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February 7, 2023
Have High Cholesterol? This One Ingredient Can Help
You could have a sticky, greasy substance building up in your blood…without even knowing it. When was the last time you had your cholesterol levels checked?
High cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke (1). But if you have it without knowing, your daily life probably feels surprisingly normal. In fact, you won’t experience any symptoms at all—there are zero warning signs. (This is why routine cholesterol screening with your doctor is important!)
The numbers are staggering. Nearly 94 million Americans who are age 20 or older have cholesterol levels that are considered high or borderline high. The condition can affect any age group: almost 7% of Americans aged 6 to 19 have high cholesterol (2).
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in the body that keeps cells healthy and working properly. One way it does this is by providing insulation and protection to cells, keeping them from drying out and helping to create hormones, cell membranes, and vitamin D.
However, when cholesterol is high, it can stick to your artery walls and create an unhealthy build-up.
Over time, this build-up of cholesterol can harden into plaque that blocks your arteries, making it harder for your blood to flow through them (since they’re now narrower). This condition is called atherosclerosis. With atherosclerosis, a blood clot could block the healthy flow of blood and lead to a heart attack or stroke (3). Atherosclerosis can also raise your risk of gallstones (4).
High cholesterol can also lead to other life-threatening complications like high blood pressure, peripheral vascular disease, and kidney disease.
What Is Considered High Cholesterol?
When your total cholesterol is 240 mg/dL or more, it is considered high. When your total cholesterol is anywhere from 200 mg/dL to 239 mg/dL, it is considered borderline high, which is also a cause for concern (5).
There are two types of cholesterol: LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”) and HDL cholesterol (“good cholesterol”). LDL carries cholesterol to your arteries and creates the dangerous plaque that can cause a heart attack or stroke. You want to aim to keep this number lower.
HDL helps return LDL (the “bad” stuff) to your liver, where it will be removed from your body. Healthy amounts of HDL in the body can help decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke. When people say they have high cholesterol, they are usually referring to high levels of LDL, and a high total cholesterol count.
Who Can Get High Cholesterol?
High cholesterol has both lifestyle and genetic factors. Age, gender, genes, weight, eating habits, and physical activity level can all make an impact. The risk is increased if you are obese, eat high levels of saturated fats or trans fats, smoke, or have a family history of high cholesterol. If you have diabetes, hypothyroidism, or kidney disease, you may also be at an increased risk (6).
You can develop high cholesterol at any age, but most diagnoses are in people from ages 40 to 59. This is because, as we age, our liver becomes less efficient at removing LDL (“bad cholesterol”) than it used to be (7).
Is There a Link Between High Blood Pressure & High Cholesterol?
When you have high blood pressure and high cholesterol at the same time, they can work together to drastically worsen your risk of heart disease (8). This danger holds true even if your cholesterol and high blood pressure levels are only mildly raised.
While these two conditions have a lot in common, and are often associated with each other, they are not the same thing. High cholesterol creates blockages in the arteries. High blood pressure creates, well, pressure.
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, happens when the pressure at which your blood pushes against your blood vessel walls is consistently higher than what is considered healthy. If your arteries are narrowed and hardened due to high cholesterol, your heart has to work extra hard to pump your blood. And if that blood is pushing against the arteries at a high pressure while also struggling to pass through, you’ve got a double whammy of problems, and a risk of artery tears and other issues. If you do develop artery tears, guess what may end up settling in those tears? More cholesterol build-up, and subsequently even more plaque.
There are many possible causes of high blood pressure, but many people develop it as a direct result of high cholesterol. So if you don’t have high blood pressure right now, it’s essential to get your cholesterol down to a healthy level before you do (9, 10, 11, 12). Here’s how…
Taking Krill Oil to Lower Your Cholesterol (Plus Other Things You Can Do)
Increasing your daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids is one of the best ways to lower “bad” cholesterol (13).
You’ll find high levels of omega-3 in food like salmon, herring, mackerel, walnuts, ground flaxseeds, avocados, and almonds. But if you want to make sure you’re truly getting enough omega-3 each day, take a supplement like Antarctic Krill Oil.
Krill oil is packed with omega-3s to help keep your cholesterol in check (14). It’s like fish oil, but better: early research has found that krill oil may lower cholesterol and triglycerides more effectively than fish oil (15).
There are two key types of omega-3 fatty acids in krill: EPA and DHA. Both have been found to help reduce inflammation and triglyceride levels, which can help protect your blood vessels (16). The body absorbs EPA and DHA more easily from krill oil than it does from fish oil (17).
One thing to keep in mind: if you take blood thinners, you shouldn’t take krill oil unless your doctor gives you the go-ahead, since it can increase your chances of bleeding.
In addition to krill, there are several other lifestyle changes you can make to lower your high cholesterol…
- Get your cholesterol checked by your doctor regularly, so you’re always informed on where you stand.
- Get regular exercise, and consult your doctor if you’re not sure where to start.
- If you are carrying extra weight, consider making lifestyle changes to support a healthy weight.
- Refrain from smoking. If you are a smoker, consider taking baby steps to quit. It’s tough but worth it!
- Avoid food that is high in cholesterol, trans fat, and saturated fat. Lower your intake of fast food, pre-packaged processed foods, and fried food. Eat fewer high-cholesterol foods like red meat, full-fat dairy, butter, and eggs. Reach instead for lean protein and high-fiber food.
Misconceptions About High Cholesterol
The subject of cholesterol can be confusing, which has caused a few myths to arise over the years. Here are two of them…
Myth: all cholesterol is bad for you.
There are two types of cholesterol: LDL and HDL. The “bad cholesterol” you want to avoid is LDL cholesterol. This is the type of cholesterol that causes build-up and plaque in your arteries and can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. The other type of cholesterol, HDL, is “good cholesterol.” HDL helps to decrease the amount of LDL in your body and can actually lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Myth: eating any kind of fat gives you high cholesterol.
In reality, some types of fat can harm your cholesterol levels and put you at risk of heart disease and stroke, but other types of fats are healthy! Fats to avoid include saturated fat and trans fat (18). But feel free to enjoy unsaturated fats in moderation. They can actually help lower your LDL cholesterol! Examples of foods that contain healthy fats include salmon, avocados, olives, and walnuts.
The Bottom Line
- High cholesterol can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke, but it doesn’t have any symptoms or warning signs.
- Anyone can develop high cholesterol at any age.
- If you have both high cholesterol and high blood pressure, your risk of heart disease is dangerously high, even if both levels are only mildly elevated.
- You can lower your cholesterol through healthy eating, regular exercise, not smoking, losing weight, and loading up on healthy ingredients like omega-3 fatty acids.
As a writer, editor, and wellness seeker, Claire has written for Self, Health, Prevention, CNN, Mic, Livestrong, and Greatist, just to name a few. When she's not writing, she specializes in traveling, getting lost in health-related research rabbit holes, and finding new ways to spoil her cat.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.