› What is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a waxy substance that forms naturally in all parts of your body. Your body requires some levels of cholesterol to function normally. Cholesterol is also involved in the making of cell tissues, production of certain hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help in the proper digestion of food.
Your liver produces all the cholesterol for your bodily needs. Cholesterol in food is mainly derived from animal foods and plants foods do not have any cholesterol.
The cholesterol content in the foods that you eat is the extra cholesterol that enters your body. High levels of cholesterol in the blood can increase your risk of heart disease. High blood cholesterol on its own does not cause symptoms and can only be detected with a blood test. Therefore many people are unaware that their cholesterol level is too high. Usually fat substances are carried in blood bound to some proteins as carriers, since they are not soluble in water base blood and tissue medium. These proteins are called lipoproteins. Two types of lipoproteins based on their density are found to be involved in transport of cholesterol in blood.
› Types of cholesterol
• Low density lipoprotein (LDL) also referred to as “bad cholesterol” as it increases the risk of heart disease.
• High density lipoprotein (HDL) also referred to as “good cholesterol” as it reduces the risk of heart disease.
› How cholesterol affects your body?
High levels of cholesterol can increase your chances of getting a heart attack or a stroke. Cholesterol can build up on the walls of your arteries (blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to other parts of the body).This build up of cholesterol is called plaque. When this happens, your blood vessels become narrow, harder and less elastic (a condition known as atherosclerosis). If a blood vessel that supplies blood to the muscles in your heart is blocked, it can stop or slow down the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart causing a condition called coronary artery disease (CAD).
If there is an excessive deposit of cholesterol or triglyceride (plaque) in the blood vessel that supplies blood to your heart, it can completely block the vessel leading to Angina (chest pain). Angina occurs when the heart does not receive enough oxygen-rich blood. All these can lead to a heart attack. Likewise stroke occurs when a blood vessel supplying blood to your brain gets blocked.
› Screening and diagnosis
It is recommended that men aged 35 and above and women aged 45 and above should get their cholesterol checked at least once a year. If you fall into one or more of the following risk factors, you may have to get your cholesterol checked more often and follow your doctor’s advice to keep it under control.
› Check list to know if you are at risk • You have already had a heart attack earlier.
• Your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol level is less than 40 mg/dL.
• You are above 55 years of age (above 45 years for men).
• You have reached Menopause.
• You smoke.
• You have high blood pressure (140/90 mg/dL or higher), or if you are on blood pressure medicine.
• You are overweight.
• You have Diabetes.
• You lead a lifestyle with very little physical activity.
• You have a family history of heart disease (heart disease in your parents or sister or brother).
There are different factors that can contribute to high blood cholesterol (TG). You may be able to take precautionary measures against some. But there are certain contributing causes that you cannot control such as age, family history (heredity) or your gender. Here are some steps you can take to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. If healthy eating and exercise do not work after 6 months to 1 year, your doctor may suggest medication to lower your cholesterol level.
• Do not smoke.
• If you are overweight, lose weight. Being overweight tends to increase your LDL levels.
• Exercise regularly. Regular exercise can help you lose weight and lower your LDL level. It can also help you raise your HDL level.
• Eat foods that are good for your heart such as plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains and fish.
• Avoid foods that may contain trans fat. Trans fats are made when vegetable oil is hydrogenated to harden it. They raise cholesterol levels. Egg yolks, meat, and cheese are also rich in cholesterol.
› Total cholesterol level • Less than 200 mg/dL—ideal
• 200 to 239 mg/dL—slightly high
• 240 mg/dL or above—increased risk for heart disease
› LDL cholesterol levels
• Below 100 mg/dL—perfect if you are at a higher risk of heart disease
• 100 to 129 mg/dL—quite okay
• 130 to 159 mg/dL—slightly high
• 160 mg/dL or above—increased risk for heart disease.
› Treatment of high blood cholesterol The major objective of treating high cholesterol (Tg) levels is to lower your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels so that your risk of getting a heart attack is minimized. Your doctor may suggest that you make certain lifestyle modifications to reduce your risks. However, if this does not help, your doctor may prescribe certain medications to keep your high cholesterol levels in check.