HOW HIGH CHOLESTEROL WREAKS HAVOC ON YOUR BODY
The human body needs cholesterol in order to build and maintain healthy cells but our body needs this substance only in moderation. When cholesterol in the body gets too high, the chances of developing heart disease rises significantly.
For a definition, cholesterol is a wax-like substance that is naturally occurring in the fats in the human blood.
How does high cholesterol happen?
Cholesterol is attached to proteins and is carried through our bloodstream. This combination of cholesterol and proteins is what is called a lipoprotein. The type of cholesterol that you have is dependent on the type of cholesterol the lipoprotein carries.
A Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is considered as bad cholesterol and it builds up in the walls of the arteries, causing them to turn hard and narrow. When the level of LDL in the blood is too high, it forms fatty deposits in the arteries and increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. On the other hand, High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is considered good cholesterol, as it picks up extra cholesterol and returns it back to the liver. The liver then breaks down this cholesterol so that the body can get rid of it. Because HDL stops cholesterol from building up in the blood vessels, it helps to cut the risk of heart disease and stroke.
In some cases, high cholesterol is genuinely inherited (where cells are unable to properly remove LDL cholesterol from the blood or where the liver produces too much cholesterol), but more often than not, it occurs as the result of unhealthy lifestyle choice, inactivity and obesity. This means that it is a preventable and treatable condition.
The factors that may increase someone’s chances of having high cholesterol also include having a large waist circumference (men with a waist circumference of 40 inches and more and women with a waist circumference of 35 inches and more are more likely to develop it); smoking and having diabetes (because high blood sugar contributes to lower HDL cholesterol and higher LDL cholesterol, as well as damages the lining of the arteries).
Just as is the case with high blood pressure, you simply cannot diagnose high cholesterol by just looking at someone because it has no known symptoms. The only way to spot high cholesterol is to specifically test the blood for it.
The havoc high cholesterol wreaks
People with high cholesterol levels are at risk of developing atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a dangerous and direct accumulation of cholesterol among other deposits on the walls of the arteries. Over time, these plaque deposits reduce the blood flowing through the arteries.
The complications that atherosclerosis can cause are:
Chest pain: Chest pain occurs when the coronary arteries that supply the heart with blood are affected. The medical name for this kind of chest pain is called angina, and it can be very uncomfortable at best, and fatal at worst.
Heart attack: In the event that any plaque tears or ruptures, a blood clot may form at that tear or rupture site, and this automatically blocks the flow of blood. If it does not block the flow of blood, it may break free and plug an artery downstream. Both ways, blood flow to the heart is likely to stop and when this occurs, the individual has a heart attack.
Stroke: When blood flow to any part of the brain is blocked by a blood clot, a stroke occurs. A stroke is very similar to a heart attack, only that the organ affected here is the brain rather than the heart.
So how do you prevent high cholesterol from happening?
The same precautionary measures that are taken to maintain heart health and prevent high blood pressure are the same measures to take in preventing high cholesterol. They are:
Eating less salt and seasoning food with more herbs and natural spices instead. This means not only cutting the amount of table and cooking salt consumed but cutting down drastically on pre-processed and restaurant-prepared foods because these usually have a high sodium content.
Eating a diet that incorporates a lot of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Using good fats such as olive oil in moderation and limiting the amount of animal fats consumed.
Maintaining a healthy weight. This will also mean losing some extra weight if you are overweight, to begin with.
Committing to a life of exercise. The aim should be about four to five times a week, for at least 30 minutes per session.
Quitting the smoking habit, if you have one.
Drinking alcohol in moderation if you must at all.
Eating a diet that is low in saturated fat and trans fats. Some foods that are high in saturated fats include fatty meat, biscuits, pastries, and cakes while trans fats are found in processed and prepackaged foods, such as cookies and biscuits.
Once you clock 40, you should make it a point of duty to get tested for cholesterol often, as a part of a health check to calculate your risk of developing heart disease or stroke.
You are also advised to regularly check your cholesterol levels if you suffer from high blood pressure or diabetes, are overweight, have a family history of high cholesterol, or if you have yellow patches on your skin or around your eyes.
Treating high cholesterol
Apart from the lifestyle changes you will need to make to lower your cholesterol levels naturally, you may also be prescribed drugs. These medicines are called statins and are usually prescribed if the changes to your lifestyle haven’t reduced your cholesterol level enough.