Soluble fiber. Lowers the absorption of cholesterol in the blood. Many foods contain soluble fiber like fruit (pears, peaches, oranges, etc.), potatoes, oatmeal, whole grains bread and pasta, and legumes.
Omega-3 fatty acids. Known to lower triglycerides, prevent blood clots, decrease inflammation, and raise good cholesterol (HDL). Cold-water fish like salmon, tuna, herring, and sardines are a good source of omega-3s along with dark green leafy vegetables, flaxseed, soy, and chia seeds.
Flaxseed. The seeds of this pretty blue flower are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a nutritious element found in fatty fish, and some seeds and nuts.
Eat healthily. Eat foods low in sodium, saturated and trans fats. Focus on eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, unsalted nuts and seeds, and low-fat dairy products. If you eat meat, choose lean meats and skinless poultry. Salmon, albacore tuna, trout, and sardines are a great source of fatty fish rich in fatty acids.
Limit unhealthy foods. Do not eat any foods with hydrogenated oils or saturated fats such as coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and palm oil. Avoid high-fructose corn syrup and highly sweetened foods along with baked goods, especially those made with saturated and trans fats. Limit your intake of red meats, fried foods, and full-fat dairy products.
Increase physical activity. Get active. Two to three hours of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking or riding a bike, will improve your blood pressure and help you maintain your weight.
Quit smoking and limit alcohol intake. Quitting smoking lowers your risk of heart disease. If you smoke, you are actively damaging your blood vessels and hardening your arteries. Excessive alcohol consumption can raise your cholesterol levels, including triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood).
American Heart Association. How can I improve my cholesterol? Retrieved from American Heart Association: https://www.heart.org/-/media/files/health-topics/answers-by-heart/ls_chol_improve_11_2018.pdf?la=en&hash=CCF48917C9ABB1E1401CF2242954498712E9C1C9
Carey, Elea. (2018, September 17). 9 natural cholesterol reducers. Retrieved from Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health/high-cholesterol/natural-cholesterol-reducers
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, January 31). Cholesterol: Preventing high cholesterol. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/prevention.htm
Lauer, Michael. (2012). High blood cholesterol Q & A. NIH Medline Plus, Summer, 5-7. Retrieved from National Institute of Health: https://magazine.medlineplus.gov/pdf/MLP_Summer2012web.pdf
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2019, July 13). High cholesterol. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350806
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2005, December). Your guide to lowering your cholesterol. Retrieved from National Institute of Health: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/chol_tlc.pdf
National Institute of Health. (2005, June). High blood cholesterol: What you need to know. Retrieved from National Institute of Health: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/wyntk.pdf