Cholesterol Under Control
Many people believe that the excess fat around their waist or hips contains cholesterol. In fact, cholesterol is a substance carried through the bloodstream by certain carriers made of fat (lipids) and proteins. These carriers are called lipoproteins. Yes, cholesterol may result in fat accumulation because it is not quite water soluble. These lipoproteins traveling through the bloodstream have different sizes and density. This is what determines if they are good or bad cholesterol and whether they can be bad or good for your health.
What are the “bad” and “good” cholesterol types?
According to the Mayo Clinic team, there are 2 varieties of cholesterol in your bloodstream (depending on the type of lipoproteins):
- The low-density lipoprotein, LDL cholesterol, is “bad” cholesterol that may result in the formation of atherosclerotic plaques leading to heart diseases and strokes;
- The high-density lipoprotein, HDL cholesterol, is “good” cholesterol and can be delivered from different body parts to the liver. HDL cholesterol may benefit in the reduction of the risk of a heart disease or stroke.
These types of cholesterol should not be confused with triglycerides, which are the most common variety of fat in the human body. Triglycerides are responsible for storing excess energy from your daily diet. WebMD experts state that high triglyceride levels can be related to low HDL cholesterol and high LDL cholesterol levels. This dangerous combination may result in fatty buildups in artery walls. This is a major risk factor for the development of a heart attack or stroke.
How can high cholesterol levels be diagnosed and monitored?
What is a high cholesterol test? As a matter of fact, a health care specialist can easily recognize the danger of high cholesterol before it results in any life-threatening disorders. It can be diagnosed through the blood test called as a lipid panel. A doctor needs to take your blood sample and send it to a lab for analysis. Before the test, the doctor may ask you not to drink or eat anything for up to 12 hours.
This lipid panel can measure your total cholesterol levels – both HDL and LDL types, and their connection with triglycerides.
The “borderline high” level of total cholesterol may vary from 200 to 239 mg/dL. Cholesterol levels are considered “high” and potentially dangerous if they are above 240 mg/dL.
The U.S. American Heart Association (AHA) strongly recommends checking your cholesterol levels every 4-6 years after you turn 20.
Also, the experts from Healthline recommend that people who are in the risk groups should check their cholesterol levels monthly. These risk factors are:
- high blood pressure;
- being overweight;
- excess smoking;
- genetic and hereditary factors (like a genetic disorder called hypercholesterolemia).
The major dangers of high “bad” cholesterol
The trick is that there are no obvious symptoms of high cholesterol (the “bad” type). In most cases, you may find out that you have dangerously high levels of “bad” cholesterol during emergency visits to a hospital. For example, a stroke is the most common “symptom” of high cholesterol. That is why it is important to monitor your cholesterol levels regularly as it has been described above.
Increased and untreated levels of “bad” cholesterol may lead to serious disorders like:
- Coronary artery (heart) disease revealed through such symptoms as chest pain, angina, extreme fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath, stiff neck, pain in the jaw, upper abdomen and back, numbness or coldness in limbs;
- A heart attack or stroke with such symptoms as a sudden loss of coordination and balance, dizziness, facial asymmetry, inability to move, confusion, slurring speech, numbness in the face or limbs, blurred, blackened or double vision, and a severe headache. Keep in mind that a heart attack is always a medical emergency;
- Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) may happen when plaque develops in the walls of the arteries. It may block the blood flow in the arteries capable of supplying blood to the kidneys, stomach, arms, legs, and feet. You may recognize PAD through cramps, achiness, fatigue, pain in the legs, discomfort in the feet and legs.
What medications can control “bad” cholesterol levels?
In the most cases, lifestyle changes like a strict low-cholesterol diet and regular exercises may reduce levels of “bad” cholesterol. However, sometimes cholesterol level control can be done successfully only by means of certain medications. According to Healthline, your choice of a cholesterol medicine may vary depending on your specific needs. Your healthcare provider will help prescribe the medication that is best for you.
Dietary tips for reducing high LDL cholesterol
According to the American Heart Association, someone in the United States has a heart attack every 34 seconds. More than a half of all heart attack cases happen because of high levels of “bad” cholesterol. Such sad statistics may motivate you to reduce cholesterol. To do this, you may start by changing your lifestyle and eating more cholesterol lowering foods.
A healthy diet to lower cholesterol is one of the first guidelines recommended by physicians to people with high LDL levels. An unhealthy diet throughout one’s life may not only result in an increased waistline but also increase the chances of heart disorders due to the high levels of “bad” cholesterol. To prevent this scenario, you may follow a special diet for high cholesterol treatment:
- Choose foods rich in healthier fats. Unhealthy saturated fats in red meat and dairy products may raise your LDL cholesterol. It would be good for your diet to cut the intake of saturated fats. Instead, opt for lean meat, low-fat dairy and monounsaturated fats (like olive and canola oils);
- Consider avoiding any trans fats that can be found in fried foods and some commercial snacks like cookies, cakes, and crackers;
- Try eating more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids that benefit the production of HDL cholesterol. The major sources of omega-3 fatty acids are wild-caught fish, walnuts, ground flax seeds, and almonds;
- Consider eating more soluble fiber that may lower LDL levels as well. You can consume the most soluble fiber through oats, oat bran, any fruits, lentils, vegetables, and beans;
- Try adding more whey protein to your diet (that can be found in low-fat dairy products).
Additionally, other common cholesterol guidelines include:
- Regular exercise and physical activity;
- Quitting smoking;
- Losing excess weight;
- Only moderate alcohol consumption – no more than 2 ounces of alcohol per day.
Don’t hesitate to check your cholesterol levels if you have experienced any of the above-described symptoms. This decision may not just prevent the development of more serious disorders, but can also result in a longer and healthier lifetime.