Cholesterol is basically a waxy substance found in each single cell of your body. It comes from two main sources: your body and food. It plays a crucial role in the creation of cell membranes, certain hormones and bile acids that assist in fat digestion, and Vitamin D. It is also vital for various neurological functions and for improved brain function.
Your liver makes all the cholesterol needed for various body functions which circulates through the blood. It is found in most animal sources including eggs, meat, dairy products, and full-fat dairy. It travels through your bloodstream in small packages known as lipoproteins. As their name suggests, these lipoproteins are made up of fats (lipids) on the inside and protein on the outside.
There are two main types of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol throughout your body. They include Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL) and High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL). Having balanced or rather healthy levels of both lipoproteins is crucial to your overall health.
LDL is commonly referred to as the “Bad” one as when in high levels leads, it leads to a buildup in your arteries. This buildup leads to the formation of plaque that makes your arteries become narrow and less flexible. In case a clot forms in these narrow arteries, a heart attack, stroke, Angina (chest pain) or brain damage may result. On the other hand, HDL is commonly referred to as the “good” one. It carries the bad cholesterol into the liver from where it is removed from the body. It also keeps them away from the arteries and removes any excess arterial plaque, which reduces the risk of atherosclerosis.
What is High Cholesterol and Why is it Unsafe?
High cholesterol means that there is too much in your blood. In this case, it depends on which type. When LDL is too high, there is a greater chance of developing coronary heart disease, also known as coronary artery disease. On the other hand, when HDL level is high, there is a limited chance of developing heart disease. Therefore, maintaining low levels of LDL is very important.
Understanding the Numbers
These levels are measured in a blood test known as Lipid Profile. The test measures various kinds of cholesterol plus triglycerides that are known to cause heart disease in high levels. Some doctors may perform another blood test that only checks the total and HLD.
In regard to HDL, the level of less than 40 milligrams per deciliter in men and 50 milligrams per deciliter in women may increase the risk of heart disease. However, the levels of 60mg dl and above protect against heart disease. For LDL , the level of less than 100 milligrams per deciliter is said to be the best while the levels of 100mg dl to 129mg dl are said to be optimal. However, the levels of 130 to 159 are said to be high and 160mg dl to 189mg dl is considered as a high risk. A level of 190mg dl and above is considered as an extremely high risk.
Getting regular checkups is important to reduce your risk of heart disease and other complications. Experts recommend having levels measured at least once every five years in everyone over the age of 20. Experts also recommend women of age 45 and above and men aged 35 and above to be more frequently screened for lipid disorders.
• Diet: Consuming a diet loaded with saturated fats, trans fats, increase your risk.
• Obesity/Overweight: Being overweight or obese increase your cholesterol levels as well as triglycerides which are associated with increased risk of heart disease.
• Lack of Exercise: Lack of regular exercise will increase your levels where as exercise boosts blood circulation which helps in the faster elimination from the body. HDL increases with regular exercise.
• Smoking: Smoking increases cholesterol levels. Quitting smoking can help.
• Age and Gender: An increase in age results in an increase in cholesterol levels. In the case of gender, women at menopause stage tend to have more cholesterol than men of the same age.
• Hereditary: High blood cholesterol may be determined by your genes. It is also known to run in some families.
Lowering Blood Cholesterol
Understanding the risk factors of high cholesterol levels can help you make an informed decision when on a mission to lower it. Besides taking the right medication, there are other natural ways that can help.
• Eat a Healthy Diet: Instead of loading up on processed foods which normally contain high amounts of saturated fats, trans fats, aim to eat healthier foods. These foods include whole grains, high-quality proteins, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
• Regular Exercise: As stated earlier, exercise boosts blood circulation which allows more cholesterol to be eliminated from the body by the liver. At least 30 minutes of activities such as running, jogging, swimming, cycling, and rope-jumping can help.
• Lose Weight: Losing weight will help lower your cholesterol levels and excess fat, reducing your risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions such as diabetes.
• Quit Smoking: Cigarette smoking lowers HDL levels, reducing its protective effects against heart disease. The Acrolein substance found in cigarettes also inhibits the protective enzyme responsible for keeping LDL intact, thereby making it more vulnerable to oxidation. Quit smoking to increase your HDL levels and stabilize your LDL cholesterol to reduce your risk of heart disease and other complications.
• Manage Your Stress: Stress is commonly linked to bad dietary habits which include consumption of foods high in cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats, and excessive body weight. All these factors are known to increase blood cholesterol levels. Practicing stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing can help you keep your cholesterol levels in check.
• Following a Treatment Plan: When your blood cholesterol is way above average, your doctor may prescribe certain medications to help lower it. Stick to your recommended treatment plan and incorporate proper lifestyle changes to lower your blood cholesterol.
Reduce your risk of developing heart disease by lowering your cholesterol levels. Even better, adopting these lifestyle changes can help maintain the proper levels. Be sure to go for checkups as recommended for better health.