Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced by your liver. It's also found in foods high in saturated fat, such as meat, eggs, some shellfish, and whole-milk dairy products.
Your cells need some cholesterol to functional normally. But too much cholesterol in your blood can be harmful. High blood cholesterol levels can cause fatty deposits to build up on the walls of your arteries. This condition is known as atherosclerosis (sometimes called hardening of the arteries). Over time, the fatty deposits can decrease the amount of blood flowing in the arteries and eventually block blood flow entirely. This narrowing of the arteries can lead to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. People who are overweight, eat a lot of foods high in saturated fat, or who have a family history of high cholesterol have an increased risk of high cholesterol levels. There are few symptoms of high cholesterol levels and a blood test is almost always needed to confirm it.
There are two kinds of cholesterol:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is known as bad cholesterol. LDL can stick to the walls of your arteries, causing blockage, which can be dangerous to your heart.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is known as good cholesterol. HDL can help limit or slow the development of atherosclerosis.
It’s important to know your levels of both good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol. Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood.
LDL (bad cholesterol) levels:
- 100 to 129 mg/dL is an ideal LDL level for most people.
- 100 mg/dl or lower is a good LDL level for people at very high risk of heart attack or stroke.
- 130 to 159 mg/dL is borderline high LDL level.
- 190 mg/dl or higher is considered a very high LDL level.
HDL (good cholesterol) levels:
- 40 mg/dL or higher is an ideal good cholesterol (HDL) level for most people.
The following treatments for breast cancer can cause high cholesterol levels:
- Halotestin (chemical name: fluoxymesterone), a chemotherapy medication
- Femara (chemical name: letrozole), a hormonal therapy
- Arimidex (chemical name: anastrozole), a hormonal therapy
Managing and preventing high cholesterol levels
The following tips can help keep your bad cholesterol (LDL) level low and might raise your good cholesterol (HDL) level:
- Avoid foods high in saturated fats, including egg yolks, whole milk, butter, cheese, and fatty meats.
- Eat healthy (unsaturated) fats. Try cooking with olive, canola, or peanut oils. Snack on walnuts, almonds, or sunflower seeds. Be sure to eat these fats in moderation -- too much of any fat can be bad for you.
- Choose whole grains such as whole wheat pastas, breads, and cereals; brown rice; and oatmeal.
- Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits. The dietary fiber in these foods can help lower cholesterol levels.
- Eat fish such as tuna, halibut, and cod, which are lower in saturated fats than other meats. Fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel can help keep your heart healthy.
- Try losing weight. Taking off even 5 to 10 pounds can help lower your cholesterol levels.
- Exercise, even in small amounts, can help lower cholesterol levels. Talk to your doctor about an exercise regimen that's right for you.
- Quit smoking. Kicking the habit can help lower your bad cholesterol levels.
- Keep stress levels low. Stress is known to increase cholesterol levels.
- Have your cholesterol level checked every 1 to 2 years to keep your heart healthy.