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4 Tips on How to Lower Cholesterol Fast

High cholesterol, regardless of what you may have heard, is not as inevitable as is growing older. We can fight back, but how? Here are four proven, effective ways we've found to lower your cholesterol, fast, and maybe just in time before taking that pesky life insurance exam!

According to experts, there are four basic ways to get your cholesterol where you want it:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising
  • Losing weight
  • Taking medicine -- in some cases

While each works, some have more success with one than another. Many need a combination.

No matter your age or your health, you can reduce your risks of serious problems by controlling your cholesterol -- and it's not as hard as you may think.

Know Your Cholesterol Numbers

While doctors will tell you that people are often alarmed when they find out they have high cholesterol, many are also confused because they don't understand what the numbers mean. They don't know the difference between total cholesterol, LDL and HDL.

So let's start with some basics. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that circulates in your blood. Some of it is made naturally by your body, and the rest comes from foods you eat. There are two main types: HDL and LDL.

  • LDL is "bad cholesterol." It can clog your arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Optimal number: Less than 100mg/dL.
  • HDL is "good cholesterol." What's good about it? HDL attaches to bad cholesterol and escorts it to the liver, which filters it out of the body. So HDL reduces the amount of bad cholesterol in your system. Desirable number: 60mg/dL or higher.
  • Total cholesterol is the sum of all types of cholesterol in your blood. Although your doctor may still refer to this number, it's less significant than your HDL and LDL levels. Desirable number: Less than 200 mg/dL.
  • Triglycerides, while not cholesterol, are another type of fat floating in your blood. Just as with bad cholesterol, having a high level of triglycerides increases your risk of cardiovascular problems. Healthy number: Less than 150 mg/dL.

Think you need to get a handle on your LDL, HDL, total cholesterol or triglycerides? Here's how to do it.

1. Lower Cholesterol by Eating Right

You've probably heard it before, but foods that are high in saturated fat and -- to a lesser extent -- high in cholesterol, boost your cholesterol levels. These include foods like egg yolks, fatty meats, and full-fat dairy products.

Doctors recommend you also cut down on trans fatty acids as well, which are more often found in processed and fried foods.

But eating a "heart healthy diet" isn't just about deprivation. In fact, some foods -- eaten in moderation -- can actually improve your cholesterol levels. They include:

  • Fatty fish, like tuna and salmon
  • Nuts, especially walnuts and almonds
  • Oatmeal and oat bran
  • Foods fortified with stanols, like some margarine, and orange juices

2. Improving Cholesterol With Exercise

Exercise is another way to improve your cholesterol levels. Increased physical activity can have a modest effect on cholesterol, lowering triglycerides (and bad LDL cholesterol to a lesser extent), while boosting your good HDL cholesterol.

The type of exercise is up to you but just about any aerobic activity -- something that boosts your heart rate -- is good. Walking is often the best way for people who are out of shape to get started.

One good tip here is to buy a five dollar pedometer to count your daily steps. It's a simple way to measure your progress, and it's easy to work in walking during the day.

3. Losing Weight = Lowering Cholesterol

Being overweight leads to unhealthy cholesterol levels. Losing weight can lower your bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. It can also raise your good HDL cholesterol.

Of course, weight loss is usually a product of a good diet and exercise. So what if you've already improved your diet and started exercising but still need to lose weight? Experts will generally tell you, you need to make some further adjustments -- but gradually.

Once you've reduced your intake of saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol, you can focus on cutting out some calories. In the same way, once you've gotten into an exercise routine, you can also step up the intensity to lose some pounds.

4. Controlling Cholesterol With Medication

So what happens if diet, exercise and weight loss aren't enough to bring your cholesterol under control? Your doctor might recommend medicine but your life insurance exam will pick this up, and may hurt your chances of getting the price and policy you want.

Still, medicine may also be a first choice for people who have other risk factors. For example, if you have high cholesterol and heart disease or diabetes, the evidence is pretty clear that you should be on medication.

Several popular types of medication include:

  • Statins, like Crestor, Lescol, Lipitor, Mevacor, Pravachol, and Zocor. Statins are usually the doctors first choice for medicine. They block the effects of an enzyme that helps make cholesterol. They also lower bad cholesterol by a whopping 20-55%. They have a modest effect on triglycerides and give a mild boost to your good cholesterol.
  • Ezetimibe (Zetia) is a relatively newer cholesterol-reducing medication that decreases how much cholesterol the body absorbs. It can lower bad cholesterol by up to 25%. Ezetimibe is sometimes combined with a statin to boost the cholesterol lowering effects. Vytorin is Zetia combined with the statin Zocor.
  • Niacin, available as Niacor, Niaspan, and Nicolar (among others), lowers LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and raises HDL cholesterol. LDL levels are usually cut by 5-15% and may be reduced up to 25%.
  • Bile acid resins like Colestid, Lo-Cholest, Prevalite, Questran, and WelChol. They stick to cholesterol in the intestines and prevent it from being absorbed. They can lower LDL cholesterol by 15-30%.
  • Fibrates like Atromid, Lopid, and Tricor. They mainly reduce your triglycerides and may also give a mild boost to your HDL. LDL is affected to a much lesser extent.

Like any medicines, drugs to lower your cholesterol can have side effects. Talk to your health care provider about the risks.

If you wind up needing a medicine, don't feel like your lifestyle changes have failed. Some people have high cholesterol that just doesn't respond as well to exercise and diet, but keeping up your lifestyle changes may allow you to take lower doses of medicine.

Four Cholesterol Treatments: Which Is Best?

According to WebMD, the best treatment varies from person to person. People at low risk may try lifestyle changes first and only move on to medication if they need it. Others who are at higher risk may need a medicine, like a statin, right away.

Admittedly, lifestyle changes may not be enough to drastically lower your bad LDL levels.

Physical activity and improved diet can lower your triglycerides and raise your [good] HDL cholesterol. But it's pretty hard to eat or exercise your way to better LDL levels.

That does not make lifestyle changes any less important or give you a free pass to loll about the house eating ice cream. You still need to keep eating well and exercising.

Exercise and dietary changes have a lot of cardiovascular benefits that won't show up on a cholesterol test but might well show up on a life insurance exam. Exercise, eating well, and losing weight can lower blood pressure, lower your heart rate, and decrease your risk of diabetes and other diseases.

And remember that your real goal is not merely better life insurance or better cholesterol numbers, but a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and that could mean a longer life.

If your doctor does prescribe a statin, you may have mixed feelings. You may not like the idea of being on a medicine for the rest of your life. But you must still think about the benefits.

Doctors agree not only is the safety and efficacy of statins incredibly high, but they may well be one of the greatest medical advances we've had in recent years.

Soon they may be taken like preventative aspirin is now -- even in people who don't have high cholesterol by today's standards. We've come a long way in our understanding and treatment of high cholesterol. We have excellent, safe treatments for high cholesterol now and treatments that people in the past with high cholesterol would have given absolutely anything to have. So if you need them, it's a shame not to take advantage of them.

For more information on how to lower your cholesterol, go to WebMD where you'll find this and more.

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