Dangerous Habits That May Be Raising Your Cholesterol

You probably have a vague idea of what cholesterol is, and that you shouldn’t have high levels of it. The fatty substance is found in all of your cells and is used to make hormones and vitamin D as well as aid in digestion. Too much cholesterol can cause a deadly buildup in your arteries and lead to heart disease.

There are plenty of myths surrounding cholesterol, as well as hidden habits you could be guilty of each day that unknowingly increase your LDL levels.

Taking certain medications

pills in person's hand

Some medications can be detrimental to your cholesterol. | iStock.com

Certain medications raise your triglyceride and lower your good cholesterol, or HDL levels. These meds include thiazide diuretics, beta-blockers, estrogen, and corticosteroids, according to WebMD.

Medications you take for conditions like high blood pressure or hormonal treatments may negatively affect your lipid levels. If you’re currently taking meds to lower your cholesterol, your doctor may choose to adjust your therapy to avoid adverse reactions. Consult your doctor before going off of or switching any medications.

Smoking

an ashtray full of cigarette butts with two people smoking

Smoking isn’t doing your body any favors. | Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Smoking lowers your HDL levels and as a result, can raise your bad cholesterol levels. It can also cause high blood pressure, which damages your arteries. Scarred arteries are a hotspot for LDL cholesterol to settle along with white blood cells. According to the American Heart Association, this increases the likelihood of blood clots.

Blood clots can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Smoking increases your risk of peripheral artery disease as well.

Chronic alcohol consumption

a silhouette of a man drinking a beer

Give the alcohol a rest. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Chronic drinking raises LDL levels, blood pressure, and triglycerides. This damages the artery walls and contributes to your increased risk of heart disease. While alcohol in its pure forms of beer, wine, and liquor doesn’t contain any cholesterol, what you mix it with can influence your health.

How much you consume and how often are other factors that increase your cholesterol. Moderate drinking, which the NIH defines as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, is the amount of alcohol that is considered to have a protective effect on your heart.

Being a couch potato

couple relaxing on a sofa at home

Sitting on the couch all day is not good for your health. | iStock.com/AntonioGuillem

You may not feel like you’re harming your body, but by remaining sedentary for long periods of time, you’re affecting your heart health. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight and strong heart. The University of Maryland Medical Center found that regular exercise raises your HDL cholesterol levels and lowers triglycerides and LDL levels.

Also, the more active you are, the less likely you are to become overweight or obese. Averaging more than your height and age’s healthy allotted weight may increase your LDL levels. Losing as few as five to 10 pounds may help lower bad cholesterol while having a body mass index of 30 or higher increases your risk of raising these levels.

Eating these surprising foods

Granulated sugar in spoon and sugar pile on wooden

Try your best to limit your sugar consumption. | iStock.com/chokja

The common misconception is that fatty foods are the sole enemy of good cholesterol. However, there are other foods that raise your triglyceride and LDL levels and have an adverse effect on your heart health.

Ground turkey and added sugars are the two surprising foods that could be raising your cholesterol. Ground turkey, for example, is thought of as a lean meat. However, any meat — turkey or beef — that is less than 90% lean still has too much fat. Added sugars like high fructose corn syrup are linked to lower levels of HDL. The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 100 calories from added sugars per day for women and less than 150 per day for men.

Using coconut oil

Organic Brown Coconut

Peoples views on coconut oil have drastically changed recently. | iStock.com

There was a time when butter was seen as the enemy of good cholesterol, and coconut oil its healthier counterpart. However, coconut oil still has plenty of saturated fat. Connie Diekman, R.D., says to enjoy coconut and palm oils “in small doses so they won’t sabotage your cholesterol level.”

Other doctors support Diekman’s view on coconut oil. According to Walter C. Willett, M.D., coconut oil is about 90% saturated fat, which is higher than butter. Coconut oil is contradictory, however: While it’s high in saturated fat, the oil itself has been shown to improve good cholesterol levels. Use both coconut oil and butter sparingly to lower your cholesterol.

How to lower your cholesterol

Heart-healthy foods

Add heart-healthy foods to your diet. | Udra/iStock/Getty Images

Eat heart-healthy foods like those that are trans-fat-free and high in omega-3 fatty acids. Increase your intake of foods high in soluble fiber, which has heart-health benefits and lowers your LDL levels. These foods include oats, fruits, beans, lentils, and vegetables.

Exercise can improve cholesterol. Moderate physical activity can help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol. With your doctor’s OK, work up to at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.

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