Every cell in your body has this wax-like substance in it called cholesterol. Cholesterol is required for the production of hormones and vitamin D, and it aids in digestion. Although the body needs cholesterol, too much of it can harm your health. You may not know you have high cholesterol because this condition’s most common symptoms are none at all.
Good Cholesterol and Bad Cholesterol
Cholesterol can be in the form of very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Since an elevation in very-low-lipoprotein or low-density lipoprotein can cause cholesterol to accumulate in your arteries and block blood flow, LDL is considered bad cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein is considered good cholesterol because HDL takes the cholesterol in your body to your liver, and your liver removes it from your body.
Smoking cigarettes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes are risk factors for high cholesterol. So is a family history of high cholesterol. Being female and over the age of 55 puts you at risk, and being over the age of 45 is a risk factor for men.
Bad cholesterol can put you at a greater risk for getting atherosclerosis, which is the number one cause of heart attacks and strokes. Atherosclerosis manifests when plaque accumulates inside your coronary arteries. In time, this plaque gets hard and makes it difficult for blood to pass through. A blood clot can form on the plaque if it ruptures, and a large clot can totally prevent the flow of blood through an artery. This blockage can cause angina or a heart attack.
Angina is a symptom of heart disease, and when you have it you may feel chest pain and pain in other areas of your body. You may also feel as if you have indigestion. If plaque accumulates in the arteries that deliver blood to your brain, arms, or legs, you can develop carotid artery disease and peripheral artery disease. You can also have a stroke.
Carotid artery disease occurs when plaque accumulates inside the arteries in your neck. These arteries bring oxygen to your brain, neck, face, and scalp. Peripheral artery disease develops when you have an accumulation of plaque in the arteries that bring blood to your head, limbs, and organs. Although an elevation in low-density lipoprotein increases your risk for heart disease, a rise in high-density lipoprotein lowers your risk.
It is recommended that you keep your total cholesterol level under 200. Your low-density lipoprotein cholesterol level should be no more than 130 mg/dl and your high-density lipoprotein cholesterol level should be higher than 35 mg/dl.
Lifestyle changes and medication can be used to lower your low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. This method of treatment is known as Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes, which is also called TLC. This is a treatment plan that implements healthy eating, weight management, and exercise to lower cholesterol.
The TLC eating plan involves consuming no more than 7 percent saturated fat a day. Saturated fats, trans fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats should total no more than 25 to 35 percent of your calories a day. No more than 200 mg of cholesterol is eaten daily with the TLC diet. Soluble fiber rich foods like whole grains, fruits, beans, and legumes are included to aid in the prevention of digestive tract absorption of cholesterol. For omega-3 fatty acids that help prevent heart attack, two servings of salmon, tuna, or mackerel are recommended. Salt is limited on this diet, and so is alcohol.
Other foods that are limited or should be eliminated from the diet if you want to lower your cholesterol are:
- Red meat
- Whole dairy products
- Ice cream
- Refined cereals
- Foods that are fried
- Snack foods containing fat
Losing weight if you’re carrying extra pounds is another part of the TLC treatment plan as this will help bring down your cholesterol level too. Also included in the plan is exercise. Regular exercise can assist with lowering your low-density lipoprotein cholesterol level and triglycerides, and it can improve your level of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Only an hour of moderate aerobic exercise a week can help, and more than that can be even more beneficial.
Your health care practitioner may prescribe medication in conjunction with diet and exercise to help lower your cholesterol. This medication could be statins, bile acid sequestrants, nicotinic acid, fibrates, ezetimibe, or a combination of these medications.
Statins effectively lower cholesterol. A prescription for bile acid sequestrants is sometimes given with statins. Low-density cholesterol and triglycerides are lowered and high-density cholesterol is raised when nicotinic acid is prescribed. Fibrates help increase high-density lipoprotein and lower triglycerides, and ezetimibe blocks cholesterol absorption in the intestine.
To find out if you have high blood cholesterol, you should have your cholesterol level checked out by your doctor. You can also find out what it is by using a home test kit. If you test your cholesterol yourself and you see that it is over 200 mg/dl, go to your doctor and have your cholesterol checked again to confirm your findings. Listen to your health care practitioner and follow the instructions given if you need to lower your cholesterol level and avoid developing any of the serious conditions high cholesterol causes.