What is Cholesterol?

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Learning More about

Learning More about What is Cholesterol

Cholesterol is not necessarily bad. In fact, this is an essential substance that enables the normal functioning of the human body. However, if the cholesterol levels in our body get too high, it is dangerous and we are at risk of heart attack.

Cholesterol has four main functions. Basically, this substance contributes to the structure of the walls of the cells in the body. In addition, this substance also makes up the digestive bile acids that are found in the intestines. With cholesterol, your body is able to produce vitamin D. Lastly, this substance is essential in the production of certain hormones in the body.

Sources of Cholesterol – Where Do You Get It?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that comes from two distinct sources which are our body and the food that we eat.

The body makes all the cholesterol it needs and circulates it through the blood. The liver primarily manufactures cholesterol for the body.  The body needs cholesterol to manufacture vitamin D, certain hormones, and substances that aid in the digestion of food.

While the body can create all the cholesterol it needs, cholesterol is also found in the food that you eat. This waxy substance is very common in foods like meat, full-fat dairy products and poultry. Thus, there is a great chance that we develop high cholesterol levels in our body.

High-Density Lipoproteins versus Low-Density Lipoproteins – Which Type is the Good One?

Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream in the form of lipoproteins. Lipoproteins are made of proteins on its outer layer and fat or lipid inside. There are two types of lipoproteins. These are the low-density lipoproteins or LDL and high-density lipoproteins or HDL. It is important to maintain the levels of these lipoproteins at healthy levels.

LDL cholesterol is also referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol. High levels of LDL in the blood can lead to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which makes it harder for the heart to properly circulate blood throughout the body.

Whenever this plaque breaks open, they cause blood clots. If these clots block blood flow in the brain, it can cause a stroke. On the other hand, if the blood clot blocks blood flow to the heart, it can cause a heart attack.

HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol. This type of lipoprotein carries cholesterol from other parts of the body back to the liver. The liver then removes the cholesterol from the body.

What Happens If You Develop High Blood Cholesterol?

High blood cholesterol is a condition wherein there is too much cholesterol circulating in the body. This condition often does not exhibit any signs or symptoms. That being said, a lot of people often do not realize that their cholesterol levels are elevated.

People who develop this condition are at risk of developing coronary heart disease or coronary artery disease.

When LDL cholesterol levels in the blood become elevated, there is a greater chance for you to develop heart disease. On the other hand, if HDL cholesterol levels are high, the chance of developing heart disease is significantly reduced.

 What Can You Do If You Have High Cholesterol Levels?

High cholesterol levels result from non-modifiable and modifiable risk factors. The two main risk factors of high cholesterol level are diet and exercise. These two are highly modifiable, which means that you can do something to change these risk factors and significantly reduce the risk of having high cholesterol levels in the body.

Modifying your diet requires you to limit your intake of fat to effectively manage your blood cholesterol levels. You should consider limiting your intake of foods containing cholesterol like animal foods, meat, and cheese. You should also limit your intake of foods containing high levels of saturated fats like dairy products, baked goods, deep fried foods, and processed foods. Trans fat containing fried and processed foods should also be avoided.

Since being overweight or obese can lead to high LDL levels in the blood, you should maintain an active lifestyle. You can do this by having regular exercise.

While the modifiable risk factors can be corrected, there are other risk factors that you can’t simply avoid. For instance, high cholesterol levels in the blood can be related to your genes. You may have an inherited condition known as familial hypercholesterolemia.

High cholesterol levels may also be secondary to other health conditions like liver disease, kidney disease, diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, pregnancy, underactive thyroid glands and certain medications.

Testing and Diagnosing High Blood Cholesterol

High cholesterol can be diagnosed through blood testing. According to health experts, people who are 20 years old and above should have their cholesterol levels tested once every five years.

The testing for cholesterol is conducted after a period of fasting. This means that before you do the test you are not allowed to eat and drink for nine to 12 hours. Fasting enables an accurate reading of the blood cholesterol levels.

When your LDL levels read 160 mg/dl and above, your LDL level is already considered high. On the other hand, if your HDL level is below 40 mg/dl, this is considered low while a reading of 60 mg/dl and above is considered high.  The total cholesterol level is also determined. A reading of less than 200 mg/dl is considered normal while a reading of 240 mg/dl is already considered high.

How Is High Blood Cholesterol Treated?

Lifestyle modification is an essential aspect in the treatment of high blood cholesterol. Lifestyle modifications include adhering to a healthy and heart friendly diet, taking regular exercise, achieving a healthy weight and quitting bad habits like smoking.

Other treatments may also be indicated. One of the most common treatments for this condition is the lipid-lowering therapy. This treatment involves the administration of medication that can help lower cholesterol levels. This treatment is generally prescribed for those individuals who are at risk of developing a heart attack. Basically, diet and exercise are still considered the first line of treatment for high blood cholesterol.

References:

  1. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/AboutCholesterol/About-Cholesterol_UCM_001220_Article.jsp#.WA83keV97Mw
  2. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/9152.php
  3. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc

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