What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance in the fats (lipids) in your blood. When it’s “high,” your risk of heart disease increases.
With high cholesterol, fatty deposits in your blood vessels can develop. Eventually, these deposits make it more difficult for blood to flow through the arteries. As a result, your heart may not get enough oxygen-rich blood which increases the risk of a heart attack. Decreased blood flow to the brain can cause a stroke.
High cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) can be inherited, but is often preventable and treatable. A healthy diet, regular exercise can go a long way toward reducing high cholesterol.
Signs and Symptoms of High Cholesterol
There are no symptoms with high cholesterol. It is detected via a blood test.
Causes of High Cholesterol
There are different types of cholesterol. They are:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL (bad”) cholesterol transports cholesterol particles throughout your body. LDL cholesterol builds up in the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow
- Very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL). This is cholesterol that contains the most triglycerides, a type of fat, attached to proteins in your blood.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL ("good") cholesterol picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to the liver.
Inactivity, obesity and an unhealthy diet contribute to high LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol. Your genetic makeup may keep cells from removing LDL cholesterol from the blood efficiently or it can cause your liver to produce too much cholesterol
High Cholesterol Risk Factors
- Poor diet. Foods high in cholesterol increase total cholesterol. Eating saturated and trans fats can raise your cholesterol level.
- Lack of exercise. Exercise helps boost your body's HDL "good" cholesterol while lowering your LDL "bad" cholesterol.
- High blood pressure
- Family history. If a parent or sibling developed heart disease before age 55, you are at a greater than average risk of developing heart disease.
High cholesterol can cause atherosclerosis, a dangerous accumulation of cholesterol and other deposits on the walls of your arteries. The deposits (plaques) can reduce blood flow through your arteries, which can cause complications, such as: chest pain, heart attack and stroke.
To bring cholesterol numbers down, lose excess weight, eat healthy foods and increase your physical activity. If you smoke, quit.
A diet rich in fiber and other cholesterol-lowering foods may help lower cholesterol as much as statin medication.
Saturated fat and trans fat raise your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. No more than 10 percent of your daily calories should come from saturated fat. Monounsaturated fat is a healthier option. Almonds and walnuts are other sources of healthy fat.
Trans fats, which are often found in margarines and commercially-baked products, are particularly bad for your cholesterol levels. Trans fats increase your total LDL ("bad") cholesterol and lower your HDL ("good") cholesterol.
Aim for no more than 300 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol a day. Use lean cuts of meat, egg substitutes and skim milk instead.
Select whole grains and eat more fruits and vegetables, which are rich in dietary fiber and can help lower cholesterol.
Some types of fish (cod, tuna and halibut, for example) have less total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than do meat and poultry. Salmon, mackerel and herring are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help promote heart health.
Drink alcohol only in moderation.
Regular exercise can help improve your cholesterol levels. Work up to 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day. You don't need to get all 30 to 60 minutes in one exercise session. If you can squeeze in three to six 10-minute intervals of exercise, you'll still get some cholesterol-lowering benefits.
Natural products have been proven to reduce cholesterol. With your doctor's OK, consider these cholesterol-lowering supplements and products:
- Beta-sitosterol (found in oral supplements and some margarines)
- Blond psyllium (found in seed husk)
- Oat bran (found in oatmeal and whole oats)
- Sitostanol (found in oral supplements and some margarines)
If you choose to take cholesterol-lowering supplements, remember the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
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