It’s fairly common knowledge that high cholesterol is a bad thing, and various groups, including the American Heart Association, recommend that men get their cholesterol checked to evaluate their risk for heart disease. Fortunately, this can be done with a simple blood test, but what does high cholesterol actually mean? Why is it bad? And how can you treat it? These are very important questions for every man to ask.
Fact #1: All Cholesterol is Not Created Equal
A fatty substance found in our blood, cholesterol has many important functions, including keeping our cells healthy and forming different types of hormones and vitamins. Although the body tries to maintain cholesterol at a relatively constant level, it may become elevated, which can increase a man’s risk for heart attack and stroke. There are, however, different types of cholesterol, and not all of them are bad. HDL, or “good cholesterol,” can remove fat and cholesterol from cells and transport them back to the liver, where they are eliminated. LDL, or “bad cholesterol,” transports cholesterol to the cells, which may include the cells lining the walls of the arteries.
When the blood contains too much LDL cholesterol, the cells lining our arteries may become clogged with it, leading to reduced blood flow, which may result in a heart attack or stroke. Understanding this difference is key, so if your doctor tells you that you have high cholesterol, ask him or her which type of cholesterol is high, because having high HDL cholesterol may actually protect you against heart disease!
Fact #2: Certain Foods Can Cause Your Cholesterol to Go Up
One of the ways a man’s cholesterol can go up is through what he eats. In particular, large amounts of saturated fat, which is found mostly in animal products, can raise your cholesterol level. For this reason, it’s important to limit consumption of things like red meat and full-fat dairy products, including cheese. Substituting these foods with chicken, fish, and low-fat dairy products can help to keep high cholesterol levels at bay.
Trans fats are another type of fat which can cause a man’s cholesterol to go up. These are fats that are present in commercially produced baked goods, snacks (such as potato chips), fried foods, and margarine. Eating too much of these foods can lead to a “double whammy,” because not only do they raise your LDL cholesterol, but they also lower your HDL cholesterol.
Finally, it’s important to note that eating foods high in cholesterol probably does not raise your blood cholesterol very much. In the past, it was felt that eating foods rich in cholesterol, such as eggs and liver, were bad because they caused your cholesterol to go up. Recent evidence suggests that this may not be the case; however, it’s still a good idea to not eat too much of the foods which contain high cholesterol, as these foods usually contain large amounts of saturated fat.
Knowing about the different types of foods which may raise your cholesterol is good, but how much cholesterol is okay? A man should generally try to consume no more than 300 mg of cholesterol per day, and no more than about 80 grams of fat per day, of which only ten percent should be saturated. By focusing on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and avoiding the high-fat foods mentioned above, this goal can easily be achieved.
Fact #3: If Changing Your Diet Doesn’t Work, there are Medications to Treat High Cholesterol
While it is always preferable to use lifestyle changes to treat a health condition, sometimes it is necessary to consider medication. If a man is unsuccessful in changing his diet, or if the changes he makes does not lower his cholesterol, there are many drugs that can be used to help.
The most common group of drugs are known as statins, which have been around for about 30 years and are very effective in reducing LDL cholesterol. While they do sometimes have side effects, such as muscle pain, statins are usually well tolerated and can be a great help to any man trying to lower his cholesterol. One of the newer types of drugs to treat high cholesterol are the PCSK9 Inhibitors, which are drugs that must be injected. Like statins, they are very effective, but they are also very expensive, and they haven’t been around very long, so we don’t know about all the possible side effects they may have.
All of the drugs mentioned above require a prescription from your doctor. Once you start taking one of these drugs, your doctor will monitor your blood tests to see if the drugs are working, and once there is a reduction in your cholesterol, you will not need to have your blood tested as often. One final point, though, is that if you are treating cholesterol with a drug, you must continue this for your entire life, because if you stop taking the drug, your cholesterol will go back to the same level it was before you started treatment.
The Evolution of a High Cholesterol Diagnosis
The take-home point is that simply saying a man’s cholesterol is high is not good enough. It’s important to know what type of cholesterol is high, what foods can affect this, and how it can be treated. Years ago, having high cholesterol was not readily treatable, and it led to a lot of heart attacks. But now that we know more about it, and have effective treatments, having high cholesterol is no longer the threat to a man’s health that it once was.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information on this web site is for general information purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or health care provider on any matters relating to your health.