Cholesterol is defined as a waxy, fat-like substance that is produced naturally by the body. Your body needs cholesterol for the formation of vital cell membranes such as vitamin D and certain types of hormones.
Cholesterol cannot travel through the blood stream on its own as it cannot dissolve in water. The liver thus produces lipoproteins to help transport the cholesterol. Lipoproteins are made from protein and fat and they transport the cholesterol and triglycerides through the bloodstream. There are two major forms of lipoprotein:
- Low density lipoprotein (LDL), known as unhealthy, bad cholesterol or unhealth cholesterol
- High density lipoprotein (HDL), known as good cholesterol
In cases where your blood has too much LDL cholesterol (cholesterol which is carried by low-density lipoprotein), then this is referred to as high cholesterol. High cholesterol can lead to serious medical conditions such as stroke and heart attack if left untreated.
There are four main functions of cholesterol and they include:
- Making of digestive bile acids in the intestines
- Contributing to the cell walls’ structure
- Production of vitamin D in the body
- Making of certain hormones in the body
Causes of High Cholesterol in the Body
High cholesterol can cause a heart attack and stroke and is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease. Cholesterol build-up is part of what contributes to the narrowing of arteries. This is known as atherosclerosis. Minimizing the intake of fat in the diet helps in managing the cholesterol levels. Limiting foods that contain the following can be helpful:
- Cholesterol, found in meat, cheese and animal foods
- Saturated fat, found in some meats, dairy products, baked goods, chocolate, deep fried and processed food
- Trans fats, found in some processed and fried foods
Conditions that can lead to high cholesterol include:
- Kidney or liver disease
- Underactive thyroid gland
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- Pregnancy and other conditions that tend to increase the levels of female hormones
- Drugs which increase LDL cholesterol and decrease HDL cholesterol
Symptoms of High Cholesterol
High cholesterol does not have symptoms but undergoing routine blood tests can help in detecting the high levels.
Guidelines for normal cholesterol levels
Your body needs some cholesterol in order to function properly, including some LDL. But if the LDL levels in the body are too high, it can increase your risk of serious medical problems.
You can find out your personal cholesterol recommendation by talking to your doctor. This is because your normal cholesterol levels depend on whether you have a risk factor for heart disease. Treatment recommendations also consider this factor as well as the risk factor for diabetes.
It is recommended that if you do not have the risk factors for heart disease, your physician should prescribe treatment if your LDL is greater than 189 mg/dl.
Diagnosis of High Cholesterol
Diagnosing high cholesterol involves a blood test to check the cholesterol levels known as a lipid profile or lipid panel. It typically reports:
- The total cholesterol in the body
- LDL cholesterol
- HDL cholesterol
- Triglycerides which is a type of fat found in the blood
To get the most accurate measurements, it is recommended not to eat or drink anything –except water – for at least 9-12 hours before the blood sample is collected.
Treatment of High Cholesterol
There are various ways to treat high cholesterol. The first form of treatment is lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet and exercising. If this does not improve your cholesterol levels, your doctor might prescribe medication.
The cholesterol medications include:
- Statins, which causes the liver to remove cholesterol from the blood and also help the body to reabsorb cholesterol from the build-up deposits on the artery walls
- Cholesterol absorption inhibitors, which reduce the blood cholesterol by limiting absorption of dietary cholesterol.
- Bile-acid-binding resins, which prompt the liver to use excess cholesterol in order to make more bile acid, thus minimizing the level of cholesterol in the blood
If you have high triglycerides, your doctor may prescribe medications such as fibrates, niacin and omega-3 fatty acid supplements.
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