What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found in our body cells. Normally, our liver makes all the cholesterol our body needs. Whereas our bodies also derive dietary cholesterol from the animal foods such as meat, chicken, and dairy products.
Is Cholesterol Bad?
The simple answer to this question is NO. Our body needs cholesterol to work properly and produce hormones, develop body cells, help in digestion, and make vitamins.
However, too much cholesterol in the body can trigger serious health problems. A build-up of LDL or bad cholesterol and fats in arteries can narrow or even block the arteries, thus reducing the blood flow to body organs. This exposes us to a severe risk of heart attack and stroke.
What are 2 Types of Cholesterol?
Cholesterol moves through our blood on lipoproteins, a combination of lipid (fat) and protein. There are two types of cholesterol, i.e. LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol.
Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL)
LDL cholesterol is bad for health, as it gets deposited in the inner walls of arteries and forms plaques. This reduces the blood supply to our heart and brain..
High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL)
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is considered good for health. It takes harmful cholesterol away from arteries, thus protecting us from heart attack and stroke.
What Causes High Cholesterol?
Our unhealthy lifestyle is the major cause of high cholesterol and includes:
1. Unhealthy Eating Habits:
Our unhealthy eating habits are responsible for high cholesterol in our bodies. We consume too much saturated and trans fats, which increase bad (LDL) cholesterol.
2. Lack of Physical Activity:
A sedentary lifestyle has also made us lazy and physically inactive. We have no time for walking and exercise. This lack of physical activity lowers our good cholesterol (HDL).
Smoking is another cause of high cholesterol in our bodies. Smoking causes an increase in bad cholesterol and a decrease in good cholesterol.
- Genetics/family history
- Some medical conditions
- Certain Medicines
Cholesterol in Foods
Some foods also contribute to high cholesterol levels in our body. For example, meat, dairy products, baked items, fried and processed foods contain large amounts of saturated and trans fats. When we eat these fats, our LDL cholesterol level rises as well.
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Complications of High Cholesterol
High cholesterol can have serious health complications and may lead to cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke. High cholesterol, along with other substances, forms plaque in arteries. Rupturing of plaque can cause blood clots to develop on the plaque surface. This blood clot can block the blood flow in the coronary artery. This condition can eventually lead to a heart attack.
Similarly, plaque can develop in other arteries as well, say arteries that carry blood to our brain. This condition may cause a stroke.
How is High Cholesterol Diagnosed?
Symptoms of High Cholesterol:
High cholesterol normally has no symptoms. We can only notice high cholesterol by getting it tested. A simple blood test is conducted to measure cholesterol level in the body.
The general recommendations for getting cholesterol tests are:
For Children and Teens Up to 19 Years Old
- They should get their first test between 9 to 11 years of age
- Then repeat tests every 5 years
For 20 Years & Older People
- Every 5 years for younger adults
- Every 1 to 2 years for men in the age bracket of 45-65, and women between 55-65.
How To Lower Cholesterol?
By bringing some heart-healthy changes to our lifestyles, we can manage our cholesterol levels within desirable limits. These changes include:
Eating Heart-Healthy Foods
Such foods can lower the amount of saturated and trans fats in the body. These foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats, legumes, and omega-3 fish.
Doing Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise helps us to stay healthy and fit. A mix of moderate to high-intensity aerobic physical activity of 150 minutes a week is best for our health.
Managing Our Weight
Weight is also responsible for rising cholesterol levels in the body. By reducing our weight, we can remove bad cholesterol from our bodies.
Smoking is not good for our health. Avoiding smoking has many positive effects on our overall health. Quitting smoking can help increase HDL cholesterol in the body, which then removes LDL cholesterol from arteries.
Sometimes, lifestyle changes may not work alone to keep cholesterol in check, hence you’ll have to take cholesterol-lowering medicines as well. However, you must consult your doctor before taking any drug.
Our body produces the cholesterol it needs for its proper functioning. However, a high cholesterol level is not good for health as it sticks to the walls of arteries and can block them. This condition can cause cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke.
Our unhealthy lifestyle is to be blamed for high cholesterol levels in the body. Thus, by changing our lifestyle, we can manage to lower our cholesterol levels. We need to adopt healthy eating habits, become physically active and quit smoking.
Sometimes, lifestyle changes may not work alone to reduce high cholesterol, hence you also need to take medicines after consulting with your doctor.