How to lower your risk of cholesterol and heart disease

High cholesterol can contribute to heart disease and increase the risk of a heart attack. Cholesterol gets a bad rap, but the truth is we need it to function well. Cholesterol is indeed an important building block of the cells in our body.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a substance the body needs to make cell membranes and hormones. Although your liver can make all of the cholesterol your body needs to function, you also get some from certain foods you eat, including animal products like meat and dairy.

How Does Cholesterol Affect Your Heart?

When there is too much “bad” cholesterol in the body, it can cause problems. It contributes to the formation of fatty deposits in the arteries called plaques, which can cause heart disease. When this plaque builds up, it’s harder for blood to flow, and these deposits can eventually rupture and form a clot that leads to a heart attack, says Dr. Andrus.

Why are some people more likely to have high cholesterol than others?

Understanding why some people have high cholesterol and others don’t isn’t as easy as it sounds. For example, while overweight people are more likely to have high cholesterol, thin people can also suffer from it.

Here are some factors that affect your cholesterol levels:


A condition called familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) can cause some people to be genetically predisposed to high levels of bad cholesterol. There are two types of familial hypercholesterolemia: heterozygous, in which a person inherits the abnormal gene from just one parent; and homozygous, in which the individual has two copies of the abdominal gene, one from each parent. Homozygous FH is rarer and more dangerous. People with FH don’t recycle LDL cholesterol as efficiently and end up having high levels of this type of cholesterol, making them more susceptible to atherosclerosis, which often starts at a much younger age. About 1 in 200 adults carries the FH genetic mutation. If left untreated, these people are 20 times more likely to develop heart disease. If one of your parents, siblings or children has familial hyperchromia or suffered a heart attack at a young age, it is recommended to be tested for this condition.


While smoking doesn’t directly cause high cholesterol, it is a proven major risk for heart disease and stroke in and of itself. This risk increases if you also have high LDL cholesterol levels. One of the reasons for this is that smoking lowers HDL levels, which helps reduce or eliminate the protective effects of this form of cholesterol. Quitting smoking has immediate benefits for your heart health. A study published in the journal Biomarker Research found that HDL levels increase almost immediately in people who quit smoking.


When it comes to your diet, the best way to lower your cholesterol is by reducing your saturated and trans fat intake. It’s better to limit saturated fat to less than 6% of your daily calories and minimize the amount of trans fat you eat. That means less red meat, tropical oils, fried foods and fatty dairy products. Instead, opt for low-fat or fat-free dairy, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, nuts, and non-tropical vegetable oils. The healthiest cooking oils are corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, sunflower, and vegetable oils. As a rule, eat a diet that is primarily based on whole, plant-based foods and is low in saturated and animal fats.

What is a healthy cholesterol level?

Cholesterol is divided into two types:

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol, which can build up and block arteries
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol, which helps clear other forms of cholesterol from the bloodstream.
Total cholesterol is the sum of HDL and LDL levels and falls into one of three categories:

Healthy: Less than 200 milligrams/deciliter (mg/dL)
Upper limit: 200-239 mg/dL
High: 240 mg/dl and above

How can you reduce your risk of cholesterol and heart attack?

Along with obesity, smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes, a high cholesterol level is one of the risk factors for heart disease and heart attack. The good news? You can control many other risk factors.

Take the following steps to lower your cholesterol levels and, in turn, your risk of heart attack.

1 Eat a heart-healthy diet

A healthy diet is the first thing to do. A diet rich in vegetables and fruits, legumes, whole grains and nuts. It can also include fish, as well as lean meat and poultry.

2 Exercise regularly

Get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise every week to stay healthy. Moderate-intensity exercise involves brisk walking, while high-intensity exercise involves running.

3 Maintain a healthy weight

If you are overweight, losing that weight is important. The good news is that the combination of healthy eating and exercise can go a long way toward achieving this goal.

4 Be proactive in dealing with stress

Assess what is causing your stress and, if possible, try to address the underlying cause. For example, if you have a job that doesn’t match your interests and personality, you can work with a professional coach. Of course, some sources of stress cannot be corrected, but they can be better managed through exercise, meditation, counseling, or reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption.

5 Quit smoking

If you smoke, quitting smoking is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of heart attack. In general, quitting smoking is helpful because smoking damages the lining of blood vessels. Tobacco also promotes blood clotting. Quitting smoking therefore helps prevent the formation of a clot that could otherwise lead to a heart attack.

6 Limit your alcohol consumption

Drinking too much alcohol can raise your triglycerides, a fat in your blood. In combination with high LDL levels, it can increase the risk of heart attack. Moderate alcohol consumption is one drink per day for women and one or two drinks per day for men.

7 treatment of other health problems

Certain other health conditions, such as diabetes, can also increase the risk of heart attack. Chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or inflammatory bowel disease can also damage blood vessels. The right treatment can help reduce your risk of heart attack and improve your overall health.

Of course, even if you diligently pursue a heart-healthy lifestyle, it’s still possible to have a heart attack. Some risk factors, such as your age and family history, are beyond your control. If a person takes good care of themselves and has a heart attack at age 80, that’s just the 80-year accumulation. So those are your risk factors and how long you’ve had them.

Taking steps to stay as healthy as possible is still the best way to lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart attack, no matter your age.

* Presse Santé strives to convey health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE can the information given replace the advice of a doctor.

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