How to avoid cholesterol spikes during the holidays

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Frequent consumption of unhealthy foods during the holiday season can cause cholesterol levels to rise by up to 20%, greatly increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. FG Trade/Getty Images
  • The holiday season can take a toll on your heart healthH due to the amount of unhealthy food.
  • Experts explain how cholesterol levels affect this time of year and what you can do about it.
  • Lifestyle choices and treatment from your doctor can keep your heart healthy.

The holiday season may bring a lot of joy to your year, but it can also wreak havoc on your heart health.

In fact, research shows that bad cholesterol levels rise the most during this time of year, by almost 20%.

“[We] Around the holidays, notice that there’s a fairly constant 3, 4, 5 pound weight gain when people start eating a little more around Thanksgiving [drink] more alcohol,” said Dr. Norman Lepor, a cardiologist at Cedars Sinai in Beverly Hills, Calif., told Healthline.

The combination of unhealthy eating and drinking and stress caused by the rush to shop, travel, attend parties, and more may leave less time for mindful eating and exercise. All this together can have a negative effect on the heart.

“The three days with the most heart attacks on the calendar are December 25, December 26, and January 1,” Lepor said.

There are two types of cholesterol.

LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol, often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, makes up the majority of the cholesterol in the body. Elevated LDL levels increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Lepor explained it this way: Cholesterol travels in the arteries and veins and penetrates the blood vessel wall, leading to the formation of plaque.

“I use the analogy of rust; it starts a process of rusting of the arteries,” Lepor said. “This process of rusting of the arteries predisposes you to developing heart attacks, if it’s the coronary arteries, or [if cholesterol is in] the carotid circulation, it predisposes you to stroke.”

In Western society, he said, many people have too much LDL cholesterol.

“We really do consider someone with LDL cholesterol above 100 milligrams per deciliter to have high cholesterol,” Lepor said.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is considered “good” cholesterol, picks up cholesterol in the blood and carries it back to the liver, which then eliminates it from the body. High HDL cholesterol levels can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

In addition, triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood used for energy, play a role in heart health. The combination of high triglyceride levels with low HDL and/or high LDL cholesterol levels can increase the risk of heart attack.

“High triglycerides can cause inflammation in the vessel walls, which facilitates plaque build-up over time,” Amy Pierce, a registered nurse and clinical lipid specialist at the Norton Heart & Vascular Institute, told Healthline.

About 15-20% of cholesterol levels are influenced by lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise, while 85% of cholesterol is made in the liver and is under genetic control.

“High cholesterol is mainly caused by genetics. While diet and exercise are important and can help treat many diseases, it’s very difficult to control cholesterol with diet and exercise alone,” Pierce said.

The good news, she added, is that you can reduce LDL by reducing the amount of saturated fat in your diet and getting a routine exercise consisting of at least 30 to 45 minutes of aerobic and weight-bearing exercise, 4 to 5 times a week Cholesterol up to 10-20%.

Pierce suggested consuming the following to lower cholesterol:

  • Soluble fiber (like that found in Metamucil, Cheerios, and oatmeal) can help lower cholesterol by up to 10%.
  • Foods fortified with plant sterols and stanols, when combined with a balanced diet, can help lower cholesterol levels
  • Some oils and butters can help increase HDL and thus minimally reduce LDL
  • Nuts are a good source of fiber and contain good fats that help increase HDL and, in turn, minimally decrease LDL

In addition, she suggested limiting foods high in sugar and carbohydrates to keep triglyceride levels low, although this approach should not be confused with zero-carb diets.

Lepor suggested the Mediterranean diet as a go-to diet because it’s low in saturated fat. The American Heart Association (AHA) agrees and states that aThe Mediterranean diet can help meet the AHA’s recommendations for a healthy eating pattern that focuses on:

  • Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes
  • Low-fat or non-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, non-tropical vegetable oils and nuts
  • limited added sugars, sugary drinks, sodium, highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and fatty or processed meats

Nearly 50% of Americans have cholesterol levels high enough to warrant medication, but many are not treated for it, Lepor said.

“Probably the reason…the number 1 killer…atherosclerosis, thickening or hardening of the arteries, either from coronary artery or carotid disease, is that there are so many people with high cholesterol that should be treated and are not treated,” he said.

While he thinks doctors could be more confident when treating cholesterol, he said patients also need to be on effective cholesterol-lowering treatments like statins.

In addition to diet and exercise, Pierce said, statin therapy is a first-line treatment.

“Not only do statins lower total cholesterol, LDL (bad), triglycerides and help increase HDL (good), but they also have the ability to reduce inflammation in the vessel walls and stabilize plaque, thereby protecting the heart.” , she said .

If statins are not tolerated or are not reducing levels sufficiently, there are other options that you can discuss with your doctor.

For example, Lepor said a new treatment called Leqvio is an HCP-administered injection that’s being considered add-on therapy to a statin regimen and diet and exercise routine. It is given twice a year after two initial injections.

“We’re not downplaying lifestyle changes, but they also need to be associated with the use of pharmacology,” he said.

The holiday season is a good time to review your current eating and exercise habits and to consider possible ways to live healthier in the new year.

“Once you’ve set those goals, following up with your healthcare provider can help you stay focused and achieve your goals in the healthiest possible way,” Pierce said.

Being proactive is the best thing you can do for your heart, Lepor added.

“Many people don’t even know they have coronary artery disease until they have an event that may be a heart attack [or] sudden death. One of the most important things is that patients need to stand up for themselves,” he said.

Start by asking your doctor to do a coronary calcium scan, which will identify hard plaque. Lepor recommends it for men over 45 and women in perimenopause or older. He said it can identify plaque build-up years before an event develops, opening up the possibility of preventative treatment.

“We are able to achieve optimal cholesterol levels in almost all patients, so there is no excuse for drug availability and lifestyle changes. Know your cholesterol,” he said.

Whether you make an appointment to see your doctor now or after the New Year, Lepor emphasized, “It’s important to be confident when it comes to having [your] Physician up to date on healthy lifestyle recommendations and disease detection.”

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