Many people have a bad impression of cholesterol. In truth, cholesterol is a type of fat produced by the liver that is vital for normal body functions.
Some of the functions of cholesterol include building and maintaining cell membranes, convert sunshine into Vitamin D, the production of sexual hormones such as androgen and astrogens, and play an important role in the metabolism of fat soluble Vitamins such a A, D, E and K.
But when cholesterol levels get too high, the dangers include
- Atherosclerosis, the narrowing of arteries.
- Higher coronary heart disease risk – an abnormality of the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the heart.
- Heart attack – occurs when the supply of blood and oxygen to an area of heart muscle is blocked, usually by a clot in a coronary artery. This causes your heart muscle to die.
- Angina – chest pain or discomfort that occurs when your heart muscle does not get enough blood.
- Other cardiovascular conditions – diseases of the heart and blood vessels.
- Stroke and minor-stroke – occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery or vein, interrupting the flow to an area of the brain. Can also occur when a blood vessel breaks. Brain cells begin to die.
Cholesterol is carried in the blood by molecules called lipoproteins, which is a compoound that contains lipo(fats) and proteins. The three main types of lipoproteins are:
- Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) – this is what is referred to as the “bad cholesterol”. LDL carries cholesterol from the liver to cells. If too much is carried, there can be a harmful buildup of LDL, increasing the risk of arterial disease. The typical human blood contains approximately 70% LDL.
- High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) – or the “good cholesterol”. Unlike LDL, HDL takes the cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver where it is either broken down or expelled from the body as waste.
- Triglycerides – are the chemical forms in which most fat exists in the body, as well as in food. They are present in blood plasma. Triglycerides, in association with cholesterol, form the plasma lipids (blood fat). Triglycerides originate either from fats in our food, or are made in the body from other energy sources, such as carbohydrates.
Lifestyle-related Causes of High Cholesterol
- Food. Although some foods contain cholesterol, such as eggs, kidneys and some seafoods, cholesterol from food does not have much of an impact in human blood cholesterol levels. But saturated fats do. Common foods high in saturated fats include red meat, some pies, sausages, hard cheese, lard, pastry, cakes, most biscuits, and cream.
- Lack of exercise. People who do not exercise and spend most of their time sitting/lying down have significantly higher levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and lower levels of HDL (good cholesterol).
- Weight. Those who are overweight/obese are much more likely to have higher LDL levels and lower HDL levels, compared to people who are of normal weight.
- Smoking. This can have quite a considerable effect on LDL levels.
- Alcohol. Excess alcohol consumption regularly generally causes much higher levels of LDL and much lower levels of HDL.
Most people, especially those whose only risk factor has been lifestyle, can generally get their cholesterol and triglyceride levels back to normal by doing the following:
- Get plenty of exercise
- Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, oats, good quality fats
- Avoid foods with saturated fats
- Get plenty of sleep (8 hours each night)
- Bring your bodyweight back to normal
- Avoid alcohol
- Stop smoking
A healthy diet and lifestyle will have numerous health benefits besides helping to control cholesterol levels. However, if they are still high, your doctor may prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medicine.