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Unhealthy Cholesterol Levels

The word ‘cholesterol’ has a Greek origin. It has originated from the Greek word ‘chole’ which means ‘bile’ and ‘stereos’ which means, solid. It is a lipid that is vital for the normal functioning of the body, but its increased level poses risk to the health of an individual.

Cholesterol is present in the outer layer of all the cells in our body. About 80% of the total cholesterol in a human body is produced by the liver, and the source of the rest 20% is our diet. Meat, poultry, fish and dairy products are the primary sources of cholesterol. When such food is consumed, the cholesterol is absorbed from the intestine and stored in the liver. The liver regulates the cholesterol levels and secretes it when the body needs it.

Cholesterol levels are on a rise among adults in the United States. In fact, they are higher than in all other industrial nations.

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Functions of Cholesterol

One can understand the significance of this lipid by understanding the functions it has in the human body.

  • It is responsible for building and maintaining the cell membrane and for preventing crystallization of hydrocarbons in the membrane. It works to insulate nerve fibers.
  • It is also required for the production of sex hormones – androgens and estrogens.
  • It is needed in deciding the cell membrane permeability. That means it determines which molecules should pass into the cell and which should not.
  • It has a role to play in the production of bile.
  • It is also required for the production of hormones released by the adrenal glands, like cortisol, aldosterone, etc.
  • It is required to convert sunshine into vitamin D.
  • It is needed in the metabolism of fat soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E and K.

Lipoproteins are the molecule that carries cholesterol in blood. There are two main types of lipoprotein.

Low Density Lipoprotein: Also referred to as LDL, or bad cholesterol. High levels of LDL mean too much cholesterol is carried from the liver to the cells. It can result in harmful buildup of LDL, and it will increase the risk of heart related diseases.

 

High Density Lipoprotein: It is also referred to as HDL, or good cholesterol. High levels of HDL are good for your heart, as it signifies that excess cholesterol is carried away from the cells to the liver where it is converted or broken down or expelled from the body.

  • Triglycerides are the main constituents of natural fats and oils, and high concentrations in the blood indicate an elevated risk of stroke and heart disease. The calories we eat are converted into triglycerides and are stored in the fat cells. In the absence of any energy source, they are released from the fat cells and used as energy.

Normal Range for Cholesterol Levels:

LDL Cholesterol below 100mg/dl is considered optimal. If the level is at or above 160ml/dl, it is considered high. Numbers between these ranges are considered borderline.

The higher the HDL levels the better. A level of 40mg/dl is considered low and increases the risk of heart disease, and a level of 60mg/dl is considered good and lowers the risk of heart disease.

Consequences of Unhealthy Cholesterol levels:

High levels of cholesterol can result in the following:

  • Narrowing of the arteries leading to a condition called Atherosclerosis.
  • There will be abnormality in the supply of oxygen to the heart; it will increase the risk of coronary heart diseases.
  • Chances of heart attack also increases due to blockage of supply of oxygen to the heart, as it causes the muscles of the heart to die.
  • The eventuality of angina – a condition characterized by chest pain, increases.
  • It can also result in stroke if the supply of blood to the brain is interrupted.

High levels of both blood cholesterol and triglyceride increase the risk of developing coronary heart diseases significantly.

What Causes High Cholesterol?

There are several reasons that cause cholesterol levels in blood to rise. Food choices, lifestyle, certain diseases, genes, etc., can make a huge impact on the cholesterol levels. Also, with increasing age, the risk of increased level of cholesterol increases.

Food: High consumption of food rich in saturated fats like red meat, bakery products, cheese, sausages, cream, butter, etc., can cause cholesterol levels to rise.

Sedentary Lifestyle: People who do not exercise or work out regularly have an increased risk of having high cholesterol levels. So if you want to lower your cholesterol levels naturally, get into an exercise routine.

Bodyweight: Overweight or obese people are also at risk for high cholesterol levels. Reducing body weight can be helpful to control cholesterol levels.

Smoking and Alcohol: People who smoke and drink alcohol generally have high cholesterol levels. Quitting both is advisable for people with high cholesterol levels.

Medical Conditions: People suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, underactive thyroid and kidney or liver diseases may also suffer from high cholesterol levelsl.

How High Cholesterol is diagnosed

Cholesterol levels can be determined by a simple blood test. It is important that the person should not eat anything for at least 12 hours prior to the test. Individuals who have any risk factors associated with cholesterol should get their cholesterol levels checked regularly.

Dietary Suggestions

Certain dietary and life style changes can significantly lower your cholesterol levels. Following are the food that one should avoid:

Foods High in Saturated Fats: Such foods include animal based foods like meat, butter, full fat dairy products, poultry, etc.

Trans-fat High Food: Trans-fats are high in processed and tinned foods. For example, packaged baked foods, margarine, fried food, etc., are all high in trans-fats.

Cholesterol Rich Food: Such foods incudes egg yolks, shellfish, organ meats like liver, etc.

There are certain foods that you should include in your diet in order to lower your cholesterol levels. They are:

Soluble Fiber Rich Foods: Soluble fiber absorbs cholesterol from the body and expels it in the form of waste. Such foods include oatmeal, barley, peas, apples, dates, grapefruits, lentils, Brussels sprouts, figs, prunes, broccoli, etc.

Omega 3 and Monounsaturated fats: Unlike other kinds of fats, Omega 3 and monounsaturated fats are actually food for your heart. Fish like wild salmon, sardines, and anchovies are rich sources of omega 3 fatty acids. In addition, walnuts, soybeans, chia seeds and flax seeds are also good sources. Best sources of Monosaturated fats are nuts, avocados, olive oil, olives and canola oil.

In addition to these dietary changes, it is also necessary that one leads an active lifestyle. Regular exercise coupled with a healthy and balanced diet will go a long way in lowering unhealthy cholesterol levels.

If you find that in spite of making necessary lifestyle changes, your cholesterol levels do not decrease then consult your doctor for medical help. You might have to take cholesterol lowering medicines to get your cholesterol levels into normal range. The choice of cholesterol medicines depends on various factors such as an individual’s age, health, etc. Cholesterol controlling medications include Statin tablets like Atorvastin, Fluvastin, Lovastatin, Rosuvastin, etc. However, these drugs might have side effects like headaches, constipation, abdominal pain, etc.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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