Cholesterol is a fatty wax-like substance produced by the liver and also consumed in our diet. The liver can produce all the cholesterol required, so dietary intake of cholesterol is just an additional source. Individuals with excess cholesterol are at an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke.
Cholesterol levels are often dependent on a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Still, it's safe to say that changes in cholesterol occur over a period of weeks or months rather than just a few days. So, exactly how long does it take to lower cholesterol? Read on to find out!
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), nearly 38% of individuals under 21 years of age have borderline high cholesterol levels. A total cholesterol level is a combination of LDL, HDL, and triglyceride levels. The healthy range of total cholesterol in both males and females is less than 199 mg/ml, LDL levels are less than 100 mg/dl and HDL levels are greater than 60 mg/dl.
High levels of cholesterol are attributed to a diet rich in saturated fats, processed foods, high sugar intake, excessive alcohol consumption, and smoking. Some of the risk factors for high cholesterol are family history, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Therefore, a certified diabetes educator is an ideal person to formulate a diet plan.
A cholesterol test includes simple blood tests that are usually performed after fasting to measure the complete lipoprotein profile that includes LDL (low-density lipoprotein), HDL (high-density lipoprotein), and triglycerides. It is advised that individuals over the age of 20 should get their complete lipid profile at least once every five years.
High-density lipoprotein, also referred to as "healthy cholesterol," carries cholesterol from the blood vessels to the liver where it is metabolized. It helps to keep the arteries free of plaque and hence reduces the risk of heart disease. Low levels of HDL are most commonly associated with metabolic disorders such as diabetes and high blood sugar levels.
Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for 60 minutes each day can help lower weight, especially around the abdomen, which helps raise HDL levels. Incorporating healthy fats from avocados, vegetable oil, and plant-based sources and avoiding high sugar and trans-fat foods can also improve HDL levels.
This is the more abundant form of cholesterol and is often termed "bad cholesterol." LDL (low-density lipoprotein) has a high level of cholesterol in relation to protein. It carries cholesterol to the cells in the body, but high levels can build up plaque in the walls of arteries and increase the risk of heart disease.
Diets rich in trans fat, such as dairy items, red meat, fried foods, and processed foods, are high in LDL. Other risk factors include smoking, excessive alcohol intake, and a high sugar diet that can lead to high LDL levels.
*note that the following guidelines are subject to change based on age and gender
Good: 100 mg/dL or lower
Borderline: 130 to 159 mg/dL
High: 160 mg/dL or higher
Good: 60 mg/dL or higher
Low: 39 mg/dL or lower
Good: 149 mg/dL or lower
Borderline: 150 to 199 mg/dL
High: 200 mg/dL or higher
There is no definite time period to lower your cholesterol level, but it's certainly not going to happen in a few days. Depending on your treatment plan, cholesterol can be lowered in as little as 6 weeks by using medications such as statins, or cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Lifestyle modifications take around 3 months to yield conclusive results. In individuals where sole use of lifestyle modification does not aid in lowering the level of cholesterol after 12 weeks, cholesterol-lowering medications are typically used.
Fortunately, maintaining high blood cholesterol levels is mostly in your control. Dietary and lifestyle modifications play a key role in reducing levels of cholesterol, as do medications. Depending on your risk factors, your doctor will design a plan accordingly to reach the desired level of cholesterol. Here are some easy steps you can take to reduce your cholesterol level.
Dietary changes are known to lower cholesterol levels and improve overall health. The AHA (American Heart Association) has given a certain recommendation for a heart-healthy diet, which includes lean meat, cutting down on saturated and trans fat, increasing consumption of fiber, fruits, and vegetables, and making use of unsaturated fatty acids.
The Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet are considered effective ways to lower cholesterol as they are rich in lean protein, fruits, and vegetables, low in saturated fat and sodium, and instead have healthy fats and cholesterol from nuts, olive oil, and plant foods. Non-fried fatty fish is an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids. These healthy fats are important for your heart health and have several cardiovascular benefits.
The AHA recommends 25mg of dietary fiber each day. Soluble fiber helps in lowering LDL cholesterol absorption from the intestine into the blood vessels and hence lowers cholesterol levels. Fiber-rich foods include apples, prunes, and oatmeal. It also has weight-loss benefits by keeping you full for a long period of time.
Studies find that taking 5–10 mg of soluble fiber supplements helps lower triglycerides and reduces the risk of heart disease. It is important to drink sufficient water when on a high-fiber diet to prevent constipation.
Beware of food items that mention partially hydrogenated vegetables; these are essentially trans fats. Processed foods, baked goods, and fried items all contain trans fat. Daily intake of such items can lead to more cholesterol than needed by the body.
Trans fat is an unhealthy fat that is often used by manufacturers to help increase shelf life, but for consumers, this comes at the cost of raising LDL levels that can clog arteries and eventually lead to heart attack and stroke.
Saturated fats are unhealthy fats that are solid at room temperature. They are most commonly found in animal foods such as red meat and dairy products such as butter. Some peer-reviewed studies recommend that saturated fats should only account for 5–10% of your total calorie intake.
Healthy lifestyle changes such as regular exercise have been shown to lower cholesterol levels. The AHA recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week. Exercise helps to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. It also helps with healthy weight maintenance, which helps to reduce the chances of cardiovascular disease.
Individuals who do not have the habit of exercising regularly can start with low-intensity exercises such as walking, bicycling, or any sports that they like until it becomes part of their daily routine.
Tobacco is found to lower HDL cholesterol and increase LDL cholesterol in some people. This overall increases the risk of heart disease. It also increases the damage to blood vessels.
Excessive alcohol intake leads to high blood pressure, triglyceride levels, and bad cholesterol. It is also linked with obesity and increased chances of arrhythmia and other heart diseases. Raised triglyceride levels can lead to the deposition of triglycerides in the liver and impair the metabolism of cholesterol.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, healthy adult men should limit their alcohol intake to two drinks or less per day. The organization recommends women cap things at one drink a day.
Certain risk factors, such as a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease, and age, are associated with high levels of blood cholesterol. If healthy lifestyle changes are not delivering the kinds of results you need, you might want to seek professional medical advice to consider taking medications to support healthy cholesterol levels.
Statins are medications that reduce cholesterol in the blood. They have been shown to lower LDL levels by up to 50% and increase the HDL level by 15%. These medications can drastically reduce total cholesterol levels within a few weeks. However, these medications can have side effects such as headaches, joint pain, and GI issues.
The benefits typically outweigh the potential side effects. These medicines are often given along with fiber and fish oil supplements to further lower cholesterol levels. It is important to seek professional medical advice before starting any medications or supplements.
Dietary and lifestyle changes seem to be at the heart of any treatment plan to support healthy cholesterol levels. Avoiding saturated and trans fats is important for lowering levels of LDL and raising HDL levels.
Cutting down on things like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption is vital to maintaining normal cholesterol levels. Aerobic exercise is important for maintaining a healthy weight. It is also advised for high-risk patients to get a simple blood test for a complete lipid profile done regularly to catch the problems before they get out of hand.
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Medications can drastically reduce bad cholesterol in a matter of weeks, so they are often advised for patients with a family history of high cholesterol levels and a high-risk factor for developing cardiovascular diseases. Dietary changes, however, are essential regardless of whether you are taking medications or not. It takes almost 6 weeks for lifestyle changes to yield definitive results, but they are most effective in the long run.
Medications are the fastest way to reduce levels of LDL and overall cholesterol and increase HDL levels. However, they do have side effects and should be taken after consulting your doctor.
The amount of time it takes to lower cholesterol depends upon various factors. Making healthy lifestyle changes is essential to lower your blood cholesterol levels and improve overall health. This includes exercising and maintaining a balanced diet that includes plant foods rich in unsaturated fats. Avoid any fatty substance or animal foods that are rich in saturated fats, such as red meat. Avoid high sugar and sodium diets and exercise regularly for at least two and a half hours a week.
The Mediterranean diet is considered a heart-healthy diet that is low in LDL and triglyceride levels. Incorporate whole grains, lean meat such as fish, high fiber intake, and plant foods such as olive oil.