When it comes to your heart, cholesterol matters. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the buildup of plaque within the heart arteries. One of the major risk factors for coronary artery disease is abnormal cholesterol levels.
What type of cholesterol is good/bad?
Low density lipoprotein (LDL) is the bad form of cholesterol.
If your LDL level is higher than normal, then there is an increased risk of developing coronary artery disease.
High density lipoprotein (HDL) is the good form of cholesterol.
It is advantageous to have a high level of HDL. If one’s HDL level is lower than normal, then there is an increased risk of developing coronary artery disease.
Can I still have a heart attack if my cholesterol levels are good?
Yes. Abnormal cholesterol is only one risk factor for heart attack and heart disease. There are many risk factors for developing coronary artery disease and having a heart attack including:
- Gender (Learn more about women and heart disease.)
- Genetic factors
- Cholesterol levels
- High blood pressure
- Diabetes mellitus
- Sedentary lifestyle
- and others
Can I control my cholesterol through diet alone?
What options do people have for lowering their cholesterol?
Some people can modify their diet and significantly improve their cholesterol levels, while other people can eat a very healthy diet but still have abnormal cholesterol levels.
Foods High in Cholesterol (Avoid)
- Fast food
- Sugar (ex: soda, sweet tea, candy, cakes, cookies)
- Fatty meats (ex: sausage, bacon, bologna)
- Processed vegetable oils
- Potato chips/packaged foods
- Refined grains
- Full fat dairy products (milk, cheese)
Foods to Help Lower Cholesterol
- High fiber foods (ex: oatmeal, kidney beans, apples, barley, prunes)
- Fatty fish (ex: salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring)
- Nuts (ex: walnuts, almonds)
- Olive oil
If your cholesterol is abnormal, some great first steps include trying to eat a healthier diet, increasing exercise, and losing weight. If cholesterol levels remain abnormal, then medications may be needed.
Cholesterol Medication: What You Need to Know
Cholesterol medications often consist of statin medications which can improve the blood cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
There are other non-statin medications (niacin, fish oil, etc.), and these medications can improve the blood cholesterol levels but are not nearly as effective in decreasing the risk of clinical events, such as the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
There are also some newer injectable medications for patients with abnormal cholesterol levels (particularly if they have had prior cardiovascular events) who cannot take statin medications.
Keep your cholesterol in check by maintaining healthy eating and exercise habits. If you still have concerns about your cholesterol levels, speak with your health care provider. They will be able to work with you to put together a more comprehensive plan to help you work towards better heart health.
About Matthew White, MD
Dr. Matthew White is a board certified non-interventional cardiologist with WakeMed Heart & Vascular in Clayton, NC. Dr. White has clinical interests in transthoracic echocardiograms, transesophageal echocardiograms, stress testing, and vascular ultrasound.