It is a universally acknowledged truth that high cholesterol is a warning sign of underlying health issues. The higher your cholesterol level is, the higher your risk of strokes, heart attacks, and other ailments. Cholesterol level between 200 mg/dL and 239 mg/dL is borderline, while anything above 240 is high. And according to curated data, nearly 12% of adults aged twenty and older have total cholesterol higher than advised.
Remember, though, that everyone has some cholesterol produced by the body. It is for maintaining good health. However, too much cholesterol is a problem. Look at what causes high cholesterol and find measures you can take to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. More importantly, explore everything you need to know about cholesterol.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a lipid. It is said to be a waxy substance with fat-like nature produced by the liver naturally. It helps cell membrane formulation, forms bile acids, makes vitamins, and provides a protective barrier. Cholesterol is water-insoluble, and it cannot travel via your blood on its own. For the transportation of cholesterol, the liver produces lipoproteins. They are composed of fat and proteins. The two most commonly known lipoproteins are low-density (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Having too much of this LDL cholesterol in your blood is a sign of high cholesterol.
Cholesterol comes from two sources i.e. from the liver and from dietary cholesterol . In addition to the liver, cholesterol in your body comes from eating animal-based foods like dairy products, poultry, and meat.
Types of Cholesterol
1. LDL or Bad Cholesterol
Bad Cholesterol or LDL Cholesterol is a type of cholesterol that can swiftly transfer cholesterol to your arteries. If the LDL cholesterol levels are too high, it can start building up on your artery walls. This buildup is known as plaque. It has the strength to narrow down your arteries, limit your blood flow and increase your risk of blood clots. If a cholesterol clot ever blocks an artery in your heart or brain, it can cause a stroke or heart attack. our LDL Cholesterol levels should remain less than 100 mg/dL.
2. HDL or Good Cholesterol
Another term for “good cholesterol” would be HDL cholesterol. It transports LDL cholesterol to your liver for easy removal. As a result, it stops cholesterol plaques from accumulating in your arteries. Healthy levels of HDL cholesterol in your body reduce the risk of blood clots, heart diseases, and strokes. Your HDL Cholesterol levels should be above 40 mg/dL.
3. Triglycerides: A Different Lipid Type
Triglycerides are a different type of lipid as compared to cholesterol. Your body might use cholesterol for some cell and hormone formation, but it uses triglycerides only as an energy source. If you consume more calories than can be used by your body instantly, those calories get converted into triglycerides and then store in your fat cells. If you keep eating more calories than required, your triglyceride levels might shoot up. As a result, it can increase your heart disease and stroke chances. Therefore, it is necessary to manage your triglyceride levels as well as your cholesterol levels. Your triglycerides should remain below 150 mg/dL.
Symptoms of High Cholesterol
High cholesterol is mostly a silent condition. It has no typical symptoms. Many people don’t discover high cholesterol until they suffer from angina, blocked arteries, heart attack, and other circulatory ailments. Since high cholesterol has no signs, a blood test is the only way to detect if you have it. So, a routine cholesterol screening is essential. If you are above 20 years of age, you should surely consult your doctor for a regular checkup.
What Causes High Cholesterol Levels?
Your cholesterol levels can be affected by multiple factors. However, some of the common causes behind high cholesterol levels are:
Consuming foods full of unhealthy 0saturated fats and trans fats increase your chances of developing high cholesterol levels. Saturated fat can be a huge problem, and reducing the amount of saturated fat in your diet can bring down your blood cholesterol level. Foods with high levels of saturated fats involve red meats, dairy products, baked goods, chocolates, and ultra-processed foods.
If you are overweight or obese, you most likely have a higher level of triglycerides. The condition increases LDL cholesterol levels in the body and reduces good HDL cholesterol. In addition, a study shows that obesity causes dyslipidemia, which refers to abnormally high cholesterol or lipids in the blood.
Another reason being overweight or obese raises cholesterol is because the body fails to regulate lipoproteins and increases inflammation. If your body shows unwanted inflammation, that can lead to higher lipoprotein levels, including cholesterol.
Genes also play a role in determining your cholesterol levels. Also, your genes tend to determine the amount of cholesterol your body makes. Inherited high cholesterol is a genetic condition. It runs in your family and is called familial hypercholesterolemia (FH). FH makes it harder for your body to remove low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol from your blood. If you inherited cholesterol from one parent, there’s a 50% chance you’ll pass it on to your children.
A sedentary lifestyle or lack of physical activity can raise LDL and lower HDL. In addition, limited exercise increases the risk of unhealthy weight gain, which raises cholesterol levels.
Cigarette smoking can induce a drop in good cholesterol levels or HDL. HDL is your friend in the removal of bad cholesterol from your arteries. So, if the HDL level lowers – it increases the level of bad cholesterol in your body.
Age and Gender
When men and women get older, their cholesterol levels can rise. Before menopause, women tend to have lower total cholesterol levels than men of the same age. After menopause, LDL levels tend to increase. Between 20 to 55 years of age, men tend to have higher cholesterol levels than women.
Complications of High Cholesterol
Untreated cholesterol worsens over time and leads to a chain of health consequences. Without treatment, it can cause life-threatening complications like chronic kidney disease and gallstones. Some common health concerns due to high cholesterol are:
Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary Artery Disease is one of the primary risks attached to high cholesterol. It is related to atherosclerosis, where plaque from cholesterol deposits causes the inside of the arteries to narrow over time. As a result, it slows down blood flow towards the heart muscle, leading to heart failure. And if a blood clot forms due to cholesterol, it can lead to a heart attack.
High Blood Pressure
Similar to high cholesterol, hypertension is also a silent killer. High cholesterol can damage your blood vessels over time. The blood pressure rises as the arteries become hardened and narrowed with cholesterol plaque deposits. In addition, due to cholesterol buildup, the blood vessels start to strain and fail to relax. As a result, blood pressure becomes abnormally high.
High cholesterol causes plaque accumulation in the blood vessels. It narrows the arteries that lead to your brain, depriving the oxygen flow—the blockage of an artery that supplies oxygen to the brain results in stroke. Narrowed arteries also increase the chance of a blood clot developing. A stroke occurs when a blood clot travels to the brain, cutting off the nutrient and oxygen supply.
Peripheral Arterial Disease
The impact of high cholesterol levels is not limited to your heart and brain. It can block the arteries that carry blood to the legs or lower extremities of the body. It works the same way as angina. But instead of your heart, your legs and feet experience cramps and pain.
High cholesterol triggers make the smaller blood vessels present in the penis narrow. As a result, there is no sufficient blood supply to maintain an erection. In addition, high cholesterol affects the proper production of the chemicals necessary for erection. As a result, the body finds it hard to release nitric oxide into the bloodstream, preventing the penile tissues’ erection.
How Often Should I Get Cholesterol Levels Checked?
Depending on your family history, age or risk factors – when and how often you should get a cholesterol test done can be determined.
As per the American Heart Association, people aged twenty and above should get their cholesterol levels checked every four or six years. However, people with diabetes, family history of cholesterol, obesity, and heart disease need to check cholesterol levels more often. Adolescents should have performed their first cholesterol test before the age of 11. Children with the risk of familial hypercholesterolemia should get a checkup every five years. Men aged between 45-and 65 and women aged between 55-and 65 are advised to monitor their cholesterol levels regularly and get the test done every two years.
A simple blood test can check the total cholesterol levels, showing HDL and LDL levels. In the test, it can be a “fasting” or “non-fasting” lipoprotein profile. The healthcare professional will tell you if you should fast before your test.
Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol
1. Eat a Healthy Diet
One way to help lower your cholesterol is by eating a healthy diet. Choose foods high in fibre and low in saturated and trans fats. One study shows that eating fibre-rich foods, such as oats, whole grains, legumes, apples, flax seeds, and citrus fruit offers hypocholesterolemic benefits. They help reduce cholesterol, while saturated and trans fats can raise it. So eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and limiting saturated and trans fats help reduce your overall cholesterol level.
2. Regular Exercise
When you’re physically active, your body produces more HDL cholesterol. It helps remove LDL cholesterol from your arteries. Regular exercise can also lower triglyceride levels. Even if you already have high cholesterol, regular exercising can help bring it down to a healthier level. Just 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise daily helps increase HDL (good) cholesterol while reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol.
3. Quit Smoking
Smoking is a lifestyle habit that is not particularly healthy for your body. While it is no secret that smoking causes lung cancer, many people are unaware of its effect on cholesterol levels. Smoking causes inflammation and oxidative stress, leading to high cholesterol levels. However, it is never too late to quit smoking and improve cholesterol levels.
4. Try Cholesterol Lowering Supplements
Some supplements such as niacin, psyllium husk and L-carnitine can help lower cholesterol levels. However, consult a physician before consumption. Psyllium husk, rich in soluble fibre, can lower LDL cholesterol levels. It can be mixed with water and consumed daily. L-carnitine supplements lower cholesterol among people with diabetes.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance present in the blood. It is essential for building healthy cells and vitamins, but the cholesterol level should be optimum. High cholesterol can lead to health complications like stroke, heart attack, chest pain or angina, high BP, peripheral vascular disease and chronic kidney disease. High cholesterol is often the aftermath of unhealthy life choices. Good habits are essential if high cholesterol runs in the family. A few healthy habits will help keep your cholesterol levels in check. In addition to making healthy food choices, exercise is another habit you can adopt. You may be surprised at how much of a difference it can make.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. What are the warning signs of high cholesterol?
A. High cholesterol typically doesn’t have any symptoms until it becomes severe. The only way to know if you have high cholesterol is through a blood test. Some warning signs are due to heart attack or stroke. You may experience nausea, numbness, fatigue, chest pain, high blood pressure, slurred speech, and shortness of breath in some cases.
Q. How can I lower my cholesterol without medication?
A. The best way to improve your cholesterol is through a healthy lifestyle. Eat a diet low in saturated fats by limiting processed foods, red meats, and high-fat dairy products. Maintain a healthy weight through regular exercise. In addition, avoid alcohol and tobacco use.
Q. Which food reduces cholesterol?
A. The list of cholesterol friendly foods includes okra, eggplant, beans, nuts, vegetable oils, apples, grapes, citrus fruits, and strawberries. It is also beneficial to eat foods full of sterols and stanols, which block the body from absorbing cholesterol such as whole grains, seeds, nuts, legumes and fresh fruits and veggies.
Q. Are bananas good for cholesterol?
A. Bananas contain fibre and potassium for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. The rich levels of soluble fibre are particularly beneficial for cholesterol levels. Fibre binds cholesterol and carries it out of the body.
Q. Is drinking warm water good for cholesterol?
A. The best way to keep your body and blood clean is by drinking plenty of water. It helps in the elimination of excess cholesterol waste from your body. Moreover, a hydrated body helps with weight loss. It is ideal for overweight people looking to lower cholesterol.
Q. Can garlic lower cholesterol?
A. Consuming half to one clove of garlic per day lowers cholesterol levels by 10%. It is dose-dependent. The more garlic you take, the lower your cholesterol will drop. But too much garlic may be harmful to your liver.
Q. How long does it take to bring cholesterol down?
A. Cholesterol-lowering drugs can take 6-8 weeks to bring the cholesterol down. Implementing lifestyle changes might shorten the period. However, it might take about three months and sometimes more.
Q. Are eggs full of cholesterol?
A. Eggs are high in cholesterol while being a good source of proteins and other nutrients. One large egg has about 186 mg of cholesterol. The effect of eggs on cholesterol depends onthe overall quality of a person’s diet. Including eggs as part of a healthy diet is fine.
Q. Does rice raise cholesterol?
A. Refined white rice is not harmful when consumed in moderation. In addition, some rice varieties are ideal for cholesterol. For example, red yeast rice is commonly used as a natural remedy to help lower cholesterol levels.