CHOLESTEROL AND HOW IT AFFECTS THE HEALTH

7 min


Cholesterol is a major health risk people face in today’s world. Further, there is a lot of confusion that revolves around cholesterol. Questions like, ‘How bad is being diagnosed with cholesterol?’, ‘Is it life-threatening?’, ‘Is it treatable or manageable?’, ‘What is the difference between LDL, HDL and triglycerides?’ and a lot more.

Therefore, let us break down the complex mechanism behind these questions and provide a simpler version. After going through this article, we bet you might have some basic ideas and knowledge of this disease. Further, this can go a long way in maintaining and taking care of your own health and create awareness about this totally preventable disease to your near and dear ones.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy-fat like substance that’s produced in the liver and travels through the bloodstream. 80% of the cholesterol is produced by the liver. On the other hand, the remaining percentage of cholesterol comes from the food we eat. The main sources include meat, poultry, dairy products etc. Further, trans fat, saturated fat and food with excess sugar are associated with increased levels of cholesterol in the body.

Cholesterol is a main part of the cells. It is essential to make new cells in the body. The produced and cholesterol taken through food is later packed into proteins called lipoproteins. The body needs cholesterol to make hormones, Vitamin D and bile (an important component of digestion) Like everything else, anything in moderation can be good for the body. Cholesterol in excess can be harmful to the body. It is the root cause of a lot of serious problems. Further, it can cause problems like stroke and heart disease.

TYPES OF CHOLESTEROL:

There are 4 types of lipoproteins are,

  • Low density lipoprotein (LDL)
  • High density lipoprotein (HDL)
  • Very low density lipoproteins (VLDL)
  • Triglycerides

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL):

LDL is also called bad cholesterol. This type of lipoprotein has the tendency to build up inside the arteries. This build-up of lipoprotein called plaque can narrow down the arteries and lead to heart attack and stroke. The build-up of plaque in the coronary arteries (the major blood vessels that feed the heart) causes coronary artery disease. CAD can increase the risk of a heart attack. Likewise, plaque build-up in the carotid artery situated in the neck can reduce blood flow to the brain and increase the risk of stroke. This is why we should always keep the LDL levels as low as possible.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL):

HDL, on the other hand, is the good type. The main purpose of HDL is to drive off LDL away from the arteries. This driven-off LDL is carried back to the liver where it is broken down. Subsequently, the broken-down LDL is processed by the body. This is the reason HDL should be higher in the body.

Very low density lipoprotein (VLDL):

These are other forms of cholesterol. They are bad forms of cholesterol as well. They tend to carry LDL around.

Triglycerides (TGL):

A third important component that’s important in the body is triglycerides (TGL). Firstly, this is one of the most common types of fat in the body. Further, this plays an important role in our cholesterol health. The major function of triglycerides is to store the excess fat from our meals in the body. Further, it’s important to keep our triglyceride levels low. And also, chylomicrons come under this category.

The National Institute of Health recommends people over the age of 20 to test their triglyceride levels, once every 5 years. This test is termed fasting lipoprotein profile.

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Having understood the 3 main components of cholesterol, now we’ll try to get an understanding of the combination of these causing an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Further, the risk of cardiovascular disease is increased when,

  • The levels of triglycerides is increased
  • The HDL levels are lowered
  • And also, the LDL levels are elevated.

Eventually, this triad puts a person at risk for cholesterol and eventually cardiovascular disease and stroke.

RISK FACTORS OF CHOLESTEROL:

  • Genetic factors- If the condition runs in families, we are at a greater risk of developing this disease
  • People who inihibit the genes that develop the risk of cholesterol
  • Stress
  • A sedentary life style
  • Smoking
  • An unhealthy diet
  • Obesity

FAMILIAL HYPERCHOLESTRENEMIA (RARE INSTANCE):

Unfortunately, for some people mere medication and an effort at a healthier lifestyle cannot prevent this condition. One such hindrance is being diagnosed with familial hypercholesterolemia. Further, FH is an inherited genetic disease. These people tend to have naturally higher levels of LDL. This is the reason behind the saying, it’s important to know the family’s health history.

INVESTIGATIONS:

FASTING LIPOPROTEIN PROFILE:

This test as we saw earlier is used as a measure of triglycerides. Moreover, this test can reveal if our levels fall under a healthy category. For this test, the patient should not take any food for at least 9-12 hours.

The triglyceride levels should be as follows,

INDICATIONSTRIGLYCERIDE LEVELS
DESIRABLE< 150 mg/dl
BORDERLINE 150-199 mg/dl
HIGH RISK200-499 mg/dl

A fasting lipoprotein profile range of more than 500 mg/dl means there is too much fat in our body. This very high triglyceride range can put us at risk of conditions and diseases like pancreatitis, cardiovascular events like heart diseases.

Further, the other test includes,

  • Total cholesterol
  • LDL or low density lipoprotein
  • HDL or high density lipoprotein
  • Triglycerides
The lipoproteinIdeal levels
Total cholesterol<200 mg/dl
HDL/ good cholesterol60 or higher
LDL/ bad cholesterolLess than 100
Fasting triglyceridesLess than 150

All of the above tests are to be performed after fasting for a period of 9-12 hours and on an empty stomach. Labs collect blood samples and process your results in a short period of time.

MANAGING CHOLESTEROL:

Once diagnosed with cholesterol, your doctor might put you on a regime of medication. This mostly includes drugs like statins. The main function of these drugs is to decrease the level of triglycerides and LDL. Further, these drugs also try to increase the level of HDL.

On the other hand, apart from statins, based on your condition and other co-morbidities your doctor might prescribe other groups of medicines like,

  • Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Niacins
  • Fibrates or fibric acid derivatives
  • Selective cholesterol absorption inihibitors
  • ACL (Adenosine triphosphate citrate lyase) inihibitors and PCSK 9 inihibitors
  • Bile acid resins etc.,

Firstly, we cannot totally depend on drugs to treat our condition. Moreover, we need to adopt some lifestyle changes and cutting down on harmful habits.

CHANGE TO A HEALTHY DIET:

One of the best ways to lower cholesterol is to reduce saturated fats. Try to limit food like red meat, fried foods, full-fat dairy products. Change to alternatives like fruits and vegetables, poultry, fish and food items rich in fibre.

Stick to mono-saturated fatty acids. These reduce the lipoprotein’s oxidation. This can be accomplished by changing to olive oil, canola oil etc. Follow healthy snacking. Eat a lot of nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews, tree nuts etc. Add fruits like avocado to your daily diet on a regular basis. Add soluble fibres to your diet. This is present abundantly in lentils, oats, whole grains, beans, peas etc. Moreover, food like these is known to reduce your LDL and VLDL and greatly improve HDL.

ENGAGE IN PHYSICAL ACTIVITY:

Physical activities are a great way to increase your HDL levels. Simple activities like walking your dog, riding your bicycle, swimming, aerobics on a regular basis are great ways to keep your cholesterol in check.

High-intensity exercises and aerobics are great ways to reduce cholesterol. Resistance exercises are a great way of bringing down cholesterol. Most importantly, do not jump into very intense exercises at the beginning. Most importantly, begin workouts mildly, stay low-key and pave your way into more intense workouts.

SHED OFF THOSE EXTRA POUNDS:

Losing weight is a great way to control cholesterol. Being obese raises LDL and lowers HDL. Moreover, just a 10% reduction in body weight can dramatically reduce your risk of high cholesterol.

QUIT SMOKING:

If you are a smoker and diagnosed with the condition, quit smoking at any cost. If you have high levels and smoke, you’re put at an even higher risk for heart diseases than a non-smoker. Quitting smoking not only helps in cholesterol but also in many other aspects of life and improves general health to a great extent.

KEEP A CHECK ON YOUR LIFESTYLE:

Each of us has a very unique job. It is very difficult to make changes in our careers. On the other hand, we can easily guess where we are headed. A sedentary lifestyle mostly depends upon the job we take. In today’s scenario, most of us have a very indoorsy kind of job. Owing to the pandemic situation, most of us stay indoors. Seldom do we get out even for the most basic needs.

If your job requires you to stick to one place for longer periods of time, it is important to change positions and get that mandatory 45mins to 1 hour of workout. Remember to stay hydrated and get out of the chair and do a few stretches regularly. Keep an eye on what you eat. Junk and processed food even in small amounts for a long period of time can cause harm to the body. Avoid unhealthy snacking.

To sum up, always remember the 3 C’s. Check, change and control your cholesterol. Cholesterol is not a threat. It is an indication of other underlying threats. Further, it is never too late to head to a healthier lifestyle.


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Dr Kavitha M

I am an undergraduate degree holder in dentistry. I have a great interest in music and reading. I am a linguaphile. My areas of interest lie in psychology, medical imaging, diagnostics, and oncology. I am a person who focuses more on the emerging areas of forensics.

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