September is National Cholesterol Education Month in the United States, so it’s an appropriate time of year to get updated with the facts. Research is ongoing in this particular area related to heart health, especially since high cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
High cholesterol usually doesn’t have any symptoms. As a result, many people do not know that their cholesterol levels are too high. However, doctors can do a simple blood test to check your cholesterol—it’s called a lipoprotein profile and can measure your total cholesterol levels, including LDL (low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol), HDL (high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol), and triglycerides. The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) recommends that adults aged 20 years or older have their cholesterol checked every five years.
In the United States, more than one-fifth (20%) of youth aged 12–19 years have at least one abnormal lipid level.1 Risk increases for children two or older through their teen years if they are overweight, have a family history of high cholesterol, or a family history of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, or certain chronic conditions, such as kidney disease, inflammatory diseases, congenital heart disease, and childhood cancer survivorship.2
High cholesterol can be controlled through lifestyle changes but if practicing Active Wellness is not enough, physicians frequently prescribe medications known as statins. Side effects vary depending upon the individual.
Lowering cholesterol naturally takes discipline and commitment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention focus on improving the diet to combat high cholesterol:
- Limit foods high in saturated fat. Saturated fats come from animal products (such as cheese, fatty meats, and dairy desserts) and tropical oils. Foods that are higher in saturated fat may be high in cholesterol.
- Choose foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium (salt), and added sugars, such as lean meats, seafood, fat-free or low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables.
- Eat foods naturally high in fiber, such as oatmeal and beans (black, pinto, kidney, lima, and others) and unsaturated fats, which can be found in avocado, vegetable oils like olive oil and nuts. These foods may help prevent and manage high levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels.
When it comes to naturally lowering cholesterol, the partner to a healthy diet is exercise. The Surgeon General recommends two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking or bicycling, every week—or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous activity. Children and adolescents should get one hour or more of physical activity every day.3
Another alternative to statins that may work well with an Active Wellness lifestyle is taking a nutritional supplement made with bergamot fruit. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) has published various studies and multiple clinical trials with bergamot. To summarize their findings, bergamot has been found to contain a variety of phytochemicals—otherwise known as biologically active compounds—that are known to be beneficial in helping to reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in patients with levels that are higher than what is widely considered by researchers and physicians to be within a healthy range.4 Bergamot therefore continues to be studied for confirmation of its benefits.