Cholesterol helps the body in building new cells and the production of hormones. Cholesterol is normally produced by the liver, however, we get cholesterol from food such as milk, eggs, and meat. Too much of cholesterol in the system is a risk factor for heart diseases.
Too much cholesterol in your blood accumulates on the walls of the arteries leading to a form of heart disease called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is characterized by the thinning of the arteries and decreases or blocks flow of blood. In the case of decreased blood flow to the heart, you might experience chest pain. If the blood supply to the heart is blocked, this results to a heart attack.
There are two main forms in which cholesterol travels in blood;
- low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol because if you have too much of it in your bloodstream, it can cling to the walls of your arteries, eventually blocking them.
- high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol because it picks up cholesterol and takes it back to the liver for disposal.
LDL or “bad cholesterol” is the main cause of the narrowing of arteries leading to atherosclerosis. HDL or “good cholesterol” works to clear cholesterol from the blood.
What Are the Symptoms of High Cholesterol?
Generally, high cholesterol levels do not produce any symptoms. It is for that reason many people are not aware their cholesterol levels are too high. A decrease in cholesterol levels also reduces the risk of developing heart diseases like atherosclerosis and heart attacks. It also lowers the chances of you dying of heart diseases if you already have it.
It is recommended that everyone 20 years and above should measure their cholesterol levels at least 1 time in 5 years. This is measured by performing a blood test called lipoprotein profile which shows:
- Total cholesterol level
- “Bad” Cholesterol level
- “Good” cholesterol level
- Triglyceride level
Triglycerides are another form of fats in your bloodstream. Recent studies show that high triglyceride levels are linked to heart diseases.
What Affects Cholesterol Levels?
A variety of factors can affect your cholesterol levels. They include:
- Diet. Saturated fat, trans fat, carbohydrates, and cholesterol in the food you eat increase cholesterol levels. Reducing the amount of saturated fat, trans fats and sugars in your diet helps lower your blood cholesterol level. Increasing the amount of fiber and plant-derived sterols can also help lower LDL cholesterol.
- Weight. In addition to being a risk factor for heart disease, being overweight can also increase your cholesterol. Losing weight can help lower your LDL, total cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels, as well as raise your HDL.
- Exercise. Regular exercise can lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. You should try to be physically active for 30 minutes every day.
- Age and Gender. As we get older, cholesterol levels rise. Before menopause, women tend to have lower total cholesterol levels than men of the same age. After menopause, however, women’s LDL levels tend to rise.
- Heredity. Your genes partly determine how much cholesterol your body makes. High blood cholesterol can run in families.
- Medical conditions. Occasionally, a medical condition may cause an elevation of cholesterol levels in the blood. These include hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland), liver disease and kidney disease.
- Medications. Some medicines, like steroids and progestins, may increase “bad” cholesterol and decrease the “good” cholesterol.