Keeping Cholesterol in Check
Aging Matters

The purpose of cholesterol, a fat-like substance found in body cells, actually serve to make hormones and vitamin D and other substances to help with food digestion. Since the body manufactures the cholesterol needed, there are foods that contain the fat-like substance which raise the levels.

Cholesterol flows in our bloodstream in packets called lipoproteins. There are two kinds of lipoproteins, one is of low-density (LDL) and the other is high-density (HDL). Both serve a purpose and needed by the body. What gets our body in trouble is having too high a level of LDL, often times called "bad" cholesterol which causes a buildup of cholesterol in the arteries. The other type of lipoprotein, HDL, referred as the "good" cholesterol, carries the fat-like substance from other parts of your body to your liver, which removes it from your body.

The alarming result of having a high level of LDL cholesterol is a greater chance of getting coronary heart disease. However, the more HDL cholesterol in the blood, the lower the disease risk.

It's suggested that diet and weight loss be the first strategy before taking statin drugs. Several years ago, I watched the documentary, Forks over Knives, and then experimented with diet to see if my cholesterol could lower through eating differently. At the time, I had just received a 228 cholesterol blood test reading. The foods that I eliminated were cooking oils, dairy products, red meats, and even chicken. The foods added were legumes, fish, vegetables (roasted or steamed,) fruits, and other plant-based products. Within two months, my cholesterol lowered to 208. Yes, in two months. That was my result, so I don't know whether others would have the same results.

However, studies of a particular indigenous group in the Bolivian Amazon, a forager-horticultural population, found they had the lowest prevalence of hardening of the arteries over any other population. Scientists discovered an 80-year-old individual living in that culture had the same vascular age as a 50-year-old American. Their diets consist of low saturated fats and high in unprocessed fiber-rich carbohydrates, which also includes wild game and fish. They do not smoke and remain active throughout the day. Medical industry suggests:

Eat the right fats. Consume unsaturated fats which help lower LDL. Use oils like canola, safflower, sunflower, olive, grapeseed and peanut (plant-based.) Also eat seeds, nuts, avocados and fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, herring, and mackerel.

Being overweight tends to raise the LDL level and lower the HDL levels. Doctors say, "Even losing just 10 pounds can reduce your LDL by up to 8 percent." So, combining daily exercise with a healthier diet helps you shed pounds, lowers LDL cholesterol, and helps you feel better.

Smoking cigarettes lower the good HDL, moderate drinking of alcohol (red wine) increases HDL. However, too much drinking leads to serious health problems, including high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke. How much is moderate drinking? For women, it's one daily; for men 65 and younger, two drinks. For those over 65, one drink.

Carol Marak, aging advocate, and editor at She's earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from UC Davis, School of Gerontology.

Part of the Aging Matters Weekly Syndicated Column

Aging Matters is a weekly column tackling everyday challenges that our growing elderly population and their loved ones face. It is also published in a variety of syndication partners including newspapers all over the country.

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