Globally, an estimated 2.6 million deaths are attributed to high cholesterol levels, and in about 10% of these cases, individuals were unaware of their condition. High cholesterol is also closely linked with many other medical issues. It can develop as a result of other diseases, especially ones that trigger inflammation in your body (like lupus), and high cholesterol can also lead to other health conditions, such as high blood pressure. In this blog post, we will break down everything you need to know about cholesterol and its implications on your health.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a type of fat that is found in the blood. It's made by your liver, and it helps your body to function properly. Cholesterol travels through your bloodstream to deliver nutrients to cells throughout your body.
What is Good and Bad Cholesterol?
Cholesterol comes in two types: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL cholesterol is often referred to as "bad" cholesterol because it can build up in your arteries and lead to heart disease or stroke if there's too much of it in your blood. HDL cholesterol is sometimes called "good" cholesterol because it helps prevent plaque from forming on artery walls; this reduces the risk of heart disease or stroke happening due to blocked arteries. LDL cholesterol carries cholesterol from the liver to cells throughout your body; HDL carries excess cholesterol back to the liver for removal from the body. If an individual has too much LDL or not enough HDL (High cholesterol), he or she may be at risk for developing cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death worldwide.
How is High Cholesterol Diagnosed?
One of the major ways to ascertain if you have high cholesterol levels, especially if it’s a familial case, is through a lipid screening test. This measures the amount of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol in your blood. A person is considered to have high cholesterol levels and be at a high risk for developing heart disease if their total cholesterol is above 240 mg/dL, LDL cholesterol is higher than 160 mg/dL, and HDL level is below 40 mg/dL.
In addition, your doctor might help detect physical signs of high cholesterol, which might not be common to everyone. These signs includes:
- Bumps or lumps around your knees, knuckles, or elbows
- Swollen or painful Achilles tendon
- Yellowish areas around your eyes
- Corneal arcus (a whitish grey colour in the shape of a half-moon on the outside of your cornea)
Risk Factors and Management of High Cholesterol
1. Age & Gender
As you get older, your risk of developing high cholesterol increases. Men are also more likely than women to have high cholesterol levels. It is advisable to get your cholesterol checked every 3-5 years. A person with a family history of high cholesterol or heart problems may be required to have more frequent visits.
2. Obesity and High Waist Circumference.
Both obesity and a high waist circumference can increase your risk for high cholesterol.
When fat accumulates in only one part of the body, especially in the abdominal region, it can lead to an increased risk of developing high cholesterol and other cardiovascular complications.
Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a genetic disorder that affects the body's ability to process cholesterol. It is a condition in which the body is unable to remove low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol from the blood effectively. FH is an inherited condition, which means it is passed down from a parent to their children through a mutated gene. Individuals with FH have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease at an early age.
4. Elevated Blood Sugar
High levels of glucose in the blood can increase LDL cholesterol and decrease HDL cholesterol, damage the lining of arteries, and also increase your risk of fatty deposits building up in your arteries.
Diets high in soda, candy, or other foods containing large amounts of sugar can also contribute to a high blood sugar level. Reducing your intake of these is key to reducing the risks of high cholesterol levels. An increased fibre intake of at least 30-35 g of fibre daily can also help to keep glucose levels in check.
5. Lifestyle Factors
Modifying your lifestyle, diet, and exercise can help regulate cholesterol levels in the body.
- Eating a diet high in saturated and trans fats can increase your cholesterol levels. To reduce your risk of high cholesterol, foods like red meat, full-fat milk, fried foods, and highly-processed sweets and sweeteners should be restricted to the minimum. Adding foods that are cholesterol-reducing can also help reduce the risks of developing high cholesterol. Foods like nuts, beans, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, green vegetables, lentils, oatmeal, whole grain breads, low-fat dairy, low-fat meats, such as poultry, are helpful.
- Regular exercise can increase your HDL cholesterol and decrease your LDL cholesterol. Aiming for 150 minutes of moderate-to-intense aerobic exercise weekly can help regulate HDL and LDL levels, which helps to reduce the risk of developing high cholesterol and other coronary diseases. If you are new to exercise, walking is a great way to start building more activity into your daily life.
- Tobacco smoking damages the wall of your blood vessels and is detrimental to your heart health. This makes it more likely for fat deposits to build up, thereby increasing your risk of high cholesterol levels.
High cholesterol can be difficult to detect as it often has no noticeable symptoms. Many people may have high lipid levels in their blood for several years without realising it. The most effective way to diagnose high cholesterol is through a blood test. It's important to note that high cholesterol can affect anyone regardless of their age or perceived level of health, and certain medical conditions can increase an individual's risk of developing high cholesterol and heart disease. It's essential to understand your cholesterol levels and have a discussion with your healthcare provider about what they mean for your health.