by Tina C. Loren
Over one hundred million Americans have high cholesterol. Derived from the Greek word “chole” for bile, this thick substance is produced in the liver and is very important to the good health and functioning of the human body. Cholesterol has numerous functions in the body and it is found in the outer layer of every human cell. Among its functions include the following; production of bile, aids in cell membrane growth and production of the hormones estrogen and testosterone. Cholesterol also helps to metabolize fat soluble vitamins in the body.
We are all focused on hearing about how dangerous cholesterol is but in fact it also serves a very vital purpose to the body. However there is both “good” and “bad” cholesterol and this is where it is important to know the difference. How we produce cholesterol: When we eat animal proteins we produce cholesterol. Fruits, vegetables and grains cannot produce cholesterol and they do not contain any. When meat, eggs and dairy products are consumed they enable the body to make cholesterol. It is a question of eating these foods in moderation as too much saturated fat can lead to elevated cholesterol levels which can be unhealthy and dangerous.
Types of cholesterol: Cholesterol can be one of three types; HDL, LDL or Triglycerides. Lipoproteins carry cholesterol throughout the bloodstream. LDL cholesterol is what is known as the “bad cholesterol”. This is the cholesterol that is carried from the liver to the body’s cells. If too much is carried into the body, you will develop excess cholesterol. Excess can lead to many health complications including arterial plaque and heart disease. The “good” cholesterol is known as HDL. It works in an opposite way to LDL because it actually carries the cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver. The liver then will discard this cholesterol out of the body. HDL can help prevent heart disease. Most fat found in the body is in the form of triglycerides. They are made from the foods that we eat. Normal Cholesterol Levels: There are cholesterol guidelines of what is considered normal and what is considered high. Normal is less than 200mg/dL and high is anything 240mg/dL or higher.
What high cholesterol can do to your body: High cholesterol can have many deleterious effects on your body and your health. Heart disease is one of the main potential consequences. The arteries can become blocked which reduces blood and oxygen flow to the heart. You will also increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Symptoms of high cholesterol: If you haven’t gone to see a doctor and get blood work yet you may notice various symptoms if you do have high cholesterol. These may include some of the following; pain in your legs when walking or exercising because the arteries have narrowed and yellow patches on your skin, particularly around the eye area. These patches are actually cholesterol deposits and are a tell tale symptom that you have high cholesterol levels.
Causes of High Cholesterol: There are several known reasons for developing high cholesterol. It should be noted however, that sometimes there is a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol levels. Poor nutrition: Eating large quantities of cholesterol laden foods such as meat and dairy can increase your cholesterol. Most dangerous are foods that are high in saturated fats. Red meat, sausage and sugary baked goods all have high saturated fat levels. Eat fresh whole foods in the form of lean proteins, fresh vegetables and whole grains and a little bit of fruit.
Obesity: Excess weight can also increase bad cholesterol levels. Try to maintain a weight that is appropriate for your height and gender. You can refer to a body mass index scale, also known as a “bmi”. This chart will tell you the weight range you should be in. Smoking: Smoking of course is an extremely unhealthy habit to have. And it can raise your cholesterol levels as well. Speak to your medical provider who can help create a program for you to follow to quick this habit. Age: Cholesterol levels increase naturally with age. Usually at the age of 50, a man’s cholesterol levels will taper off naturally. Women’s cholesterol levels will naturally begin to rise after they have reached menopause. This does not take into account of course, for all of the various lifestyle and medical factors that can raise your cholesterol levels as well.
Lack of exercise: People who do not exercise will more likely have higher cholesterol than people who incorporate exercise into their lifestyle. Additionally sedentary people will tend to have lower amounts of the good cholesterol, HDL, as well. Part of a healthy lifestyle incorporates a regular exercise program. Find exercise that you enjoy doing and try to commit to exercising three to five times weekly for a minimum of 30 minutes. Medical Conditions: There are certain medical conditions that tend to create higher cholesterol in the body. These include diseases such as diabetes, kidney and liver disease.
Diagnosis: Under the care of your medical provider, a blood test is performed which will check LDL, HDL and blood triglyceride levels. Medication: There are various medications that your physician may prescribe for you if you suffer from high cholesterol. Statins: this drug lowers cholesterol by blocking liver enzymes that produce it. There are various side effects associated with statins and include headaches and constipation but not everyone will experience these effects. Niacin: Niacin will reduce both HDL and LDL levels and it is a B vitamin. Your doctor may prescribe a particular dosage for you. You may experience flushing and tingling side effects. Aspirin: Aspirin is a common medication doctor’s recommend taking for high cholesterol levels. If you have high blood pressure along with high cholesterol your doctor may prescribe other drugs such as beta blockers or calcium channel blockers. Your doctor will know what exactly is appropriate for you depending on your blood work, age and health condition.
You can reduce your cholesterol levels in various ways. By looking at the various causes of high cholesterol you can begin to assess which areas of your life you may change to become a healthier person. Of course, always consult with your medical provider before undergoing any type of lifestyle, nutritional or exercise program, particularly if you are elderly or suffering from any disease or ailment.