What is Cholesterol?

If you are not a doctor or someone that works in the medical field you may not care about cholesterol until your doctor tells you that your cholesterol is high and that you need to do something to keep it low. But why are doctors so concerned about high cholesterol? Well am glad you asked and you will certainly find out after reading this blog. In a nutshell Cholesterol is a waxy kind of substance in the human body that the body uses to build new cells, insulate the nerves and produce hormones. Just by this definition you will think that cholesterol is a good thing and everyone should get as much as possible. But wait a minute; the liver produces just about enough cholesterol that each person needs to live a normal life. But in addition to the amount the liver produces we also get extra cholesterol from foods like milk, eggs and meat. If you use tropical oils like Palm oil, Palm Kernel oil and coconut oil these have high saturated fat which the liver uses to make excess cholesterol for the body. If you are a younger person the chance is that your cholesterol level will be within normal because the body has not build up much cholesterol. As we get older, from the age of twenty (20) there is a chance that our body may have accumulated too much cholesterol.

High Cholesterol Problem:

If your blood cholesterol is within the normal level it’s not a problem because your body needs it. The health problem starts once your cholesterol is too high because you can have heart disease. This results from excess cholesterol which builds up in your arteries causing atherosclerosis which is a form of heart disease. The arteries become narrow from the cholesterol build up and it becomes very difficult for blood and oxygen to reach the heart. The blockage can completely cut off the blood supply and the person will have a heart attack or stroke.

There are actually two kinds of cholesterol in the blood, the bad cholesterol is called LDL or low density lipoprotein and the good cholesterol is HDL or high density lipoprotein. The bad cholesterol LDL is the one that clogs up arteries while the good cholesterol HDL helps to clear cholesterol from the blood. If you have too much LDL or not enough HDL it is a bad sign because your risk of heart disease or stroke is high.

Cholesterol Levels:

It is recommended by doctors that your cholesterol levels be checked every five (5) years from the age of twenty (20). Below are important cholesterol levels for you.

  1. Total Cholesterol (HDL plus LDL) – This should be less than 200 mg/dl.

If the level is 200 – 239 it is borderline high level

The level of 240 and above is regarded as high cholesterol level.

  1. LDL (Low density lipoprotein or the bad cholesterol) – Less than 100 mg/dl

If the level is 100 – 129 mg/dl it above the optimal recommended

The level of 130 – 159 mg/dl is borderline high level

160 – 189 mg/dl is a high level and

190 mg/dl and above is a very high level.

  1. HDL (High density lipoprotein, the good cholesterol) – 60 mg/dl or more is good and desirable because it helps to lower the risk of a heart disease. If the level is less than 40 mg/dl it is bad because you don’t have enough and the risk of heart disease is high.

  2. Triglycerides – This is an important test that needs to be checked because triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body that stores excess energy from diet. If you have a high triglycerides with a low HDL and/or a high LDL then there is a very high risk of a heart attack or stroke. The measured triglyceride levels are:

Less than 150 mg/dl is desirable

150 – 199 mg/dl is borderline high level, 200 – 499 mg/dl is high and levels over 500 mg/dl are very high level.

What Affects Cholesterol Levels? There are lots of factors that affect how high your blood cholesterol level is; these are:

1.    Diet – What you eat obviously will affect how high your cholesterol is. Excess carbohydrates, food rich in saturated fat, trans-fat and cholesterol containing food will increase your blood cholesterol. But increasing fiber and plant derived sterols will lower your LDL cholesterol.

2.    Weight – Being overweight will increase your cholesterol level and increases your chance of a heart disease. But losing weight in lowering your LDL level.

3.    Exercise – Regular exercise of about thirty (30) minutes every day will help lower your LDL cholesterol and also raise your HDL cholesterol.

4.    Age and gender – The older you are your total cholesterol increases, women before the menopause have a lower LDL level than men but after menopause age women have a higher level of LDL than men.

5.    Heredity – If you have a family history of high cholesterol then you have a higher chance of developing high cholesterol level if you don’t control it.

6.    Medical conditions – People who have hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland), liver disease and kidney disease tend to develop high cholesterol level.

7.    Medications – Patients on steroids and progestin may have a higher LDL and lower HDL levels.

Preventing and Treating High Cholesterol Levels:

The goal here is to lower total cholesterol level and especially lower the LDL which is the bad cholesterol and thus decrease the chances of the patient developing a heart disease, heart attack or stroke.

A.   Eat a heart healthy diet

B.   Exercise regularly (about 30 minutes daily)

C.   Maintain a healthy weight

D.   Control other risk factors of heart disease like high blood pressure (high BP) and stop smoking.

E.   Eat low saturated fat, low refined carbohydrates

F.    Medications – If the preventive measures are not working out then your doctor may decide to put you on cholesterol lowering medications.

G.   *Supplements* - There are some over the counter supplements that claim to lower cholesterol. I will not make any recommendations for or against it here but please notify your personal physician if you are taking any kind of supplements. Supplements may interact with the medicines prescribed by your doctor or even have some adverse effects that you may not know about.