What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in every cell of our bodies and in our blood. Most of your circulating cholesterol is manufactured by your liver, although diet can contribute greatly as well to the total cholesterol level. A simple blood test can measure the “good” (HDL) and “bad “cholesterol (LDL) in your blood.
Why control cholesterol?
While your body needs cholesterol, many of us have too much. Hardening of the arteries occurs when plaque made from cholesterol, calcium, and fat builds up in the arteries around the heart. That increases the chance of a heart attack or stroke.
People with high total cholesterol (over 200 mg/dL) have almost twice the risk of a heart attack or stroke than people with lower levels.
The cost of high cholesterol
The financial cost of high cholesterol is difficult to determine, but we do know we spend $444 billion a year on heart disease and stroke costs. It is estimated that one out of every six dollars spent on health care is spent on cardiovascular disease, which accounts for more than one-third of all U.S. deaths.
- An estimated 71 million (or one-third of all) adults have high cholesterol; half of them do nothing to control it.
- An estimated 935,000 heart attacks occur every year.
- An estimated 795,000 strokes occur each year.
- Men still have more heart attacks than women (not by much), but more women than men have strokes.
What can I do to control cholesterol?
There is much that you can do to help control cholesterol.
- Lifestyle: Start by having your cholesterol checked regularly. Make sure you are eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, and avoid packaged, fried, and fast food. Lose weight if you are not your ideal weight. Exercise and avoid smoking.
- Sterols: Just eating nutrient-rich food and taking your vitamins everyday is not enough. Consider a supplement that provides a high level of plant sterols and stanols. Plant sterols and stanols (2,000 mg/day) have been shown in multiple studies to help lower cholesterol levels as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. They appear to work by blocking the absorption of cholesterol in the diet.i
- Fiber: Consider whole grains, fruits and vegetables high in fiber. Multiple studies have shown the benefit of fiber on lowering cholesterol levels in high-risk subjects. ii
- Soy: Adding soy to your diet can give many benefits besides having been shown to help lower cholesterol. Soy contains isoflavones, which are believed to be soy’s main cholesterol-lowering ingredients. iii
Clinical Studies Information
|i||Baumgartner S, Mensink RP, Plat J. Plant sterols and stanols in the treatment of dyslipidemia: new insights into targets and mechanisms related to cardiovascular risk. Curr Pharm Des. 2011;17(9):922-32. PMID:21418032.|
|ii||Estruch R, Martínez-González MA, Corella D, et al. Effects of dietary fibre intake on risk factors for cardiovascular disease in subjects at high risk. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2009 Jul;63(7):582-8. PMID: 19289389.|
|iii||Bakhtiary A, Yassin Z, Hanachi P, et al. Effects of soy on metabolic biomarkers of cardiovascular disease in elderly women with metabolic syndrome. Arch Iran Med. 2012 Aug;15(8):462-8. PMID: 22827780.|