High Cholesterol? Blame Your Family History!

vintage family portrait

You’re a non-smoker and a regular at your local gym. You indulge in fast food once or twice a month, but otherwise, your meals are filled with vegetables. Your waistline is trim and you feel healthy.

And though your lifestyle and outward appearance are the picture of perfect health, your blood vessels may be telling a different story. High cholesterol levels may be slowly clogging your arteries and, unfortunately, you have little control over the situation.

Did your parents have high cholesterol?

Of course, poor diet, lack of exercise, and obesity are all risk factors for high cholesterol. But, for many years, medical researchers have also known that genetics play an important role in high cholesterol. Individuals with the highest risk have a father or a brother who developed heart disease or had a stroke before he was 55 years old or have a mother or sister to which these things happened before she was 65 years old.

In particular, there are two known genetic conditions that cause high cholesterol: familial hypercholesterolaemia and familial combined hyperlipidemia. Let’s take a closer look at each condition.

Familial Hypercholesterolaemia (FH)

This inherited condition raises LDL (bad) cholesterol because of a mutation on a gene on chromosome 19–the LDLR gene. This gene controls the cell receptors that normally accept LDL cholesterol from the blood and make use of it in the cells. However, with the FH mutation, the receptors don’t develop properly and the cells cannot receive LDL. Instead of being taken into the cells, the LDL cholesterol remains in the bloodstream and clogs up the arteries.

The Familial Hypercholesterolemia Foundation estimates that between 600,000 and two million people are living with FH in the United States. For these people, LDL levels may soar way above 160 mg/dL, more than double the normal levels. Unfortunately, many of them may be unaware of their condition until they suffer a heart attack or stroke.

It’s important to note that the artery-clogging effects of FH begin in the womb. Even young children can have LDL and total cholesterol levels that are extremely high. Because of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends testing children’s cholesterol between the ages of 2 and 10 years old if they have a strong family history of heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.

Familial Combined Hyperlipidemia (FCHL)

This condition raises cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Researchers aren’t sure which genes are involved, but they do know the end results: low HDL (good) cholesterol levels and high levels of small, dense LDL (bad) cholesterol. Experts suspect that 1-percent of people in the United States have FCHL.

Unlike FH, individuals with FCHL develop high cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the teenage years. These individuals are likely to be obese and suffer from diabetes. Without proper treatment, the condition will continue to saturate the walls of the blood vessels with cholesterol and eventually, cause a heart attack or stroke.

Treatment options

Treatment for either of these conditions involves the usual course of lifestyle modifications: lower fat intake, increase exercise, maintain a healthy weight, and avoid smoking. However, in the majority of patients with FH or FCHL, lifestyle changes are not nearly enough to bring their cholesterol levels under control. Nearly all patients will need a heavy dose of cholesterol-lowering medications.

If you have been diagnosed with either one of these genetic conditions, it’s actually a good thing. People who have undiagnosed FH or FCHL are at a much greater risk of suffering a major cardiovascular event. With the proper diagnosis and treatment, you can knowingly take every step needed to lower your cholesterol levels.

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3 Unexpected Foods to Help You Lower Cholesterol


If you’re being medically treated for high cholesterol, your doctor has most likely stressed the importance of a healthy diet. You may have heard recommendations for eating salmon, oatmeal, and olive oil more times than you care to mention. Plus, you’re probably bored with eating the same foods over and over.

It’s time to put an end to that broken record and shake up the list of popular cholesterol-lowering foods. Here are three new foods to add to your cholesterol-fighting diet.

1. Almond Milk

Cow’s milk is a staple in the American diet and it brings an alarming amount of fat along with it. That 2-percent milk you use on your cereal contains nearly 1/6 of the daily recommended allotment of saturated fat. In addition, if you’re using half-and-half in your coffee, you’re serving up 5-percent of your daily allotment of saturated fat with each tablespoon.

Instead of using cow’s milk products, switch to almond milk. Although it’s not as rich and creamy as the fat-filled options, you’ll get a subtle nutty flavor and a little dose of sweetness. This makes it the perfect cholesterol-friendly substitute to use in your cereal and coffee.

Almond milk contains no saturated fat or cholesterol. More than that, nuts are life-savers for your heart. In particular, some researchers say the vitamin E found in almonds and almond milk may help prevent atherosclerosis (the hardening of the arteries).

2. Pears

When it comes to cholesterol, pears pack a mighty punch. Much of their cholesterol-fighting power comes from two special types of natural fiber called pectin and lignin.

Pectin is a soluble fiber—that means that it dissolves in water to form a gel during digestion. While it’s dissolving, it’s also able to hook on to the cholesterol in the intestines and prevent it from being absorbed into the bloodstream.

Lignin, even though it’s an insoluble fiber, acts very much like pectin in the digestive tract. It also binds to cholesterol and prevents it from being absorbed.

In total, one medium pear provides nearly 25% of an adult’s daily recommended allotment of fiber.

3. Tea

Tea contains highly effective antioxidants called catechins and polyphenols. These compounds are heart-healthy and they have a protective effect on the arteries. Studies have shown that they also lower total cholesterol, raise HDL (good) cholesterol, and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Unfortunately, not all teas are created equal when it comes to their cholesterol-blocking abilities. When teas are fermented or processed, their antioxidant content decreases. Fresh-brewed green tea appears to be the best at lowering cholesterol levels and black tea is also helpful. Instant or bottled teas contain far fewer antioxidants.

Although no single food can take the place of cholesterol-lowering medications, eating a healthy diet surely doesn’t hurt. Frequently including these three foods in your diet may be just what you need to knock your cholesterol numbers down for good!

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5 Ways to Increase Your HDL Cholesterol

HDL cholesterol

Cholesterol has gotten a bad rap in recent history. From pharmaceutical advertisements to food labeling, we are told to lower our cholesterol—and to do it now! While it’s true that lowering your LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels is the healthy thing to do, there is one type of cholesterol that you don’t want to lower. In fact, you actually want this cholesterol level to go as high as possible.

We’re talking about HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Raising your HDL levels can help keep your blood vessels healthy and reduce your risk of heart disease.

A Little Background on HDL Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty-feeling substance that is found throughout the body. LDL carries cholesterol through the bloodstream to your tissues and cells. This is an essential function for the body, but when there is too much cholesterol, it builds up on the walls of the arteries and that can lead to heart disease or other serious cardiovascular complications.
On the other hand, HDL removes LDL from the arteries and carries it back to the liver. At that point, it’s filtered out and excreted from the body. Since HDL works to clean out the blood vessels, it is referred to as “good” cholesterol. Having healthy levels of HDL can protect your body against cardiovascular diseases.

For every 1 mg/dL increase in HDL, your risk of having a cardiac event decreases by 2-3%.

Having low levels of HDL, even if your total cholesterol levels are healthy, can put you at risk for coronary heart disease and heart attack. Men who have levels below 40 mg/dL or women that have levels below 50 mg/dL are at risk. Both sexes should aim to have HDL levels of 60 mg/dL or above.

How to Increase Your HDL Levels

If you’re looking to raise your HDL levels, you have quite a few options to try. There are some cholesterol medications that can raise HDL, but here are five ways you can increase your HDL without making a trip to the doctor.

1. Adjust Your Diet

The two most important dietary factors for raising HDL levels are fats and fiber. Trans fatty acids reduce HDL levels, so you’ll want to avoid foods with trans fat. But you can go ahead and indulge (a little!) in monounsaturated fats. These fats raise HDL levels. Try to get more canola oil, olive oil, avocado, or peanut butter. As for fiber, try to add more soluble fiber into your diet. Experts recommend oatmeal, fruits and vegetables, and legumes.

2. Pour Yourself A Drink

Alcohol, in moderation, can raise HDL levels by as much as 4 mg/dL. Don’t go crazy with this one – experts recommend that women have one drink and men have two drinks, at most, per day. If you have liver disease, alcoholism, or a strong family history of alcohol abuse, you might reconsider this suggestion.

3. Quit Smoking

If you use tobacco products, giving up the habit could really help your blood vessels. Research shows that quitting smoking can raise HDL by up to 10 percent.

4. Stay Active

Engaging in regular exercise can benefit your health in a number of ways, including raising your HDL levels. After two months of regular aerobic activity, you could increase your levels by up to 5 percent. Any activity that gets your heart pumping hard for 30 minutes per day will work.

5. Drop the Extra Pounds

Carrying around extra weight really taxes the cardiovascular system. To increase your HDL by 1 mg/dL, you will need to lose about six pounds.

Now that you know the facts about HDL cholesterol, challenge yourself to raise your levels. Simply start by asking your doctor to order a cholesterol blood test. Along with some other cholesterol information, this test will show you your current HDL levels. Then you can get to work—eat healthy, stay active, and don’t smoke! When you have your blood retested (experts recommend having a cholesterol test every five years), you’ll be able to see some heart-healthy results!

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3 Questions Diabetic Patients Should Ask About Their Heart

diabetic questions for your doctor

The heart pumps close to 2,000 gallons of oxygen-carrying, nutrient-rich blood through the body every day. When the heart can’t function properly, the entire body suffers.

Due to a variety of factors, diabetes impairs the heart and damages the entire circulatory system. Experts say that the damage done by diabetes is just as harmful to the heart as smoking cigarettes. In fact, cardiovascular issues are the leading cause of death among diabetics.

If you have diabetes, taking care of your heart should be at the top of your to-do list. Together with your doctor, you should be monitoring the status of your cardiovascular system and addressing any problems immediately.

Don’t know where to begin? Discussing these three questions with your doctor will give you a good start.

1. What are my risk factors?

The well-being of your cardiovascular system depends on several different factors. Being a diabetic already gives you one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Here’s a list of seven other things that can cause damage to your heart and blood vessels. Remember, the more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop problems with your heart.

  • Smoking cigarettes – The nicotine in cigarettes denies the heart of oxygen and makes the heart work harder. Because of this, your blood pressure and heart rate go up. Smoking can also cause blood clots and damage blood vessels.
  • High cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) – Having too much “bad cholesterol” (LDL) and not enough “good cholesterol” (HDL) can damage the heart. High cholesterol clogs the arteries and restricts blood flow.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension) – Diabetics are two times more likely to suffer from hypertension than the general public. It weakens blood vessels, narrows blood vessels, and overburdens the heart.
  • Obesity – Obesity feeds into several other risk factors. It can cause hypertension and high cholesterol.
  • Stress – Excessive stress can decrease blood flow to the heart, and make your blood pressure and heart rate skyrocket.
  • Gender – Women younger than 55 have a lower risk of cardiovascular health issues than men of the same age. After the age of 55, both genders have an equal risk.
  • Genetics – Having immediate family members with heart disease increases your risk of developing similar problems with your cardiovascular system.

2. What is the current condition of my heart?

As a diabetic, you should have a frank conversation with your doctor about the condition of your cardiovascular system. Listen specifically for these medical terms:

  • Atherosclerosis – the hardening of the arteries caused by excess cholesterol and fat in the blood. This condition limits blood flow to the heart and other organs. Diabetics often have severe atherosclerosis that advances quickly and causes damage throughout the body.
  • Microangiopathy – damage to the capillaries and small blood vessels that is caused by chronically high blood sugar.
  • Autonomic neuropathy – damage to the autonomic nervous system, which controls the nerves of the heart and blood vessels. Blood flow, pulse rate, and blood pressure may be affected.
  • Endothelial dysfunction – damage done to the inner lining of the blood vessels. The vessels may lose their flexibility.

3. How can I keep my heart healthy for the future?

By knowing your risk factors and the current condition of your heart, you can make a comprehensive plan to keep your heart in good shape. Here are some preventative steps you may want to discuss with your doctor.

Maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system is a critical part of any diabetic treatment plan. Make sure to discuss these questions with your doctor at every checkup.  If you feel any unusual cardiac symptoms, alert your doctor right away or call 911.

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Cholesterol CTA

Why Diabetics are at Risk for High Cholesterol


One of the most important things a diabetic can know is how their blood glucose levels can affect the other parts of the body. Even though the body is broken down into various systems, ie cardiac, respiratory, muscles, etc, they all work together and are affected by one another. Any disorder in the body, even if it is technically isolated to one part, can have effects on other systems. For example, someone with a respiratory disorder has trouble bringing in oxygen. This can make the heart work harder to get oxygen to the rest of the body.

Due to the set up of the human body, diabetes can actually cause high cholesterol levels, especially if blood glucose levels are not controlled. The various chemicals (hormones) that are secreted by the pancreas have control over cholesterol levels and blood sugars. Here, we will explain how the pancreas works, and how the effects of diabetes can prevent the body from being able to control your cholesterol levels and vice versa.

The Role of the Pancreas

The association of high cholesterol and diabetes is because the pancreas has the ability to control both in many situations. However, the effects diabetes has on the pancreas can actually prevent the body from properly managing cholesterol.

When you eat, the pancreas secretes several different chemicals. These chemicals are pushed into the digestive system and others into the blood stream to help break down various parts of your meal. This will answer a lot of questions about diabetes, and also make you aware of other problems you could encounter while trying to get your blood glucose levels under control.

The first set of chemicals that are secreted are Trypsin and chymotrypsin, which are essentially fancy names for chemicals that break down the proteins found in meats, beans, cheese, and lentils.

The second chemical that is secreted is Amylase, it is sent to break carbohydrates down into usable energy.

The third chemical that is secreted is Lipase, it is used to break down fats into useable and unusable parts, fatty acids and cholesterol.

The relation that this has to diabetes is due to other hormones that are created in the pancreas, these go straight into the blood stream. Insulin is created and released into the blood stream when the body senses that the blood sugar is too high, and to counteract low blood sugar it releases glucogen.

Diabetics do not create enough insulin in their pancreas to properly manage blood sugar. Damage to the pancreas that is caused by diabetes can also limit the amount of lipase that is produced. This can cause cholesterol to build up faster than it typically would.

The Relation between Diabetes and High Cholesterol

Because the body is focused on trying to create insulin that it cannot, the pancreas does not have all of the intended focus on breaking down fatty acids and cholesterol, which allows more of it to slip into the blood stream through the intestines. This means that diabetics are at a higher risk for developing high cholesterol especially if their blood sugars are not controlled.

Because the body is preoccupied, it doesn’t have time to sort out good cholesterol (HDL) from good cholesterol (LDL).  Studies have shown that people with diabetes have up to a 40% increase in LDL levels which is essentially the basis of high cholesterol.

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Cholesterol CTA

High Cholesterol: Reducing Your Risk of Stroke


When you hear the words “high cholesterol”, most people think of a thick, crusty build up in arteries. They also think that the biggest threat of high cholesterol is the breakdown of the arteries that it attaches to. This is pretty scary information, to say the least. Even though they know what it is, they don’t know how to stop the progression. With the right advice, and the right planning, you can reverse many of the effects of high cholesterol and reduce your risk of high cholesterol associated stroke.

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