Cholesterol is a fat-like substance circulating in your blood. 25% of it comes from food while 75% is made in the body. Cholesterol is vital for life. It is a component of cell membranes and is involved in the proper functioning of our cells. It is also needed to make hormones and vitamins. But excessive amounts in the bloodstream is a major health risk because it can lead to serious diseases and heart attacks.
High cholesterol is clinically known as hyperlipidemia. Though we talk about high cholesterol, the term is a little misleading. What we really mean is high levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and “low” level of good HDL cholesterol.
You are suffering from hyperlipidemia when your:
- LDL cholesterol is above 130 mg/dL.
- HDL cholesterol is LOWER than 60 mg/dL.
- Triglyceride levels are greater than 150 mg/dL.
Total cholesterol level is not of much importance. Someone can have total cholesterol of less than 200 mg/dL – (which is considered normal) but still have unhealthy levels of HDL or LDL. On the other hand someone can have cholesterol greater than 200 mg/dL but that may consist of high levels of HDL cholesterol which is good for him.
Hyperlipidemia – A Silent Risk Factor
- Hyperlipidemia is a hidden or silent risk factor because it has no symptoms. It is one of the biggest health burdens on our society today.
- It is considered a hidden risk factor for cardiovascular diseases due to the fact that high concentration of LDL and low concentration of HDL are strongly associated with cardiovascular disease because they promote atheroma (plaque) formation in arteries (atherosclerosis).
- Atherosclerosis leads to myocardial infarction (heart attack), stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. High levels of LDL and low levels of LDL contribute more to this process than total cholesterol levels. LDL are termed “bad cholesterol” because they have been linked to atheroma formation. While high concentrations of HDL can remove cholesterol from cells and reverse atheroma formation, hence it offers protection from atherosclerosis and is referred to as “good cholesterol”.
- Finding the problem early allows you to take action before it’s too late. It is suggested that you get your cholesterol levels checked at least once every five years. To know more about cholesterol tests please read the other cholesterol article
- Your doctor may recommend more frequent cholesterol tests if your total cholesterol level or LDL cholesterol level is high, or if you have a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol.
Reasons You Need To Worry About Your Cholesterol Levels
- One out of every six people have high cholesterol, which means that one out of every six people has a high probability of developing cardiovascular disease.
- A staggering 50% of Americans have levels above the suggested limit.
- Could something so common really be a serious health risk? Unfortunately, yes. High Cholesterol is a direct contributor to cardiovascular disease, which can lead to strokes and heart attacks
- The World Health Organization estimates that almost 20% of all strokes and over 50% of all heart attacks can be linked to high cholesterol.
- Despite all of the amazing medicines and treatments, cardiovascular disease is still the number one cause of death and illness.
- A lot of people don’t take the risks of high cholesterol seriously which makes them vulnerable to heart diseases and stroke.
Signs & Symptoms
High cholesterol does not cause any symptoms but it does cause damage deep within the body. Too much cholesterol usually leads to a condition known as atherosclerosis in which plaque builds up inside the arteries. This condition narrows the space available for blood flow and can trigger heart disease by blocking/narrowing those arteries which supply blood to the heart. The good news is high cholesterol is simple to detect, and there are many ways to bring it down.
Cholesterol Levels & Risk Levels
National Cholesterol Education Program, Adult Treatment Panels and The American Heart Association suggest the optimal levels of cholesterol.
Cholesterol ratio (What is cholesterol ratio?)
- 4:1 or less
Total Cholesterol level
- Less than 200 is ideal.
- 200 – 239 is borderline high.
- Above 240 means you’re at increased risk of heart disease. Take immediate action!
LDL Cholesterol level
- Healthy people who do not have any accompanying cardiovascular disease aim for an LDL level below 130 mg/dL (100mg/dL – 129mg/dL)
- Less than 100mg/dL is ideal for people who have heart disease or other other risk factors for heart disease like diabetes, high blood pressure etc.
- If you’re at very high risk of heart disease, you need to aim for an LDL level below 70 mg/dL
- 130 to 159 is borderline high.
- 160 or more means you’re at a higher risk of heart disease. Take immediate action!
- LDL values for children should be less than 35 mg/dL.
You’re considered to be at a high risk of heart disease if you have:
- Had a previous heart attack or stroke
- Artery blockages in your neck (carotid artery disease)
- Artery blockages in your arms or legs (peripheral artery disease)
You are at Very high Risk if, in addition to above, you have two or more of the risk factors described below.
HDL Cholesterol levels
- Less than 40 means you’re at higher risk of heart disease. Take immediate action!
- 60 or higher is optimal and it greatly reduces the risk of heart disease.
- Less than 150 mg/dL is best
Risk Factors Which Can Cause Hyperlipidemia
Cholesterol and Family History
- Cholesterol comes from two sources – the body and food – and either one can contribute to high cholesterol.
- Some people inherit genes that trigger too much cholesterol production. For others, diet is the main culprit.
- Saturated fat and cholesterol are found in animal-based foods, including meat, eggs, and dairy products made with milk.
- In many cases, high cholesterol stems from a combination of diet and genetics.
Genetic Makeup – reflected in family history of high cholesterol or heart disease – might make you more prone to high cholesterol, even if you eat right and exercise.
- High blood pressure
- Low HDL cholesterol
- Family history of early heart disease
- Age of older than 45 if you’re a man, or older than 55 if you’re a woman
- Elevated lipoprotein (a), a type of fat (lipid) in your blood.
Realize the Risks – High Cholesterol Can Really Cause Damage!
The risks of high cholesterol are quite clear. The higher the LDL cholesterol, the higher the chances of heart and blood vessel disease. But people don’t take high cholesterol risks seriously. According to 2007 figures from the CDC, 21.5% of American adults said they had never had their cholesterol checked.
This negligence can be associated with the following reasons:
- Reason1: One problem is that high cholesterol doesn’t cause symptoms that make people pay attention. People naturally respond more to medical conditions that cause symptoms. Since you won’t feel your rising cholesterol levels, you won’t go to the doctor about it.
- Reason2: For the same reason, people may be less likely to stick to treatment for high cholesterol than they would be for a painful condition. People on cholesterol-lowering medication don’t feel any better, unlike taking a painkiller for a headache where you know the medicine is working. As a result, people are less likely to follow their treatment plan long-term.
- Reason3: The risks of high cholesterol are usually not immediate. The damage accumulates over years and decades. High cholesterol in your 20s and 30s can cause disaster in your 50s and 60s. Because the negative health effects of hyperlipidemia take time, many people don’t feel real urgency in treating it – they feel they can just deal with it later.
- Reason 4: Many people are too casual about their high cholesterol. They ignore it for years and it only gets their attention when they actually develop cardio vascular diseases which usually prove fatal – as highlighted by the fact that death from cardiovascular diseases is the number one cause of death in the USA.
How High Cholesterol Damages the Body
Everyone has cholesterol in their blood. But if your levels of LDL are too high, the excess can accumulate on the walls of your arteries. This build-up of cholesterol and other substances – called plaque – can narrow the artery like a clogged drain. It can also lead to arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which turns the normally flexible tissue more brittle.
Plaque can form anywhere. If it forms in the carotid artery in the neck, it’s carotid artery disease. If it forms in the coronary arteries – which supply the heart muscle with blood – it’s called coronary artery disease. Like any organ, the heart needs a good supply of blood to work. If it doesn’t get that blood, you could get angina, which causes a squeezing pain in the chest, as well as other symptoms.
There are other high cholesterol risks. If this plaque breaks open, it can form a clot. If a clot lodges in an artery and completely chokes off the blood supply, the cells don’t get the nutrients and oxygen they need – and die.
If a clot gets to the brain and blocks blood flow, it can cause a stroke. If a clot lodges in the coronary arteries, it can cause a heart attack.
What To Do If Your Cholesterol Level Is High
The main theme of any cholesterol reducing therapy is reducing LDL cholesterol through changes in diet, medication and other lifestyle modifications.
Elevated cholesterol levels are mainly treated with lifestyle modifications, a strict diet consisting of low saturated fat, trans fat-free and low cholesterol foods, followed by one of various anti-cholesterol (hypolipidemic) medicines, such as statins and fibrates.
Follow these steps to ensure health in your grey years.
Step 1: Go to the doctor. It is very important for all adults to get their cholesterol tested. The American Heart Association recommends that every adult aged 20 years and older should get their cholesterol checked at least once every five years.
Step 2: Keep track of your cholesterol levels yourself. Write down your current numbers and, if they’re high, set goals of what numbers you should strive for.
Step 3: Don’t Despair. If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol, don’t despair. The good news is that high cholesterol is one risk factor for strokes and heart attacks that you can change. You just need to take action now, before your high cholesterol results in more serious disease.
Step 4: Do Not Ignore! Whatever you do, don’t ignore your high cholesterol level and its risks. Don’t put off treatment for another year. Having high cholesterol may not hurt you today or tomorrow, but if you don’t do something about it, you may have to pay a terrible price down the road.
Step 5: Get Serious! If you do have high cholesterol, get serious. Talk with your doctor about what your goals should be and how you should achieve them.
Step 6: Adopt Lifestyle Modifications
If your LDL cholesterol is high, the first thing to do is make lifestyle changes. If you already have heart disease or other risk factors like diabetes, you need to be even more careful. Lifestyle changes include:
- Quitting smoking.
- Losing weight if overweight or obese.
- Exercising at least 30 minutes a day – most days of the week.
- Being physically active.
Being overweight and inactive tends to increase your LDL cholesterol and lower your HDL cholesterol, exactly the opposite of what you want. Exercise and weight loss can help reverse this trend. This is especially important for people who have large waist measurements – more than 40 inches (101.6 centimeters) for men and more than 35 inches (88.9 centimeters) for women – because people with this body shape are more likely to develop heart disease.
Step 7: Adjust Your Diet. 25% of the cholesterol in your body comes from the foods you eat. That means adopting an appropriate diet can result in 25% reduction in your cholesterol levels without taking any medication. Changes in diet include:
- Reducing cheese intake and/or substituting low fat varieties in your diet.
- Eating more soluble fiber – found in oatmeal, beans, fruits and vegetables.
- Consuming less cholesterol-rich meat and dairy products.
- Consuming reduced fat milks i.e skimmed milk.
- Using polyunsaturated or monounsaturated margarine or oils instead of butter.
- Choosing lean cuts of meat and removing all visible fat.
- Eating skinless chicken, fish or beas.
- Being careful of pies, pasties, fish and chips and commercial cakes as they contain hidden fat.
- Making cakes at home with polyunsaturated fat, cooking chips with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oil.
Step 8: Stick to the Plan. Last but not the least – be steadfast and stick to the plan. Your cholesterol levels did not raise in just a couple of days – it took them years to reach the levels they are at right now. So bringing them down won’t be a matter of days either! Managing cholesterol without medication means that you have to adopt a different lifestyle and eating habits for at least a year. There is no shortcut or temporary solution to reduce your cholesterol. You have to stand steadfast on your mission to achieve your LDL goals. “Eat Your Food As Your Medicine Or You Will Have To Take Medicines As Your Food!”
Medications – A Helping Hand
When lifestyle changes aren’t enough to reach your cholesterol targets, medications can help lower your cholesterol levels. These drugs, such as statins and fibrates, aren’t a replacement for lifestyle changes, nothing ever can be! You’ll still need to eat properly and exercise, though medication can just lend a helping hand in case diet and exercise alone aren’t enough to achieve the target LDL goal. They just boost your therapy to achieve results quicker. The most commonly used medications are statins and fibrates.
Nature To The Rescue – Cholesterol Lowering Foods & Natural Supplements
One could always use some extra help to achieve desired LDL goals. Not many people are in favour of taking prescription medicines because of their side effects. For these people Nature has provided us with many cholesterol-lowering foods. “Eat Your Foods As Your Medicine Or You Will Have To Take Medicines As Your Food!”
Many natural supplements to lower cholesterol levels are also on the market. These are concentrated forms of natural cholesterol-lowering-foods and are considered more effective than natural foods because they contain concentrated extracts.
A Personal Failure
It can be considered a personal failure to let things go too far, when making changes now could prevent life-threatening illnesses. Reducing your high cholesterol risks is a crucial step towards a healthy life in your later years.
Largest Ever Cholesterol Study Provides Sad Tidings – BBC NEWS
Largest ever study involving 147 million people proved that we neglect our cholesterol levels, only to embrace the world’s largest killer, cardiovascular disease, which takes 17 million lives per year.
(Click article for full size)
Clinical Research Studies Confirm The Disastrous Consequences Of High Cholesterol Levels
- Coronary heart disease developed with great consistency in patients with a ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol of more than 4.5
- Nitric oxide is involved in dilating blood vessels to provide more blood to the heart. Nitric oxide tablets are extremely effective for angina patients. DMA is an inhibitor of nitric oxide synthesis. Chronic hypercholesteremia stimulates DMA production through elevation of lipid peroxides and contributes to the development of atherosclerosis.
- In the long term, high systolic blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and smoking were associated with an increased risk of carotid stenosis in this elderly population.
- Cholesterol levels may be associated with endothelial dysfunction, thus potentially contributing to the increased risk of macrovascular disease due to elevated cholesterol levels.