We have all heard doctors talk about cholesterol levels more than once or twice. But what does that mean? How does that relate to you and your diet? Do you wonder if you have high cholesterol levels? To start, kudos to you for wanting to understand and making health your priority…
Understanding Cholesterol – Why is it important?
Cholesterol is a waxy fat produced by different cells in the body, mostly those in the liver. Some of the cholesterol is contributed by our diet – from animal-based food like eggs, meat, and milk. It helps build the structure of the cells and to produce hormones. Hence not all cholesterols are bad and are needed for the normal running of the body. However, it can become a matter of concern if there is too much cholesterol in the body which increases the risk of cardio-vascular disease enhancing the chances of a heart attack. High cholesterol levels are linked to critical health diseases, heart attack, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.
When there is a plaque buildup because of cholesterol and other lipid deposits along the walls of the arteries that carry blood to the heart, it narrows them and decreases blood flow. Since there is not enough blood to carry oxygen to the heart, you may experience chest pain, and if the blockage cuts blood to parts of the heart it causes a heart attack.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the cause of about 1 in 4 deaths every year.
The word “heart disease” refers to several types of heart conditions. In the United States, the most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD), which can lead to a heart attack.
It is important for your doctor to review the levels of different types of cholesterol in your blood to understand the risk profile and interpret if an intervention is needed.
There are two main types of cholesterol:
- “Good Cholesterol” – HDL – high-density lipoprotein – which has a defensive effect and works to clear harmful cholesterol from the blood.
- “Bad Cholesterol” – LDL – low-density lipoprotein has a negative effect and is the main cause of plaque in the arteries increasing the risk for heart disease.
Recent studies show that high levels of Triglycerides which are fats in the blood may also be linked to heart disease. Triglycerides are excess calories or sugar stored as fat cells in the body.
What are the Risk Factors?
As we now know, we have lipids flowing in the blood, but they vary in levels and ratio with each individual. Some of the risk factors for increased cholesterol levels include:
- Family genetics: In this case, high cholesterol runs within the family and this shows that there is a genetic disorder in the way your body controls the cholesterol levels.
- Ethnicity – Higher rates have been seen in individuals from South Asian countries.
- Cigarette smoking.
- Certain medical conditions like being overweight/Obesity, Underactive thyroid, Kidney or liver disease, excessive alcohol consumption.
There are some other factors that influence but cannot be changed like:
- Being male
- Old age
- Women with early menopause
What Are the Symptoms?
For the most part, people are not even aware of having increased cholesterol levels because it shows no symptoms. But some experience symptoms linked to associated cardiovascular disease like chest pain, strokes, and heart attack. So, it is important to understand that only a blood test can help with the diagnosis of cholesterol levels.
In fact, it’s hard to get rid of a cholesterol buildup. Early detection will embolden you to make positive lifestyle changes. This can help reduce your cholesterol and lower the risk of heart problems. Getting a regular annual checkup can help spot any changes in your body and help you make informed decisions to improve your health and well-being.
What Does a Cholesterol Test Measure?
The good news is that a simple lipid panel test can keep a check on your cholesterol levels. It is recommended that men aged 35 and women aged 45 and older should be screened more frequently for any lipid conditions. This profile includes a measure of:
- LDL cholesterol
- HDL cholesterol
- Total cholesterol which is a measure of HDL, LDL cholesterol and other lipid components like Triglycerides.
- CHOL/HDL ratio – Non-HDL cholesterol, which as its name suggests contains all the “bad” cholesterol numbers and is obtained by subtracting your HDL/good cholesterol number from your total cholesterol number.
Cholesterol level guidelines:
Triglycerides: The desired level should be less than150 mg/dL.
These numbers are a part of what your doctor will look at along with other factors like age, gender, family history and lifestyle to assess if any steps are needed to lower cholesterol and risk for stroke or heart disease.
Does your diet influence your cholesterol?
In short, a part of our cholesterol originates from the food we eat. Hence, diet is an important factor to manage cholesterol. A balanced diet helps control cholesterol levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:
Including foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium (salt), and added sugars in your diet.
- fruits and vegetables;
- whole grains;
- fat-free or low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt;
- Lean meats; and
Limiting intake of foods that are high in saturated fats.
- Fatty meats,
- Dairy desserts and
- Tropical oils like palm oil
Choosing foods that are naturally high in fiber which helps reduce and manage total Cholesterol and increase the HDL or good cholesterol levels.
- Unsaturated fats found in avocado,
- Beans (black, pinto, kidney, lima, and others),
- Vegetable oils like olive oil, and nuts).
Your lifestyle also factors in to cause high cholesterol. Some lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk of high cholesterol.
- Quit Smoking because smoking speeds up the hardening of the arteries.
- Get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily helping you maintain a healthy weight. Physical activity should be a part of your regular routine.
- Reduce Alcohol consumption as this can increase the levels of triglycerides in your blood.
- Make sure you take time to enjoy time outdoors and with your family and friends to manage and reduce stress.
However only dietary and lifestyle changes may not be effective enough. In many cases medications like Sterols, Stanols, and fish oils are also required to reduce cholesterol levels. According to the American Heart Association, statins helps reduce LDL and triglycerides and increase HDL cholesterol levels preventing cholesterol from forming. They have some side effects like muscle pain, nausea, etc. Talk to your doctor about your cholesterol levels and the risk for any disease.
We also offer imaging procedures like CT scans, MRIs, X-rays, Mammograms etc. and medications at affordable prices.
To summarize, even though you have no medical problems and think that you are healthy – an annual wellness visit is still important to find something new about your health – Be it good or bad.
Stay informed about wellness and illness!