If you are overweight, you have an increased risk of having high cholesterol or LDL. Low-density lipoprotein is notoriously “bad” because it accumulates on the walls of blood vessels. It accounts for most of the cholesterol in your body and is flushed out by high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol. Losing just 5% of your body weight can lower bad cholesterol levels significantly enough to reduce the health risks, which is one reason we see people considering weight loss surgery in Houston.1
Why Is High Cholesterol Bad?
Cholesterol is a lipid or fatty compound produced in the body. Used to create hormones, vitamin D, and cell membranes, it is made by the liver and also comes from the food you eat. The good cholesterol in your body transports LDL to the liver, where it is broken down or passed on as waste.
One reason cholesterol can cause problems is it doesn’t dissolve in water. It can, therefore, travel freely through the blood. If high levels are left untreated, cholesterol plaque can form, narrowing the path for blood to flow through the arteries. High cholesterol is directly correlated with serious health conditions such as:
- Atherosclerosis: This is a narrowing of the arteries caused by fatty deposits, which form plaques on the inner walls that can close or break off.
- Heart attack: This occurs when an artery becomes completely blocked, restricting blood flow to the heart. Angina or chest pain can be a sign of developing trouble.
- Stroke: The blood supply to the brain is blocked during a stroke, which can lead to serious brain injury, impairment, and death if not treated immediately.
- Transient ischemic attack (TIA): This “mini stroke” is caused by a temporary disruption of blood flow and lack of oxygen to the brain.
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD): Narrowed arteries cause a chronic reduction in blood flow to the limbs, most often the legs.
Lifestyle Habits that Lead to High Cholesterol
A family history of hyperlipidemia (the fancy word for high cholesterol), stroke, or heart disease can put you at risk. With familial hypercholesterolemia, you can have high cholesterol even if you eat healthily. Cholesterol also tends to rise with age. However, there are many lifestyle habits that play a role, including:
- Poor diet: Your blood cholesterol will rise if you eat a lot of foods high in saturated fats. These include meats such as beef, veal, and pork, as well as dairy products like cheese, butter, and milk. Cookies, chips, and crackers are snacks that have high amounts of unhealthy fat. The greater the quantity you consume, the more at risk you are of having high cholesterol.
- Smoking: Cigarettes contain acrolein, a chemical that prevents HDL from transporting cholesterol away from fatty deposits. This can accelerate the narrowing of arteries. Smoking also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, which can be greatly reduced by quitting.
- Lack of exercise or activity: Inactivity lowers good cholesterol levels, so LDL is more likely to form deposits inside the arteries. Combined with a high-fat diet and obesity, a sedentary lifestyle puts you at risk of developing high cholesterol and its associated health issues.
It’s not only lifestyle habits that contribute to the problem or the success of different types of weight loss surgery. Medical conditions such as kidney disease, hypothyroidism, and diabetes can put you at risk. Obesity and being overweight increases the liver’s output of LDL cholesterol and slows down the process of clearing it from the blood.
Changes that Can Lead to Lower Cholesterol
By losing just 5% of your body weight, LDL levels can be lowered by 18 points, while combining weight loss and a healthy diet can lower them up to 30%.2 Cessation of smoking can raise your HDL up to 10%.3 Dietary changes to lower your cholesterol include avoiding foods with saturated fats. Pasta, white bread, and bagels, while whole-wheat varieties lower in calories can help; these often have heart-healthy fiber as well.
Reducing your calorie intake is an important step. Be aware of how many servings are in a package; the label might list calories per serving and, if you’re eating more, you may be ingesting more fat than you think. You can avoid overeating by having five or six small meals a day. If you snack, apples, carrots, and blueberries are good for your health. Fruits and vegetables, in general, are very good for your health.
Also, limit your intake of soda, juice, and alcohol and use water as your primary source of hydration. In general, these food choices can help lower your cholesterol:
- Chicken, fish, legumes, and other lean sources of protein.
- Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other high-fiber foods.
- Baked, steamed, broiled, grilled, and roasted foods (not fried).
You can also drastically cut your calorie intake by closing the kitchen after dinner. Otherwise, you risk mindlessly snacking on the couch while watching TV, which is notoriously unhealthy.
Giving up smoking can lower your cholesterol, as can getting regular exercise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150 minutes of activity a week for adults, which can be spread out. A half-hour of exercise, five days a week, can be beneficial, and you can even break this up to smaller amounts of time throughout the day. The CDC also suggests doing muscle-building exercises at least two days a week and 75 minutes of jogging, running, or other vigorous aerobic activity.4 if cleared by your doctor.
Why Do Some Choose to Have Weight Loss Surgery as a Solution?
Being overweight is a risk factor for developing high cholesterol. When other weight loss solutions fail, some people turn to bariatric surgery. It can provide a path to weight loss and, with a healthy diet and regular exercise, can reduce one’s risk of developing serious health complications.
Surgery is a last resort after dieting, lifestyle changes, and medications have not had the desired effect. For some people, a more drastic approach is required, even after a medically supervised weight loss plan. At Bariatric Care Centers, our weight loss surgery options include vertical sleeve gastrectomy, which reduces the size of the stomach and the amount of food you can eat, and gastric bypass, a more complex procedure that can reduce hunger, make you feel fuller, and boost metabolism.
To discuss the best option for you during a free one-on-one consultation, contact Brian Mirza, MD, FACS of Bariatric Care Centers today at 713-339-1353.
Disclaimer: This is only for general information. All patients should consult their doctors prior to following any of the recommendations in any articles and videos. Every patient has individual needs and limitations that only their treating physicians can be aware of.