Cholesterol is frequently looked at through a negative prism, but it is vital for proper body functioning. The human body uses cholesterol to produce hormones and vitamin D and support digestion. The liver produces cholesterol, and the body also gets it from foods such as meat, poultry, and dairy. A person’s cholesterol levels might significantly rise if they eat these foods in excess.
HDL versus LDL cholesterol?
Cholesterol travels through the blood on proteins called “lipoproteins.” Two types of lipoproteins carry cholesterol throughout the body:
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as ‘good cholesterol,’ transports cholesterol to the liver to expel it from the body so that it’s unlikely to end up in the arteries.
- Excessive build-up of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as ‘bad cholesterol,’ in the arteries may lead to an increased deposit of plaque known as atherosclerosis. This can increase the risk of blood clots and the chances of a stroke or heart attack. In addition, the plaque build-up might also decrease blood flow and oxygen to major organs and may lead to kidney disease or peripheral arterial disease.
What are the ideal numbers a person should know about cholesterol?
High cholesterol is detected only through a blood test that measures cholesterol in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). When the test is conducted, and the cholesterol numbers are checked, a person receives the results for the following.
- Total blood cholesterol includes HDL, LDL, and 20 per cent of the total triglycerides – a common type of fat.
- The triglycerides number should be below 150 mg/dL. If the triglycerides are high and LDL is also high or HDL is low, a person is at risk of developing atherosclerosis.
- Normally, HDL numbers are in a higher range. The HDL numbers for a woman should be at least higher than 55 mg/dL, and for a male, it should be higher than 45 mg/dL
- A person without heart disease, blood vessel disease, or diabetes should have a LDL reading of not more than 130 mg/dL.
What are the causes of high cholesterol?
The lifestyle factors that might cause high cholesterol are:
- A diet mainly consists of large quantities of red meat, full-fat dairy products, saturated fats, trans fats, and processed foods.
- A large waist circumference (the estimates for men are over 40 inches and for women, over 35 inches)
- Lack of regular physical exercise
- Stress, if not managed efficiently, may lead to habits such as overeating processed fatty foods, lack of physical exercise, and an increase in smoking that can increase LDL and total cholesterol
- In some cases, High LDL is inherited and is called familial hypercholesterolemia (FH). It is due to a genetic mutation that hinders the ability of a person’s liver to get rid of extra LDL cholesterol. This might lead to high LDL levels and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke at a young age.
How is high cholesterol treated?
Doctors recommend the following lifestyle changes to treat high cholesterol:
- Quitting smoking
- Following a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Reducing stress
If a person has FH (Familial hypercholesterolemia), lifestyle changes alone aren’t sufficient, and they might sometimes require one or more medications such as:
- Statins to help the liver get rid of cholesterol
- Bile-acid-binding medications help the body use extra cholesterol to produce bile.
- Cholesterol absorption inhibitors to prevent the small intestines from absorbing cholesterol and releasing it into the bloodstream.
- Injectable medications that cause the liver to absorb more LDL cholesterol
- Niacin (Niacor), omega-3 fatty acids, and fibrates are some of the medications and supplements that may reduce triglyceride levels.
What are the tips for preventing high cholesterol?
Some of the preventive steps to take to prevent high LDL:
- Replace white rice with brown rice and traditional pasta with whole-wheat pasta
- Switch to baking instead of frying meat and poultry
- Use olive oil
- Include more fish and aim for a minimum of two servings per week
- Replace aerated drinks with plain water flavoured with fresh fruit slices
- Instead of sugar-laden varieties of cereals, choose whole-grain cereals, and top them with cinnamon as an alternative to sugar.
- Exercising regularly might also have a positive impact on cholesterol levels. Swimming, cycling, or brisk walking are great options.
- A person who is sedentary for most of the time should set a periodic reminder on the cellphone or computer or get a fitness tracker to remind them to move for five minutes each hour. Climbing the stairs instead of an elevator would be a great idea to begin exercising.
- Quit smoking as it increases the risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and many types of cancer.
- A person with a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease should consult a doctor and get themselves tested as soon as possible because the sooner they know their cholesterol numbers, the quicker they can take steps to manage them.
What is the impact of diet in treating high cholesterol?
A doctor will recommend eating the following foods to help reduce total cholesterol and increase HDL:
- A range of vegetables and fruits
- Whole grains
- Unsalted seeds, nuts, and legumes
- Lean pork, lean red meat, and skinless poultry
- Grilled or baked fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, or sardines
- Vegetable or olive oils
- The food that may increase LDL cholesterol and should be avoided or eaten rarely are:
- Untrimmed red meat
- Fried and processed foods
- Baked goods that are made with trans fats or saturated fats
- Full-fat dairy products
- Food with hydrogenated oils
High LDL cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease and might occur without any symptoms. Although being diagnosed with high cholesterol doesn’t mean a person is likely to develop heart disease or stroke, it should be seriously considered. If active steps are taken to reduce cholesterol, the risk of stroke and heart disease will most likely decrease. Lifestyle changes that help reduce cholesterol also support overall health.