High Cholesterol

Cholesterol is not the culprit, but the excess of it is. Like any other nutrient, cholesterol is an important constituent of our body and is essential for staying healthy. The problem occurs, when we consume it in excess, which our body is unable to use. The unused cholesterol is bad for health and is responsible for a gamut of disease conditions.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol, a kind of lipid (fat), is a waxy fat substance found in all the cells of your body. Cholesterol is required by the body for proper growth and development, and to produce hormones. 25% of the cholesterol in your body comes from your diet and the remaining 75% is made by liver and other cells. Cholesterol enters in your body when you eat foods rich in saturated fats such as eggs, milk and milk products, red meat and tropical oils such as coconut oil.

Types of cholesterol

Cholesterol is of two types. Cholesterol is carried in your blood in bundles of lipoproteins. As lipids being insoluble in blood, they are transported to the destination by lipoproteins which are complexes of proteins and lipids.

The good cholesterol, called as high density lipoprotein (HDL) and the bad cholesterol termed as low density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL removes cholesterol from the blood and carries it to the liver, and LDL carries cholesterol to various cells in your body. Too much of LDL is bad for your body, whereas high level of HDL is good for your body because it decreases the cholesterol level in the blood.

High cholesterol is unhealthy

A healthy body requires a healthy level of cholesterol, for many functions in the body. Body uses cholesterol for proper growth and development of nerves, tissues and secretion of hormones. However, too much of cholesterol in the blood can lead to deposition of fats in the form of plaques in the blood vessels that carry oxygen to various parts of the body (arteries) causing them to become narrow (atherosclerosis). These plaques can become large and block the flow of the blood in the arteries.

When these plaques split up, they can cause blood clots which again obstruct the blood flow. If the arteries supplying the blood to the heart are jammed, it may result in heart attack. If the arteries that supply blood to the brain are involved, then it may lead to a stroke.

High cholesterol is a major risk to cardiovascular diseases which causes a lot of health problems. Below mentioned are a few causes of high cholesterol. They are:

  • High intake of saturated fat (deep-fried foods, dairy products, chocolate, meat)
  • High intake of trans fat (some fried or processed foods)
  • High cholesterol (meat, cheese, egg yolks)
  • Overweight

The reason for abnormal levels of cholesterol can also be because of

  • Diabetes
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • Women during pregnancy develop high cholesterol levels
  • Underactive thyroid gland
  • Drugs like progestins or steroids also increase the cholesterol levels

People suffering from high cholesterol do not show any symptoms, unless routine screening is performed. Routine screening includes regular blood tests. High cholesterol levels are not clearly observed but eventually cause a threat of stroke to the individual.

You can undergo a blood test known as lipid profile to check the levels of cholesterol in your blood. If you are a man and above the age of 35 yrs or if you are a woman above the age of 45yrs and having risk factors for other heart diseases, then you must check your cholesterol levels every 5 years. Otherwise, if you have any of the risk factors for heart disease, then you need to check your cholesterol level more frequently.

Elevated levels of cholesterol in the blood increase the risk of getting heart disease and or having heart attack. Since there are no symptoms associated with high blood cholesterol or hypercholesterolemia, most of the people are not aware of this condition.

Total cholesterol level is the combination of various types of cholesterol and is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) of blood. Total cholesterol of less than 200 mg/dl is considered as normal, between 200 to 239 mg/dl is considered as borderline risk of cholesterol and 240 mg/dl and above is treated as high cholesterol level and has double the risk of coronary heart disease than someone with less than 200 mg/dl.

An elevated level of LDL increases the risk of heart disease. LDL levels

  • < 100 mg/dl is considered as most favorable
  • 100 to 129 mg/dl is favorable
  • 130 to 159 mg/dl is bad
  • > 159 mg/dl means very high risk of developing heart disease.

While high level of HDL is considered safe and desirable,

  • Low level of HDL offers no protection against build up of plaques and clogging of arteries.
  • > 60 mg/dl is most favorable,
  • 40 to 60 mg/dl is favorable
  • < 40 mg/dl is undesirable has a higher risk of heart disease.

Eat foods which are low in saturated fats so that you can reduce your LDL cholesterol. You can raise your HDL cholesterol by not smoking, and losing weight through exercises if you are obese or overweight. Besides resorting to healthy food habits, you have to make changes in your lifestyle by engaging yourself in regular exercise. If these do not work within six months to one year, you may have to consult your doctor for required cholesterol reducing medications.

If your cholesterol levels are not controlled despite lifestyle changes from six months to one year, your doctor may prescribe some of the following medications.

  • Statins: These drugs slow down production of cholesterol and restrict build up of cholesterol in your arteries.
  • Resins: Liver uses cholesterol to produce bile acid for digestion. These drugs bind to the bile acid blocking its absorption and the unabsorbed bile acid is finally eliminated from the body. This makes the liver produce more bile acid using more of cholesterol finally resulting in lowering of blood LDL cholesterol.
  • Cholesterol inhibitors: These medicines block absorption of cholesterol in the intestines and are given along with statins so that total blood cholesterol is maintained within limits.
  • Niacin: This is a B vitamin and when given in large doses, increases HDL cholesterol and decreases LDL cholesterol. Follow the instructions from your doctor.

High levels of cholesterol in the blood, means higher risk of heart disease. As you become old, cholesterol levels in your blood tend to rise together with associated risks. Generally, no signs or symptoms are manifested to warn you of high cholesterol. Hence, make it a point to undergo tests once in every 5 years so that high cholesterol if any could be detected in time. Most importantly if any one of your family members already has a heart disease or high cholesterol or obese or overweight.

Cholesterol can be reduced if you adopt healthy lifestyle and healthy eating habits. Sometimes you may have to take appropriate medications to reduce your cholesterol.