What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in all cells of a body. Cholesterol is important for the body to produce hormones, vitamin D and substances that are required to digest food. Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream in small packages called lipoproteins (lipids) to all parts of the body. The cholesterol packages that travel contain protein on the outer side and fat inside.
There are two types of cholesterol in the blood which are called LDL (low density lipoproteins) and HDL (high density lipoproteins). LDL cholesterol is bad cholesterol and HDL cholesterol is good cholesterol. Both types of cholesterol are needed for the body but in healthy proportions. LDL cholesterol is responsible to carry lipids to the arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood from heart to other parts of the body. Accumulation of fat in the arteries block proper flow of blood and hence LDL cholesterol is known as bad cholesterol.
HDL carries lipids from other parts of the body to the liver which either breaks down the fat or removes fat through bile acid and also facilitate excretion of some cholesterol from the body. HDL cholesterol also help in preventing accumulation of fat in the arteries.
Hardening of the arteries due to accumulation of fat over a period is a potential threat to the heart as it can increase the chances of coronary heart diseases like heart attack. Thickening of arteries causes restricted flow of blood to the heart and in many cases lead to blocking the blood flow totally. Accumulation of fat in the arteries is called atherosclerosis wherein plaques are formed and the blood flow is restricted.
Maintaining appropriate and prescribed levels of LDL,HDL and total cholesterol are very important and vital for all – men and women, young, middle aged or elders whether with or without any heart disease.
Diet, weight, physical activity, age, gender and heredity are major factors that influence the level of cholesterol in the blood of a person.
What causes high cholesterol?
Cholesterol tends to rise in the body as early as from twenty years of age. The level of cholesterol increases due to many reasons which include:
- Inappropriate food habits by consuming more saturated fat and trans fat and cholesterol which enhances LDL or bad cholesterol
- Over weight of the body lower HDL or good cholesterol
- Sedentary life style without regular exercises increases bad cholesterol
- Family history – if the members of the family had high cholesterol chances are more
- Cholesterol increases as age advances if not monitored well
High level of cholesterol is the first indicator of probable heart related problems in a person. However existence of heart disease is confirmed with combination of factors like, blood pressure, age, sex, diabetes, life style etc.
Symptoms and diagnosis
There are no symptoms to indicate high cholesterol. Only a lipid profile blood test can reveal the level of each type of cholesterol level in the blood. When the permissible range of cholesterol level is exceeded a person is said to be affected by high cholesterol.
It is not only the bad or LDL cholesterol that is measured but also the total cholesterol and the cholesterol ratio that are important to confirm that a person has high cholesterol in his blood. Another form of fat called triglycerides in the blood is also measured to take a holistic view of the issue.
Once a person is found to be with high cholesterol in the blood, attempts must be made to decrease the LDL or bad cholesterol level and to increase the good or HDL cholesterol level. The treatment of high cholesterol include therapeutic life style changes and administering medicines.
Diabetics and persons who have liver or kidney disorders are bound to have higher cholesterol levels and hence such persons must specially monitor their cholesterol levels upon consulting doctors by taking a holistic view about multiple complications.
The level of LDL (bad) cholesterol is categorized as optimal, near optimal, above optimal borderline high, high and very high. The gap between each category is kept very close to ensure containing the level to the required category in order to avoid possible consequences like heart diseases and heart attacks.
To reduce the cholesterol level one should consume food that is low in saturated fats and also avoid types of dietary food that can increase the cholesterol level. Taking drugs to decrease LDL cholesterol are to be taken to keep the total cholesterol and cholesterol ratio under check. Once that is achieved, then drugs to increase HDL or good cholesterol level can be taken in order to maintain the desired cholesterol levels and triglycerides level. It is to be ensured that appropriate life style changes are as important as taking drugs and other treatments.
Preventive Measures To Check Raising Cholesterol Levels Include:
- Well balanced diet
- Adequate physical activity
- Consuming food that are free from cholesterol
- Avoiding food which contain
- Cholesterol, non-vegetarian, cheese etc
- Saturated fat present in processed food, deep fried food, chocolates and some dairy products
- Tran’s fat present in fried as well as processed food