How healthy is your cholesterol level? Are you at risk for developing heart disease? When it comes to men’s health, cholesterol and heart disease go hand in hand. Whether you’re young, middle-aged or entering your golden years, it’s important for you to understand how to balance your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a wax-like substance found in every cell of your body. In and of itself, cholesterol is not bad. It helps your body make vitamin D, hormones, and natural digestive enzymes. Cholesterol travels through your system in small packets called lipoproteins. There are two different types of lipoproteins you might be familiar with: Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).
Of the two, it is low-density lipoproteins (LDL) that is considered “bad” cholesterol. This is because it is LDL cholesterol that can build up in your arteries (vessels that carry blood throughout the body) and cause heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) is called “good” cholesterol because it carries excess cholesterol to your liver, where it is removed from your body.
What is Heart Disease?
Heart disease is a weakness, constriction, or flaw in the heart which prevents it from working properly. There are several different types of heart disease all of which can be fatal. Let’s look at them in detail:
Coronary Artery Disease
This is the most common form of heart disease and this is where the connection between cholesterol and heart disease comes in. In coronary artery disease (CAD), the arteries become narrowed due to plaque build-up. Oxygen and nutrients are unable to reach the heart and over time, the build-up could lead to a blood clot. This could completely cut off the oxygen supply, causing a heart attack or stroke.
The most common symptom of coronary artery disease is angina or sudden chest pain. Chest pain should never be ignored. If you experience sudden chest pain, pain in the upper body, cold sweating, pain in the left shoulder, pain in the jaw, irregular heartbeat, nausea, and/or vomiting, call 911 immediately. You might be having a heart attack.
Your doctor may treat your occasional angina with nitroglycerine tablets. It is important to note that if you are nitroglycerine tablets for chest pain, you should not take medication for erectile dysfunction.
Peripheral Vascular Disease
Peripheral vascular disease is very similar to coronary artery disease, only in PVD, the blood vessels and arteries that supply the legs become clogged. The muscles in your legs will no longer get the nutrients and oxygen needed to perform and you’ll experience severe pain and tingling in your legs and ulcers that do not heal.
Other symptoms of PVD include:
- Aches and burning in legs, feet, and thighs during mild exercise
- Loss of hair on legs or feet
- Withered calf legs
- Tight, shiny skin on legs and feet
- Thick toenails
Congestive Heart Failure
Congestive heart failure means the heart can no longer adequately pump oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. This occurs when the heart muscles are damaged or weak. Symptoms of congestive heart failure include:
- Edema (swelling) of abdomen, legs or ankles
- Shortness of breath (due to fluid build-up in the lungs)
- Inability to sleep lying down
- Increased night urination (may also be a symptom of prostate disease
- Nausea/decreased appetite due to fluid in the intestines
The Connection Between Cholesterol and Heart Disease
When someone has high cholesterol, it means they have too much cholesterol in their blood. People who have high cholesterol are at increased risk for developing coronary heart disease. The higher the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood, the greater your risk of developing coronary artery disease (heart disease). When plaque builds up in your arteries, it blocks your heart’s ability to receive necessary oxygen and nutrients. This can lead to heart attack or stroke. On the other hand, the higher the level of HDL cholesterol in your blood, the less you’re at risk for developing heart disease.
Diet and Cholesterol
Your diet has a lot to do with whether you develop high cholesterol or not. It’s important to understand how even healthy foods eaten too often can lead to the development of high cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your intake of cholesterol to 300mg per day. Men with high cholesterol should limit their intake to 200mg per day.
Here is a list of foods that are high in cholesterol and their milligram amounts:
- Eggs (213mg)
- Fast-Food Cheeseburgers (85-175mg)
- Prime Rib (70mg)
- 12 Boiled Shrimp (200mg)
- 3 Drumsticks of Fried Chicken (186mg)
- Beef Liver (331mg)
- Pork Chops (80mg)
- French Toast with Butter (116mg)
This isn’t to say you should completely cut these foods from your diet, but it’s important to keep track of the amount of cholesterol you consume each day and balance your diet with naturally cholesterol-lowering foods.
How Men Can Lower Their Cholesterol Levels
Because of the cholesterol and heart disease connection, some men may want to take active steps to lower their cholesterol if it has become too high. There are both conventional and natural ways for a man to lower his cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol-Lowering Medications – For men with very high cholesterol, a cholesterol-reducing medication may be prescribed by their doctor. However, it is important to note that there are side effects associated with these prescription drugs. Common side effects of cholesterol-lowering medications include:
- Muscle Pain
- Liver Problems
If who want to avoid the side effects associated with cholesterol-lowering medication, check out these natural ways to lower cholesterol:
- Lose Weight – Being overweight can affect your ability to metabolize fat normally. Shedding just 5-10 excess pounds can lower cholesterol levels significantly.
- Work Out – Exercising regularly is a cornerstone of men’s health. Any form of aerobic exercise that gets your heart pumping can help lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Increase Your Intake of Monounsaturated Fat – Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that men who added foods rich in monounsaturated fat lowered their cholesterol faster than those who relied on diet and exercise alone. Peanut butter, almonds, avocados, and olive oil are all high in this cholesterol-lowering fat.
- Eat More Fiber – Fiber is an essential tool to have in your cholesterol-fighting arsenal. Adding more organic vegetables, fruit, and whole grain to your diet can help lower your cholesterol naturally.
- Try Some Garlic – Evidence suggests that men who eat garlic daily may decrease their risk for developing heart disease due to high cholesterol. Men who do not like the taste of garlic can use garlic supplements instead.
Other Ways to Reduce Risk of Heart Disease
Drink Alcohol in Moderation
It may surprise you to learn that drinking alcohol can actually reduce your risk of developing heart disease by a whopping 50%! However, it is important to limiting your intake of alcoholic beverages to 5 per week to avoid creating other health problems, such as prostate disease.
The American Heart Association lists smoking as one of the leading causes of preventative death in the United States. Smoking is a major cause of artherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. If you smoke, take reasonable steps to quit.
- Reduce Stress
Burning the candle at both ends may make you feel like superman but eventually, all that stress will catch up with you. If you’re stressed, find healthy ways to release that stress: Exercise, meditate, take up a hobby and hang out with friends. Also, don’t procrastinate and let issues pile up. Tackle them head-on and get them out of the way so they don’t hang over you and weigh you down. Practice an attitude of gratitude. Make a mental list of what you’re grateful for and focus on the positive.
A healthy man is an informed man. Now that you understand how to lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of developing heart disease, you can take a proactive approach to your wellness. Don’t wait until you feel sick to think about getting well. Take charge of your health and you’ll enjoy all life has to offer.
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