Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States; and high LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, is one of the major risk factors of heart disease. More than half of all American adults have high LDL levels, according to US News & World Report Health. Reducing high LDL levels to less than 130 milligrams per deciliter -- or less than 70 milligrams per deciliter, if you have existing heart disease -- may save your life.
Your diet is one of the biggest contributing factors to high LDL. Luckily, improving an unhealthy diet can lower your LDL levels. Remove from your diet saturated fats, which are found in red meat and full-fat dairy products, and trans fats, which are found in processed, packaged foods. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, oats, nuts, beans, barley, fatty fish and whole-grains. Look for foods such as orange juice and granola bars that are fortified with plant stanols or sterols, which are plant compounds that help lower LDL cholesterol levels. Consuming 2 grams of plant sterols every day can reduce LDL cholesterol by approximately 10 percent, according to Harvard Medical School.
Even if you’re at a healthy weight, exercise can help reduce LDL. As an added bonus, exercise also increases high density-lipoprotein, or HDL, levels. HDL is often deemed “good cholesterol” because it helps lower the risk of heart disease by removing LDL cholesterol from your blood. Include both aerobic activity and resistance training in your exercise program. MayoClinic.com recommends working up to at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week.
A better diet and regular exercise routine will contribute to weight loss, which also lowers LDL levels. Losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can help decrease LDL, as well as increase HDL levels. If you weigh 150 pounds, this means losing 7.5 to 15 pounds, and maintaining that weight loss for the long-term.
If diet, exercise and weight loss aren’t enough to lower your LDL levels, your doctor may recommend adding a medication or combination of medications to your routine. Statins, the most commonly prescribed cholesterol-lowering drug, can lower LDL levels by 10 to 55 percent, depending on the dose, according to US News & World Report Health. Cholesterol-absorption inhibitors, another type of cholesterol-lowering drug, can reduce LDL levels by 15 to 20 percent. Medications are not a replacement for a healthy lifestyle. If your doctor prescribes medication, also keep up your good health habits.
- US News & World Report Health: Lowering LDL Cholesterol
- Harvard Medical School: 11 Foods that Lower Cholesterol
- Alabama Cooperative Extension System: Food Selections Can Help Lower LDL or "Bad" Cholesterol
- University of New Mexico: Exercise and Cholesterol
- MayoClinic.com: Top 5 Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Cholesterol
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Leading Causes of Death
- Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images