Cholesterol

Reviewed: April 05, 2013
By eHealthIQ
Cholesterol

Overview and Facts

Cholesterol, a soft, fat-like, waxy substance, is found in the bloodstream and all of your body’s cells. It can be both good and bad. Cholesterol is an important part of a healthy body because it helps to produce cell membranes and some hormones. But too much of the bad kind, also known as low-density lipoproteins, raises your risk of conditions such as stroke and heart disease.
Types of cholesterol:

  • High density lipoproteins (HDL): These are also called good cholesterol, as they help your body get rid of the bad cholesterol in your blood. If your levels of HDL cholesterol are low, the risk of heart attack and stroke increases and therefore the higher the HDL level, the better.
  • Low density lipoproteins (LDL): LDL are bad cholesterol. This is the type of cholesterol that can slowly build up on the walls of arteries that feed the heart and brain. The more LDL cholesterol there is in the blood, the higher the risk of heart disease.
  • Very low density lipoproteins (VLDL): These are similar to LDL in the sense that it carries mostly fat and little protein.
  • Triglycerides: Another type of fat carried by LDL. Excess calories, alcohol or sugar is converted into triglycerides and stored in fat cells in the body.

Signs and Symptoms

There are no symptoms of abnormal levels of cholesterol. In order to find out if you have high cholesterol, you must be tested. It is recommended that people over the age of 20 be tested for high cholesterol once every 5 years. Having a cholesterol test is the best way to avoid the end-result of high cholesterol, which is typically a heart attack or stroke.

Causes and Diagnosis

Typically, the liver makes the cholesterol it needs. But there are many factors, some that you can control and some that you cannot control, that can contribute to high cholesterol.

  • Age/Gender: Cholesterol levels in the body naturally begin to rise once you reach age 20. For men, levels general level off after age 50. For women, cholesterol levels stay relatively low until menopause, and then they rise to about the same level as men.
  • Weight: Being overweight or obese can increase blood cholesterol level, which in turn increases triglycerides and decreases HDL, the good cholesterol.
  • Diet: There are many foods that are considered high cholesterol foods, mostly those that contain high amounts of saturated fat. Saturated fat is an unhealthy fat found in foods that come from animals such as meats and dairy products. Packaged foods that contain oils may also have a lot of saturated fat.
  • Activity level: Being physically inactive can increase LDL, or bad cholesterol, and decrease HDL, or good cholesterol.
  • Hormones: After women reach menopause, they get a natural boost in the good kind of cholesterol (HDL). Taking estrogen after menopause can help maintain these levels of good cholesterol.
  • Age/Gender: Cholesterol levels in the body naturally begin to rise once you reach age 20. For men, levels generally level off after age 50. For women, cholesterol levels stay relatively low until menopause, and then they rise o about the same level as men.
  • Overall health: Diseases such as diabetes or hypothyrodism can contribute to high cholesterol
  • Genetics: If relatives have high cholesterol, that puts you at a higher risk, too. Hypercholesterolemia runs in families and if diabetes runs in the family, you are also at a higher risk for high cholesterol.

Tests and Treatment Options

Since there are usually no high cholesterol symptoms, it can be hard to detect. High cholesterol won’t make you feel sick, and it is usually found during a routine cholesterol and triglycerides test at a physical. This is a blood test that measures cholesterol levels and can be done as a non-fasting or fasting cholesterol test. A non-fasting will show your total cholesterol as well as HDL, or good cholesterol. A fasting cholesterol test, also called a lipid profile, will measure your LDL, HDL, total cholesterol and triglycerides.
Normal cholesterol is anything below 200 mg/dL. If you cholesterol is higher, you may need treatment to lower cholesterol levels. The main goal of treatment to lower cholesterol is to reduce the LDL level enough to reduce risk of heart disease or having a heart attack.
Overall, there are two main ways to lower cholesterol:

  • Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC): This program of lifestyle changes includes a diet to lower cholesterol, physical activity and weight management.
  • Drug treatment: Drugs to lower your cholesterol are only used if necessary, and if they are used, they are used in conjunction with lifestyle changes such as a low cholesterol diet.

Components of the TLC:

  • Diet: A diet to lower cholesterol is low in saturated fat. It calls for eating less than 7% of calories from saturated fats and less than 200 mg of dietary cholesterol daily. This low cholesterol diet recommends just enough calories to maintain weight and avoid weight gain. The amount of soluble fiber in your diet may also be increased if necessary. Foods that lower cholesterol are usually foods low in saturated fats, including:
    • Foods that contain plant sterols
    • Fat free or 1% dairy products
    • Fish
    • Lean meats
    • Whole grain foods
    • Fruits and vegetables
    • Soft margarines with little or no trans fat
  • Weight management: If you are overweight, losing weight can help to lower LDL. Weight management is especially important for those who have multiple risk factors, including high LDL levels, low HDL levels, high triglycerides and having a large waist measurement (more than 40 inches for men and 35 for women).
  • Physical activity: Doctors recommend that everyone, regardless of whether or not you have normal cholesterol, gets 30 minutes of physical activity per day. If you have high cholesterol, regular physical activity can help raise HDL and lower LDL.

Components of drug treatment:

  • Combine with TLC: If you begin drug treatment to lower cholesterol, your doctor will still have you implement therapeutic lifestyle changes as part of your treatment to keep the drug dose as small as possible.
  • Drugs available for lowering cholesterol:
    • Statins – effective in lowering LDL levels, safe for most
    • Bile acid sequestrants – can be used alone or with statin drugs
    • Nicotinic acid – works to lower LDL and triglycerides and raise HDL
    • Fibric acids – mainly used to treat low HDL and high triglyceride levels
    • Cholesterol absorption inhibitors – lower LDL, can be used alone or with statin drugs

Helpful Tips and Home Remedies

There are things you can do in your life that can prevent your levels of cholesterol from reaching abnormal:

  • Limit high cholesterol foods such as:
    • Egg yolks
    • High fat dairy products
    • Foods with hydrogenated oils (mostly found in snack foods)
    • Fried foods
    • Poultry skin
    • Liver and other organ meats
  • Add these types of food to your grocery list:
    • Soy products
    • Veggie burgers
    • Fruits and vegetables
    • Oatmeal
    • Olive oil
    • Lentils
    • Dried beans
  • Maintain a healthy weight – being overweight contributes to rising blood cholesterol levels
  • Get screened – have your doctor do a cholesterol test at your next physical, especially if you have any risk factors, including a poor diet, family history of high cholesterol and/or are overweight
  • Quit smoking – it can increase bad cholesterol
  • Get regular physical activity – this lowers the bad kind of cholesterol and raises the good kind

Helpful Tips and Home Remedies

There are things you can do in your life that can prevent your levels of cholesterol from reaching abnormal:

  • Limit high cholesterol foods such as:
    • Egg yolks
    • High fat dairy products
    • Foods with hydrogenated oils (mostly found in snack foods)
    • Fried foods
    • Poultry skin
    • Liver and other organ meats
  • Add these types of food to your grocery list:
    • Soy products
    • Veggie burgers
    • Fruits and vegetables
    • Oatmeal
    • Olive oil
    • Lentils
    • Dried beans

References

  • http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/default.htm
  • http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/high-blood-cholesterol/DS00178
  • http://www.medicinenet.com/cholesterol/article.htm
  • http://cholesterol.about.com
  • http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cholesterol

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