Cholesterol is one of the most important contributors to atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, heart disease, and heart attacks. Keeping your cholesterol levels in a healthy range can be difficult, especially when you’re wondering whether your numbers are truly high or are temporarily elevated because of short-term factors related to your diet and lifestyle habits. It is important to have your doctor check your cholesterol levels regularly to find out what might be causing fluctuations.
Eating Fatty Foods
Eating foods that are high in total fat, saturated fats, trans fats and calories can raise your blood cholesterol levels, according to the University of Illinois. These foods include fried foods, meat and dairy products and baked goods. Your cholesterol levels can rise after you eat a fatty meal. This is why doctors recommend not eating anything or having anything to drink except water eight to 12 hours before getting a blood test for cholesterol. However, even fasting for 12 hours may not completely balance the fluctuation caused by eating an especially fat-rich meal. In other words, if you have had an unusually large and fatty meal, it may raise your cholesterol for more than a day.
A study published in "The Journal of the American Medical Association" examined cholesterol changes in over 500 patients over the course of the year. The highest cholesterol levels were seen during December and January while the lowest were seen in the summer. While they found that most people’s total cholesterol didn’t vary much -- 2 percent on average in men and 3 percent in women -- these small changes were enough to put an extra 22 percent of patients into the high cholesterol category. The researchers also noted that women and patients with high cholesterol were more prone to larger fluctuations. These changes in cholesterol levels occur partly because people have higher blood volume in the summer months. This happens because they are more active and drink more fluids. The greater blood volume means cholesterol concentration gets diluted.
A moderate amount of alcohol, especially in the form of red wine, has been touted as helpful for lowering LDL or unhealthy cholesterol and raising HDL or healthy cholesterol. MayoClinic.com notes that this amount is one drink daily for women of any age, up to one drink daily for males over age 65, and up to 2 drinks daily for men under 65. However, the website cautions that the cholesterol-related benefits of light drinking are not significant enough to recommend that non-drinkers start drinking. Alcohol consumption in excess can cause health problems including weight gain, liver damage, malnutrition, neurological damage, and high blood pressure.
Modifying Cholesterol Levels
The American Heart Association has several suggestions on how to keep your cholesterol levels balanced. These include smoking cessation. Cigarette smoking can increase harmful plaque and cholesterol build-up in your arteries. Exercise for at least 30 minutes at least four times per week. Be sure you’re getting your heart rate up to 85 percent of your maximum to reap the highest health benefit. A simple formula for calculating your maximum heart rate is subtracting your age from 220. Additionally, it is important to eat a balanced diet that is high in fiber, whole grains, raw fruits and veggies and low in refined starches, trans and saturated fat and red meat.
- MayoClinic.com: Top 5 Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Cholesterol
- American Heart Association: Prevention and Treatment of High Cholesterol
- Journal of the American Medical Association: Seasonal Variation in Serum Cholesterol Levels
- University of Illinois Extension: Dietary Factors That Increase Blood Cholesterol
Nadia Haris is a registered radiation therapist who has been writing about nutrition for more than six years. She is completing her Master of Science in nutrition with a focus on the dietary needs of oncology patients.