Cholesterol is a fat content found in body cells. It is helpful in manufacturing vitamin D, hormones, and other products used in the digestion process. It is mainly found in animal proteins; eggs, cheese, and meat. Our body's liver can make the cholesterol it requires. However, high cholesterol levels in the body are dangerous as they combine with other substances to form plaque that sticks to the walls of blood vessels- a condition called atherosclerosis. Plague accumulates over time, thinning blood vessels leading to coronary artery disease.
Different Types of Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a combination of lipids (fats) and protein. Lipids have to combine with proteins for them to move through the blood vessels. These different lipoproteins have different purposes in the body.
High Density Lipoprotein
The high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol carries cholesterol from other body parts to the liver, where it is broken down. The liver then flushes the cholesterol from the body. HDL cholesterol is often referred to as the "good cholesterol" because it helps reduce cholesterol levels in the body. Therefore, a high level of HDL cholesterol can lower the risk of heart disease.
Low Density Lipoprotein
LDL cholesterol is commonly referred to as "bad" cholesterol, as it can build up in arteries and form plaques. LDL cholesterol makes up the majority of the body's cholesterol. A high LDL level of cholesterol increases the risk of developing heart disease and stroke. A diagnosis of high cholesterol may be made if an individual's LDL cholesterol is over 100 milligrams per deciliter.
Very Low Density Lipoprotein
Unlike HDL and LDL cholesterol levels, which are both made up of cholesterol, these very low density lipoproteins carry triglycerides. It is termed as a former of cholesterol because it also contributes to the formation of plague in arteries.
Bad cholesterol clogs blood vessels resulting in health problems. Whenever plague forms within blood vessels, it makes it difficult for blood to flow through. As the plague build up increases, the blood vessels rapture resulting in bleeding. Blood clots form as platelets move towards the point of injury to close prevent bleeding. When this happens within the heart, it becomes life-threatening as it may lead to heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest. The clots can also occur in other parts of the body leading to complications such as the brain. High levels of cholesterol in the body can lead to:
- Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)
- Transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
- Mini stroke
Factors that can increase your risk of unhealthy cholesterol levels include:
- Excessive eating of saturated fat or trans fats can result in unhealthy cholesterol levels.
- A body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher puts you at risk for high cholesterol. To maintain a healthy weight, it is essential to watch your BMI.
- Lack of exercise is a major risk factor. Exercise helps boost your body's HDL, the "good" cholesterol.
- Cigarette smoking may lower your level of HDL, or the "good" cholesterol.
- Excessive alcohol can increase your cholesterol level.
- Age. Cholesterol is not only present in people over the age of 40, but it is also more common. The reason for this is that as we age, our liver becomes less able to remove LDL cholesterol.
How to Lower the Cholesterol Level in the Body
Making heart-healthy lifestyle changes is the best way to prevent high cholesterol. Here are some tips to help reduce your cholesterol level and prevent high cholesterol
Reducing saturated fats and trans fats intake
Saturated fats are made of glyceride and fatty acids, which are solid at room temperature. Saturated fats increase the body's levels of low lipid proteins (bad cholesterol). According to the American Heart Association, a daily intake of saturated fats should be 13grams or 2000 calories per day. Foods containing saturated fats are dairy products and red meat such as lamb, pork, and beef. Protein foods with lower cholesterol levels include fish, chicken, and plant proteins. It would help if you also aimed at increasing unsaturated fats in your diet. Unsaturated fats are good as they are critical in maintaining good heart health by fighting cholesterol. An example is omega 3 fatty acids found in fish, which help different body functions.
Trans fats are hydrogenated fats such as margarine. The use of partially hydrogenated oils has been banned by the food and drugs administration due to their cholesterol levels.
Increase the intake of foods with high fiber
Fiber helps reduce cholesterol levels in the body by binding with the bad cholesterol, preventing its absorption into the body. When absorbed into the body, soluble fiber helps prevent plaque formation within blood vessels. There are 2 types of fiber; soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Some of the best sources of soluble fiber include:
- brown rice
- oat cereals
- beans and lentils
- Brussels sprouts
Supplementing your diet with soluble fiber, like psyllium, is safe and inexpensive.
Reducing the intake of processed foods
Processed foods are high in cholesterol and should be avoided. These include foods such as sausages, bacon, and hotdogs.
Physical activity helps in enhancing cholesterol levels in the body. It is recommended for one to exercise for 30minutes five times a week. Studies done by the American Heart Association also show that physical exercise increases good cholesterol levels. Physical activity also helps maintain a healthy body weight, improve mental health, and stay fit. Everyone has their workout techniques.
While working out, tracking your heart rate will help you meet your workout goals. The heart rate tells how much energy is going into the activity, and the values depend on the individual's age. Persons with health conditions should consult their doctors on the type of activity that would work best for them. There are different physical activities one can engage in, such as walking, swimming, jogging, and running. The choice of physical activity is dependent on the individual's hobbies and physical abilities.
Excessive intake of alcohol harms the human body. In the liver, alcohol is broken down into cholesterol and triglycerides. When taken regularly in large amounts, alcohol increases cholesterol levels in the blood. Increased levels of triglycerides in the liver lead to a condition known as fatty liver disease. The condition affects the functioning of the liver, reducing its ability to remove cholesterol from the blood. Other liver effects are linked to cholesterol levels, and they include increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, pancreatic diseases, and other cancers.
How much alcohol is safe?
The recommended levels of alcohol per week are 14 units. The 14 units should be spread throughout the week, with some days being alcohol-free. For safety, an individual should not exceed six units in six hours as this could overwork your liver. The body can only process 10ml of pure alcohol per hour.
These recommendations are also safe for persons with high cholesterol levels. There are, however, some health conditions that should bar the individual entirely from alcohol. If you have a health condition, it is crucial to consult with your doctor about whether or not you should take alcohol.
Tips to help limit alcohol intake:
- Always check the alcohol percentages in your drink
- Let alcohol accompany a meal
- Too up your drink with ice or water to make it last longer
- Drink slowly by taking small sips
Alcoholism is a disease. If you have trouble controlling your drinking, seek help from a specialist or support group.
Smoking has adverse effects on health. The best health advice for anyone is to quit smoking. Smoke from cigarettes contains thousands of harmful substances. Apart from raising cholesterol levels, smoking increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. The blood of a smoker is also thicker and carries lower oxygen levels. The risk of having blood clots is also higher.
Studies show that smoking worsens the type of cholesterol by making it thicker and easier to stick to the blood vessels. It also lowers the levels of good cholesterol (High-density lipoproteins). The good cholesterol helps ferry away from the bad cholesterol and prevent it from clinging onto blood vessels.
How smoking can affect your cholesterol
Smoke from cigarettes damages blood arteries. As cholesterol moves along the vessels, it sticks to the damaged parts leading to coronary artery disease. For smokers, blood vessels clog up faster, lessening blood flow. The thinning and hardening of blood vessels make it more difficult for blood to flow through. The individual starts experiencing a faster heart rate as the heart gets overworked.
Your health starts to improve once you stop smoking. Your ability to exercise also improves, your breathing improves, and the stress levels fall. You should consult your doctor if you are having trouble quitting. It's not easy, but the long-term beneficial effects on your health are worth the effort.
Getting enough sleep
Too much or too little sleep can have a negative effect on your cholesterol. Sleeping less than five hours a night or more than eight hours will raise the levels of triglycerides and lower the levels of good cholesterol. It is critical to establish healthy sleeping patterns. An adult should sleep for eight hours a night. Younger children sleep longer, and the effects are different. If you have trouble sleeping, your doctor might recommend some medications.
The following tips will help you improve the quality of your sleep:
- Avoid taking alcohol and caffeine before going to bed
- Create some sleeping routines by going to bed at a specific time
- Avoid certain habits that will keep you up, such as using the phone before going to bed, reading, and watching movies.
Stress increases the levels of cholesterol in the body. The hormone (cortisol) produced under stress is said to increase bad cholesterol levels in the blood. Adrenaline is also produced that raises the levels of triglycerides in the blood. There are different ways to manage stress. Long-term stress will affect your cholesterol and your quality of life. Stress leads to depression and other mental disorders, resulting in suicide. It is best to talk to someone or seek specialized help whenever we feel overwhelmed.