Cholesterol

Like anything, too much cholesterol is a bad thing. Although your body uses cholesterol for a variety of purposes, like digestion, or hormone production, cholesterol can become too high easily, resulting in negative health effects. 

There are 2 main types of cholesterol in your body: LDL (low density lipoproteins, the so called bad cholesterol), and HDL. (high density lipoproteins, the good cholesterol) These are produced in necessary quantities by your body, and appear almost waxy and fat-like. This page will discuss cholesterol’s role in the body. Also, we will talk about the causes of high cholesterol, symptoms, treatment, and prevention.

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Image credits to MedlinePlus

Cholesterol blocking arteries. 

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol has a number of roles in the body, including: 

  • building of cell walls

  • making your digestive acids

  • Vitamin D Production

  • Steroid Hormone production, like testosterone. 

Cholesterol isn't inherently bad. It's just that, like anything, too much of it isn't good for you. It can wreak havoc on your body, mostly on your cardiovascular system, and can lead to stroke, heart attack, and even death. 

What Causes High LDL Cholesterol?

The causes of high levels of bad cholesterol are numerous. Some controllable, some not so much. 

The main contributing factors to high cholesterol are as follows:

Predispositions/Uncontrollable

  • Genetics- Genetic contributions are usually due to the additive effects of multiple genes, though occasionally may be due to a single gene defect such as in the case of familial hypercholesterolemia

Controllable

  • Diet high in saturated fats

  • Lack of exercise and physical activity

  • Stress and hormones- the physiologic hormone called cortisol, for example, increases LDL cholesterol level

  • May be a side effect of certain medications

  • Other medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure

  • Obesity or overweight

  • Smoking

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Controlling Cholesterol

Although the task of controlling your cholesterol may seem difficult, it isn't. With a few changes to your routine, your LDL numbers will be on their way down. Ultimately, what control boils down to is good discipline and having the right habits. 

 

1. Eat the right fats.

Making sure to read the label of your foods is important when trying to control your cholesterol. Foods like butter and margarine have harmful saturated fats and trans fats. These fats are known to increase LDL and decrease HDL.

Foods that contain trans and saturated fats are:

  • butter

  • margarine

  • shortening

  • beef or pork fat

  • lard and cream,

  • butter,

  • cheese and

  • other dairy products made from whole or reduced-fat (2 percent) milk.

These are all foods to consume in moderation. Dairy and cheese are needed to ensure that you get calcium, but don't overdo it. 

A diet should focus on 

  • fruits and vegetables

  • lean meat and poultry without skin

  • low fat dairy products (not whole milk or 2% milk)

  • whole grains

  • nuts

while avoiding red meat and poultry skins.

Some fats can actually help you in lowering your LDL and increasing your HDL. These are known as monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Foods which contain these are

  • canola oil

  • olive oil

  • peanut oil

  • soybean oil

  • corn oil

  • sunflower oil

Exercise

Exercise is one of the tried and true ways to reduce and control your cholesterol. Despite what you may think, this healthy exercise doesn't just entail aerobic exercise. You don't need any fancy equipment, Any exercise will do. Moderate to high intensity exercise can in fact reduce your HDL levels. Since this exercise will be a part of your daily routine, it's key to make it something you enjoy doing. After all, if it seems boring you won't be able to repeat it everyday. This exercise need not be intense. Just 30 minutes or more of any exercise, like walking the dog, or going out to the gym, will benefit your health. 

 

If you regularly exercise 5 to 6 times a week for just 30 minutes, studies have shown that you could start seeing results in 12 to 16 weeks. In fact, those with extremely high LDL levels, such as 220 or more, could see results even sooner. Just make sure your doctor says it's alright.

Quit Unhealthy Habits

 

Alcohol and smoking are generally known to damage your health. However, they can not only impact your liver or your lungs, but your cholesterol levels too. Smoking has been shown to reduce levels of HDL in your body. It hasn't been shown to influence your levels of LDL, but it does worsen and hurry along the effects that LDL has on your body, such as hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis.

 

But, quitting can actually reverse these effects very quickly. In fact, quitting can reduce your chances of getting a heart attack by 30 percent in the first year alone. In 5 to 10 years, it's almost like you never smoked at all, in relation to your heart health. 

Drop Those Pounds

 

Losing weight can, in fact, have immense effects on your cholesterol. If you’re overweight, then dropping your weight by 10 pounds, and your LDL will be cut by 8%. You'll have to keep it over time, if you want to keep the weight off. This is a way to not only stay healthy, but to keep your LDL down as well.