Gender, age, family history, weight, diet, and lifestyle are the main factors which influence cholesterol levels in your body. Of these, you cannot change your age, gender, and family history, but you can control your weight, and you can lead a stress-free lifestyle. Studies have shown that excessive psychological stress leads to an increase in cholesterol levels.
► Normal Cholesterol Levels
◑ Cholesterol, the waxy steroid metabolite, is present in each and every cell of your body. It is synthesized in the liver. Your body needs cholesterol for producing various hormones and bile juice. It is also essential for synthesizing vitamin D.
◑ Cholesterol present in the cell membranes helps increase cell permeability. Your body produces cholesterol, so you need not actually ingest cholesterol through food. Being waxy in nature, cholesterol does not dissolve in blood or water. When it gets accumulated in blood arteries, in the form of plaque, it leads to interrupted blood supply to organs, including the heart and brain. Thus, excessive accumulation of cholesterol increases the chances of death due to heart attack or stroke.
◑ There exist two types of cholesterol, Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol, and High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol.
◑ You are supposed to increase HDL levels and lower LDL levels. High HDL levels help lower LDL levels naturally. According to The American Heart Association (AHA), normal total blood cholesterol levels should be less than 200 mg/dL. Cholesterol levels are said to be ‘borderline high’ when they are in the range of 200 – 239 mg/dL. Cholesterol levels higher than 240 mg/dL are referred to as high blood cholesterol levels.
► High Cholesterol and Stress
◑ How stress leads to high blood cholesterol levels is still a topic for research. More studies are required to understand the nature of relationship between stress and cholesterol.
◑ It is believed that the body tries to produce more energy to fight stress. In this process of producing more energy from fatty acids and glucose, body requires higher amount of LDL from the liver.
◑ People under stress smoke excessively; or drink excessive alcohol. This leads to affected functions of the glands and results in hormonal imbalance and health complications.
◑ People under stress also tend to follow an unhealthy diet. Social withdrawal due to excessive stress leads to emotional eating, binging, increased inactivity; all of which lead to higher cholesterol levels.
◑ Dietary alterations and lifestyle changes help maintain normal weight and cholesterol levels. Not only balanced diet, but regular exercises are essential to enjoy normal cholesterol levels. Exercises promote hormonal balance. They help lower accumulation of cholesterol in the body.
◑ Stressed people should try to stay away from smoking and alcohol abuse. Restricted consumption of alcohol can help increase good cholesterol, but it would not promote removal of bad cholesterol. So, it is better to learn some simple stress relieving techniques.
◑ Stressed people often eat fatty foods like chocolates and sweets. They need to avoid this.
◑ They can join laughter clubs, perform meditation, aerobics, yoga and breathing exercises which help lower stress. They should avoid late night dinners and heavy desserts after dinners. Bad eating and sleeping habits can worsen the condition.
► Diet Control for High Cholesterol
◑ A properly planned diet plan helps lower the levels of cholesterol in blood. Dairy products, fish, meat and poultry that contain a high amount of cholesterol should be avoided. You may include low fat versions of dairy products, lean meat, lean fish in your diet in restricted amount.
◑ Overweight people need to lose weight by following weight loss diets and exercises. A high cholesterol diet plan should include various nutrients that help lower LDL cholesterol and which promote less absorption of cholesterol from food. The diet should include less meat and lots of vegetables and fruits consisting of dietary fiber. Fiber helps lower cholesterol levels and also helps lose weight. Capsaicin from hot chili peppers and the vitamin niacin help lower cholesterol levels as well.
◑ If you want to lower cholesterol without medication, you should include foods that help raise HDL cholesterol. Nuts like peanuts, almonds, walnuts and pistachios, fiber rich vegetables, fruits, berries, garlic, onion and restricted consumption of flax seed, flax seed oil, avocado oil, olive oil, canola oil, hazelnut oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, red wine, etc., can help raise HDL levels.
◑ To lower stress, choose a job where you can enjoy your work. Try to spend at least half an hour outdoors, in the garden, on a jogging track or on the bank of a river, listening to music, read books, play sports, talk to your friends, perform simple exercises like walking, cycling, and swimming. All this will help lower high cholesterol and stress levels. You should consult your physician if you want to opt for cholesterol reducing supplements.