In simple terms, cholesterol is fat in the blood. Too much cholesterol can clog the arteries. Many people need medication to lower cholesterol levels. You may or may not need medication. In addition to medication, there are important lifestyle changes that can help to lower cholesterol.
Nearly 100 million American adults have high total cholesterol levels — above 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), according to the American Heart Association. About 32 million Americans have even higher total cholesterol levels of 240 mg/dL or more. No one can change risk factors, such as family history, age or ethnicity, but there are others that can be controlled.
Start by getting your cholesterol checked regularly and talking with your health care provider about the results. Then take a look at your all-important diet.
A heart-healthy diet includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, skinless poultry, nonfat dairy products, beans, seeds, nuts, and healthy vegetable oils like olive or canola. You should limit saturated fat, trans fat, and salt. You should also cut back on sugar and refined flour, which have been linked with high triglycerides, another dangerous fat in the blood.
A healthy diet should help you keep your weight within a healthy range. A healthy weight also reduces your risk of other health problems like diabetes.
Other steps to take:
Get regular aerobic exercise. Regular physical activity helps to improve your cholesterol levels and cuts your risk for heart disease.
If you drink, do so in moderation. Too much alcohol increases triglyceride levels and the risk for other health problems.
Try to reduce stress. It may help to lower your cholesterol and the risk of developing heart disease.
If you smoke, quit. Smoking raises triglyceride levels and increases the risk of developing many serious health problems.