Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in your blood. Your body needs cholesterol to build healthy cells, but high levels of cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease.
With high cholesterol, you can develop fatty deposits in your blood vessels. Eventually, these deposits grow, making it difficult for enough blood to flow through your arteries. Sometimes, those deposits can break suddenly and form a clot that causes a heart attack or stroke.
High cholesterol can be inherited, but it’s often the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices, which make it preventable and treatable. A healthy diet, regular exercise and sometimes medication can help reduce high cholesterol.
Symptoms of High Cholesterol
High cholesterol has no symptoms. A blood test is the only way to detect if you have it.
When to see a doctor
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a person’s first cholesterol screening should occur between the ages of 9 and 11, and then be repeated every five years after that.
The NHLBI recommends that cholesterol screenings occur every one to two years for men ages 45 to 65 and for women ages 55 to 65. People over 65 should receive cholesterol tests annually.
If your test results aren’t within desirable ranges, your doctor might recommend more-frequent measurements. Your doctor might also suggest more-frequent tests if you have a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease or other risk factors, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
Causes of High Cholesterol
Cholesterol is carried through your blood, attached to proteins. This combination of proteins and cholesterol is called a lipoprotein. There are different types of cholesterol, based on what the lipoprotein carries. They are:
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, transports cholesterol particles throughout your body. LDL cholesterol builds up in the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL, the “good” cholesterol, picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to your liver.
A lipid profile also typically measures triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood. Having a high triglyceride level also can increase your risk of heart disease.
Factors you can control — such as inactivity, obesity and an unhealthy diet — contribute to harmful cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Factors beyond your control might play a role, too. For example, your genetic makeup might make it more difficult for your body to remove LDL cholesterol from your blood or break it down in the liver.
Medical conditions that can cause unhealthy cholesterol levels include:
- Chronic kidney disease
Cholesterol levels can also be worsened by some types of medications you may be taking for other health problems, such as:
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heart rhythms
- Organ transplants
Factors that can increase your risk of unhealthy cholesterol levels include:
- Poor diet. Eating too much saturated fat or trans fats can result in unhealthy cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are found in fatty cuts of meat and full-fat dairy products. Trans fats are often found in packaged snacks or desserts.
- Having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater puts you at risk of high cholesterol.
- Lack of exercise: Exercise helps boost your body’s HDL, the “good,” cholesterol.
- Smoking: Cigarette smoking may lower your level of HDL, the “good,” cholesterol.
- Alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol can increase your total cholesterol level.
- Age: Even young children can have unhealthy cholesterol, but it’s much more common in people over 40. As you age, your liver becomes less able to remove LDL cholesterol.
Complication of High Cholesterol
Development of atherosclerosis
High cholesterol can cause a dangerous accumulation of cholesterol and other deposits on the walls of your arteries *(atherosclerosis)* . These deposits (plaques) can reduce blood flow through your arteries, which can cause complications, such as:
- Chest pain: If the arteries that supply your heart with blood (coronary arteries) are affected, you might have chest pain (angina) and other symptoms of coronary artery disease.
- Heart attack: If plaques tear or rupture, a blood clot can form at the plaque-rupture site — blocking the flow of blood or breaking free and plugging an artery downstream. If blood flow to part of your heart stops, you’ll have a heart attack.
- Stroke: Similar to a heart attack, a stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks blood flow to part of your brain.
Prevention of High Cholesterol
The same heart-healthy lifestyle changes that can lower your cholesterol can help prevent you from having high cholesterol in the first place.a
To help prevent high cholesterol, you can:
1. Eat a low-salt diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains
2. Limit the amount of animal fats and use good fats in moderation
3. Lose extra pounds and maintain a healthy weight
4. Quit smoking
5. Exercise on most days of the week for at least 30 minutes
6. Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all
7. Manage stress
In addition to normalizing body cholesterol
1. Eat heart-healthy foods
A few changes in your diet can reduce cholesterol and improve your heart health:
Reduce saturated fats. Saturated fats, found primarily in red meat and full-fat dairy products, raise your total cholesterol. Decreasing your consumption of saturated fats can reduce your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol.
Eliminate trans fats. Trans fats, sometimes listed on food labels as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” are often used in margarines and store-bought cookies, crackers and cakes. Trans fats raise overall cholesterol levels. The Food and Drug Administration has banned the use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils by Jan. 1, 2021.
Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids don’t affect LDL cholesterol. But they have other heart-healthy benefits, including reducing blood pressure.
Foods with omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, herring, walnuts and flaxseeds.
Increase soluble fiber. Soluble fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Soluble fiber is found in such foods as oatmeal, kidney beans, Brussels sprouts, apples and pears.
Add whey protein.
Whey protein, which is found in dairy products, may account for many of the health benefits attributed to dairy. Studies have shown that whey protein given as a supplement lowers both LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol as well as blood pressure.
2. Exercise on most days of the week and increase your physical activity
Exercise can improve cholesterol. Moderate physical activity can help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol.
With your doctor’s OK, work up to at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week or vigorous aerobic activity for 20 minutes three times a week.
Adding physical activity, even in short intervals several times a day, can help you begin to lose weight. Consider:
- Taking a brisk daily walk during your lunch hour
- Riding your bike to work
- Playing a favorite sport
- To stay motivated, consider finding an exercise buddy or joining an exercise group.
3. Quit smoking
Quitting smoking improves your HDL cholesterol level. The benefits occur quickly:
Within 20 minutes of quitting, your blood pressure and heart rate recover from the cigarette-induced spike
Within three months of quitting, your blood circulation and lung function begin to improve
Within a year of quitting, your risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker
4. Lose weight
Carrying even a few extra pounds contributes to high cholesterol. Small changes add up. If you drink sugary beverages, switch to tap water. Snack on air-popped popcorn or pretzels — but keep track of the calories. If you crave something sweet, try sherbet or candies with little or no fat, such as jelly beans.
Look for ways to incorporate more activity into your daily routine, such as using the stairs instead of taking the elevator or parking farther from your office. Take walks during breaks at work. Try to increase standing activities, such as cooking or doing yardwork.
5. Drink alcohol only in moderation
Moderate use of alcohol has been linked with higher levels of HDL cholesterol — but the benefits aren’t strong enough to recommend alcohol for anyone who doesn’t already drink.
If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.
Too much alcohol can lead to serious health problems, including high blood pressure, heart failure and strokes.
If lifestyle changes aren’t enough …
Sometimes healthy lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower cholesterol levels. If your doctor recommends medication to help lower your cholesterol, take it as prescribed while continuing your lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes can help you keep your medication dose low.
Get your effective treatment done with us and enjoy total wellness.
Dr O. Ruth SADARE
J-R HEALTH GROUP