Atherosclerosis increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and other vascular diseases. Fortunately, you may be able to reduce high lipid levels and, therefore, prevent or slow the progression of atherosclerosis-
Physicians usually recommend making changes in your diet and exercise habits called therapeutic lifestyle changes (TLC). TLC can lower total cholesterol by 10 to 20 percent in some people. More commonly, however, people with hyperlipidemia experience a 2 to 6 percent reduction from TLC.
A major part of TLC is changing your diet. Your physician may recommend changes such as:
- Reducing your saturated fat intake to 7 percent of your daily calories
- Reducing your total fat intake to 25 to 35 percent of your daily calories
- Limiting your dietary cholesterol to less than 200 mg per day
- Eating 20 to 30 g a day of soluble fiber, which is found in oats, peas, beans, and certain fruits
- Increasing your intake of plant stanols or sterols, substances found in nuts, vegetable oils, corn and rice, to 2 to 3 g daily
Other foods that can help control cholesterol include cold-water fish, such as mackerel, sardines, and salmon. These fish contain omega-3 fatty acids that may lower triglycerides. Soybeans found in tofu, soy nuts and many meat substitutes contain a powerful antioxidant that can lower LDL.
A supplement known as psyllium can help you increase your soluble fiber intake. Made from seed grain husks, psyllium helps absorb water and cholesterol from your intestines and may improve the ratio of HDL to LDL.
Excess weight can decrease your HDL cholesterol, and losing excess weight can lower your LDL levels. Your physician will help you decide how much weight you need to lose. One consideration, though, is body shape. If you carry extra weight around the middle of your body, you have a greater chance of heart disease than if your weight clusters around your hips, thighs, and bottom.
Exercise makes up another component of TLC. Your physician will recommend an exercise program, such as walking briskly for 20 to 30 minutes most days of the week. Exercise can help you lose or maintain weight, relieve stress, raise HDL, and lower triglycerides and LDL. Make sure to talk with your physician before starting any exercise program and gradually increase how long and how often you exercise.
If you smoke, you should quit immediately, especially after finding out you have hyperlipidemia. Smoking can lower HDL, narrow your blood vessels, and injure your blood vessel walls. All of these effects can speed hardening of the arteries.