What Is Cholesterol?By Matus Kubis
Cholesterol is necessary to keep the body functioning, but too much of the "bad" cholesterol called LDL can cause more damage than good. When too much is present, plaque (a thick, hard deposit) may form in the body's arteries, narrowing the space for blood to flow to the heart.
There are no signs and symptoms of high cholesterol. So the only way to know you have it is by getting it check. Blood tests are not used to diagnose or monitor a disease but are used to estimate risk of developing a disease - specifically heart disease. The blood test is called total cholesterol and is a summary of HDL, LDL, and a measure of triglycerides. According to the "National Cholesterol Education Program Expert Panel" acceptable ranges of total cholesterol are:
Good = less than 200
Borderline High =200-239
High = 240 and Above
Low-density lipoprotein- LDL
LDL is called "bad" cholesterol, because elevated levels of LDL are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. In easy way to remember that LDL is bad is "L" stands for "lousy". LDL levels should optimally be less than 100. The higher the level in your blood, the greater chance you have of getting heart disease.
Optimal = Less Than 100
Near Optimal = 100-129
Borderline High = 130-159
High = 160-189
Very High = More Than 190
Diets that are high in saturated fats (mostly found in animal products) and cholesterol (which comes from animal products, egg yolks, fried foods, and baked snacks) raise the levels of LDL in the blood. A low fat, low cholesterol diet containing specific vitamins and minerals can significantly lower LDL.
Here are some helpful tips you can try:
Eat a diet that contains low-cholesterol foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains (like breads and cereals), and legumes (beans). Eat a diet that is low in saturated fat, and hydrogenated fat.
Regular physical activity can help lower LDL and raise HDL levels.
Losing weight (if you are overweight) can also help lower your LDL and total cholesterol levels, as well as raise your HDL and lower your triglyceride levels.
High-density lipoprotein - HDL
HDL cholesterol is called the "good cholesterol" because HDL cholesterol particles prevent atherosclerosis by extracting cholesterol from the artery walls and disposing of them through the liver. In easy way to remember HDL is "H" = Happy cholesterol. HDL protects you against heart disease, so for HDL, higher numbers are better. HDL levels of 60 mg/dL or more may be nearly as important for the heart as low levels of LDL because it help to lower your risk for heart disease.
Best = 60 and Above
Too Low = Below 40
Eating sugar has been reported to reduce protective HDL cholesterol and increases other risk factors linked to heart disease. Exercise increases protective HDL cholesterol, an effect that occurs even from walking.
Having adequate levels of HDL may be the most important lipid-related factor for preventing ischemic stroke, a type of stroke caused by blockage of the carotid arteries that carry blood to the brain.
Triglycerides are another type of fat that circulates in the bloodstream. Elevated triglyceride levels may be caused by medical conditions such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, kidney disease, or liver disease. Dietary causes of elevated triglyceride levels may include obesity and high intakes of fat, alcohol, and concentrated sweets.
Acceptable Level of Triglycerides = Less than 150
Excess calories, alcohol or sugar in the body are converted into triglycerides and stored in fat cells throughout the body. If you are overweight, your body stores the extra calories you eat as triglycerides. In other words, what high triglycerides are telling you is that you are making too much fat and you are unable to burn it.
The harmful imbalance of high triglycerides with low HDL levels is also associated with obesity (particularly around the abdomen), insulin resistance, and diabetes. High triglyceride levels are also associated with the inflammatory response -- the harmful effect of an overactive immune system that can cause considerable damage to cells and tissues, including the arteries.
While some cholesterol is needed for good health, too much cholesterol in your blood can raise your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. For many people, high cholesterol is caused by eating a diet that is high in saturated fats and cholesterol. Changing your diet is usually the first step in cholesterol maintenance, before medicines are added. Since cholesterol is present in animal fat, which occurs in both saturated and polysaturated varieties, but not in fats obtained from plant sources, which are generally unsaturated or polyunsaturated, one way to help reduce consumption of cholesterol is to make a change in the kind of oils and fats one utilizes to cook with.
Lowering LDL cholesterol has numerous health advantages, including reducing or eliminating the buildup of plaque on the artery walls, decreasing the risk of stroke, decreasing the risk of heart attacks, reducing the existing plaque along the artery walls, reducing the risk of a rupture of plaque which can lead to a blood clot and stroke, and widening the arteries.
Quitting smoking, eating a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, getting daily activity and managing stress are examples of lifestyle changes that will improve cholesterol, and most all of the other risk factors for heart disease.
Supplementation with garlic has been shown to lower overall cholesterol levels and LDL levels significantly while fish oil supplementation is known to lower triglyceride levels. To see if you have high cholesterol, talk to your doctor, who can test your cholesterol levels by drawing a sample of your blood.
Adults should be screened at least once every 5 years, but more frequently if their total cholesterol is elevated. It is important to have healthy levels of both: (LDL) and HDL. If lifestyle changes, such as modifying your diet, losing weight, and increasing physical activity, aren't enough to lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol, your physician may discuss other treatment options.
High Cholesterol can be prevented and even reversed. Your best offense against high cholesterol is controlling your lifestyle and diet.