If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol, also called hyperlipidemia, it means a lab test showed that you have too much fatty plaque in your blood. When too much of this plaque builds up in the body’s cardiovascular system (our blood vessels and arteries) it is called atherosclerosis. This leads to a narrowing of the space within the blood vessels and arteries, which reduces the amount of vital nutrients and oxygen carried throughout the body.
Over time, a decrease in glucose and oxygen, in particular, can damage the smallest arteries in the body most severely. These include those in the feet, eyes and brain. Within the brain, this can cause permanent damage and result in thinking and memory problems, particularly the rapid recall of known information, like quickly finding a word or recalling a friend’s name on the spot.
In the worst case, a narrowing of the blood vessels and arteries can completely block blood flow to the brain and cause a stroke. This type of brain damage is more likely to occur if someone has other medical conditions that also reduce blood flow throughout the body, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or untreated sleep apnea.
Consider these five recommendations to improve your blood flow for optimal brain health:
- Strive for at least 30 minutes of safe physical activity most days of the week. This does not have to be in the form of aerobics, lifting weights or even fast walking; just do your best to move your body more. You may choose to park farther from the store entrance, lift your legs and arms during commercial breaks while watching television or walk around the block twice a day.
- Try to improve your diet by eating foods high in fiber, such as oatmeal, whole-grain breads, fruits and vegetables. Reduce foods high in saturated fat or cholesterol, such as meats, butter, dairy products, and foods with palm oil. Drink more water (aim for 6-8 glasses a day) and less soda, fruit juice and other drinks that are high in sugar.
- A number of studies have found that a mild to moderate intake of alcohol (one or two small glasses a day) has a protective effect on blood vessels.Drinking alcohol in these amounts may also help to raise your good cholesterol levels. Although red wine is most often touted for its beneficial properties, any kind of alcoholic beverage appears to have a similar benefit. If you have liver disease, you should not drink at all. It is important to consult with your doctor to make sure that none of your medications prohibit you from drinking.
- If you smoke, try everything you can to quit. Cigarette smoking lowers the good cholesterol in your body (called “HDL”). Once a person quits smoking, these good cholesterol levels slowly change to levels that are equal to people who do not smoke. If you are not a smoker, but live with someone who is, ask him or her to consider quitting or at least smoke away from you.
- Take your medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Developing a routine to remind you when to take your medications will make it easier to remember. For example, taking your medications with breakfast is a good cue for remembering. Using a pillbox along with notes and reminders may also help you remember to take your medications. If you still have trouble remembering to take every single dose, ask a family member or friend to call and remind you, or set up a reminder system, such as an alarm on your cell phone.