Maintaining a Normal Cholesterol Level


Cholesterol is a wax-like substance that is found in the fat carried in your bloodstream. Your body uses cholesterol to build cells, but having too much cholesterol can be problematic, increasing your risk of developing heart disease.

Too much cholesterol can cause deposits of fat collect in your blood vessels. Eventually, these deposits restrict the flow of blood to your arteries. Your heart may not have access to as much oxygen from your blood, which can make it difficult for your heart to pump, thereby increasing your risk of a heart attack. Similarly, a lack of blood flow to your brain can result in a stroke.  

High cholesterol is a condition that runs in families, but it is also a product of poor health choices. It’s preventable and can be successfully treated. Lifestyle changes including exercise and a healthy diet, sometimes with medication, can go a long way in lowering cholesterol and reducing your risk of complications.

Symptoms of High Cholesterol

High cholesterol doesn’t have any symptoms. You can have high cholesterol without knowing it. Getting a blood test is the only way to know if you have high cholesterol.

You should get your cholesterol levels tested at least every five years. If your cholesterol levels aren’t within the healthy range, your doctor may propose more frequent tests. More frequent tests might also be necessary if you are a smoker, have high blood pressure or diabetes, or a family history of high cholesterol.

Types of Cholesterol

Proteins carry cholesterol through your blood. Together, proteins and cholesterol are called lipoproteins, and there are different types of lipoproteins, according to which type of cholesterol is being carried. They include:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL). This bad cholesterol can accumulate in your artery walls, making them narrow and hard.
  • Very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL). VLDL is responsible for carrying a type of fat called triglycerides. VLDL can help LDL to grow in size, making your blood vessels narrower.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL). Good cholesterol retrieves extra cholesterol and returns it to the liver.

Lifestyle choices such as inactivity and an unhealthy diet contribute to higher levels of LDL cholesterol and lower levels of HDL cholesterol. Your genetic makeup also influence cholesterol levels, preventing your cells from adequately removing bad cholesterol from your bloodstream or causing your liver to make too much cholesterol.

Risk Factors

The following risk factors can lead to high cholesterol and increase your risk of developing heart disease:

  • Obesity. Having a body mass index (BMI) over 30 can put you at an increased risk of developing high cholesterol.
  • Unhealthy diet. Consuming a lot of red meat and full-fat dairy products, which contain saturated fats, can increase your cholesterol levels. Trans fats, which are sometimes found in processed baked goods and crackers, can also raise your cholesterol levels. 
  • Inactivity. Leading a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to high levels of bad cholesterol and low levels of good cholesterol. Exercise can help to reverse this.
  • Smoking. Cigarette smoking weakens the walls of your blood vessels, making them more likely to accumulate fatty deposits. Smoking can also contribute to low levels of good cholesterol.
  • Diabetes. People with prediabetes or diabetes are more likely to have high blood sugar. High blood sugar can lower HDL cholesterol and increase LDL cholesterol. It is also damaging to lining of the arteries.
  • Waist circumference. Women with a waist circumference of 35 inches or more and men with a waist circumference of 40 inches or more are at an increased risk of developing high cholesterol.

Diagnosis

A blood test is the only way to check your cholesterol levels. A lipid profile typically indicates your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglyceride level. It’s best not to eat or drink anything (except water) for 9-12 hours before having your blood taken.

In the US, the measurement of cholesterol is in mg/dL. That stands for milligrams per deciliter. The following levels are considered poor:

  • Total cholesterol: >200 mg/dL
  • LDL cholesterol: >160 mg/dL
  • HDL cholesterol: <40 mg/dL
  • Triglycerides: >200 mg/dL

LDL cholesterol is a risk factor for acquiring heart disease, and is often the focus of treatment. Targets differ according to other risk factors, such as family history and smoking. Most people should aim for LDL levels below 130 mg/dL.

Treatment

A healthy lifestyle is your first defense against high cholesterol, and lifestyle changes can help to reverse high cholesterol if you’ve already been diagnosed. If you’ve made changes and still have high cholesterol, your doctor may suggest medication. 

The type of medication you are prescribed will depend on a number of factors, including any other health conditions you have, risk factors, and possible side effects. Common types of high cholesterol medication include:

  • Statins. One of the most commonly prescribed medications for lowering cholesterol, statins block the substance that your liver requires to make cholesterol, and your liver removes cholesterol from your blood. Your body may also reabsorb cholesterol from deposits along the lining of the arteries.
  • Cholesterol absorption inhibitors. The cholesterol you ingest from your diet is absorbed in the small intestine and released into your blood. This drugs help to limit the absorption of cholesterol from your diet. It may be used in combination with statins.
  • Bile acid-binding resins. Bile acids are made in your liver and used during digestion. These medications bind to bile acids, which forces your liver to use extra cholesterol in your bloodstream to make more bile acids.  
  • Needle based medications. This new type of drug can help the liver to absorb more LDL cholesterol, thereby lowering the level in your blood. It is approved for people who have genetic conditions that contribute to high LDL. They can also be used for people who have suffered from heart attacks or strokes.

Side Effects

The effects of these medications vary from person to person. Common side effects include stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and muscle pain. If you are taking cholesterol medication, your doctor may conduct tests periodically to check the functioning of your liver.

Disclaimer: Information on this website is not meant to encourage the self-management of any health or wellness issue. Nor is it meant to encourage any one type of medical treatment. Any treatment or advice used may have varying results between individuals. Readers with health-related questions, are always encouraged to seek proper consultation with a physician or certified healthcare provider. No information on this website should be used to ignore any medical or health-related advice, nor should it be the root cause for a delay in a consultation with a physician or a certified healthcare provider.

No information on this website should be used to start the use of dietary supplements and vitamins, natural and herbal products, homeopathic medicine and other mentioned products prior to a consultation with a physician or certified healthcare provider.