“Your cholesterol is high,” said your physician, but what exactly does that mean?
There are different kinds of cholesterol.
HDL cholesterol (high-density liproprotein), commonly known as “the good cholesterol” plays a protective role in cardiovascular diseases. HDL removes fats and cholesterol from within the cells and artery walls, and transport them to the liver for excretion or reutilization, therefore preventing plaques, or thrombus, in the arteries.
LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein), due to their low density, can easily build up in the walls of the blood vessels, causing blockages that can lead to heart attacks. This is the reason why LDL cholesterol is commonly known as “the bad cholesterol.”
Triglycerides are another factor that physicians look at when reviewing your cardiovascular risk. Simply put, triglycerides are fat in the blood that is used as fuel for the body. Extra triglycerides are stored in different places, commonly the hips and the belly, for later use. High triglycerides lead to a greater chance of heart disease and pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).
Now, where does salmon come into play?
Salmon is a very rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids can lower triglyceride levels by approximately 50 percent. Consequently, since triglyceride concentration is a determinant of LDL cholesterol, lowering triglycerides will also decrease the LDL cholesterol, reducing the risk of plaque or blockage formation in the blood vessels.
Another common source of omega-3 fatty acids is fish oils. Besides lowering triglycerides and LDL, fish oil supplements also modestly raises HDL-cholesterol, “the good cholesterol.” Additionally, in adults older than age 45, fish oils can also lower systolic blood pressure by 3-5 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 2-3 mmHg. Generally speaking, the effects of fish oil occur within weeks of habitual consumption.
On the other hand, the most common side effect of fish oil is gastrointestinal disturbances such as nausea, which occurs in about 4% of individuals taking less than 3g/day or in 20% of individuals taking more than 4g/day. Another common side effect is “fishy taste” or “fishy burping.” One can minimize this effect by freezing the fish oil, switching to a different formulation or consumption with meals.
Fish oils are easily found over the counter in many drug stores. Lovaza or Vascepa are brand-name highly concentrated fish oils that require a physician’s prescription, mostly for adults with high or very high triglycerides. Talk to your physician about your options, as well as your medical conditions, so that your physician can recommend the best kind of therapy for you.