One piece of advice you’ll most likely get from the doctor is that you should always maintain a good cholesterol level. This is because, more often than not, cholesterol is a silent killer that is strongly associated with life-threatening diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and many others.
The bad thing about this health problem is that it usually presents no symptoms, so you may not know how bad the condition is until you go for a checkup.
In this article, we’ll explain the ins and outs of cholesterol, including the causes, symptoms, risk factors, and preventative measures.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy, and fatty substance in all body cells. The liver produces most of the cholesterol we use, while the remainder comes from food like poultry, eggs, meat, and fish.
On its own, cholesterol isn’t harmful, but when the level of cholesterol in the body exceeds what your body needs, it becomes problematic.
Too much cholesterol causes extra fats in your blood to stick to your arteries, narrowing them and sometimes blocking them completely.
Why Does Your Body Need Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is essential for the body to function properly, and is especially important for your brain, nerves, and skin.
Some of the functions cholesterol perform in the body include the following:
- Production of healthy cell membranes
- Production of hormones like estrogen, testosterone, and adrenal hormones
- Helping your metabolism work efficiently by producing vitamins
- The production of bile acids helps the body digest fat and absorb important nutrients
- Helping in the production of Vitamin D and steroid hormones which keep your bones, teeth, and muscles healthy
Is Cholesterol Dangerous to the Body?
Having the right amount of cholesterol your body needs is not dangerous because, as we’ve explained above, your body needs cholesterol to function.
However, it becomes dangerous if your cholesterol levels become extra high.
In the blood, proteins carry cholesterol and other fats. When these proteins and fat combine, they are known as Lipoproteins. These lipoproteins include:
- Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL): Basically, LDL takes cholesterol to the cells. If there is too much, more than the cells need, it can start to build up in the walls of our arteries, causing them to narrow. Over time these fatty deposits (plaques) can start to restrict blood flow to the heart muscle, brain, arms, legs, and vital organs. For this reason, LDL is often called “bad cholesterol.”
- High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL): HDL carries excess cholesterol from the blood back to the liver, where it is broken down and removed from the body. Higher levels of HDL can help protect against heart disease. HDL is often called “the good cholesterol.”
Therefore, to stay healthy, you will want to lower the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in your body. This is because if your blood contains too much LDL cholesterol, it may lead to high cholesterol. Without treatment, high cholesterol may lead to many health issues, including heart attack and stroke.
What Factors are Responsible for High Cholesterol in the Body?
Several factors affect cholesterol levels in the body, some of which you can control and others that you cannot.
These factors include the following:
- Genetics: If a close family member has high cholesterol, they could pass it along to you in your genetic makeup. That makes it challenging for your body to break down or toss out LDL cholesterol.
- Age: Even though even young children can have unhealthy cholesterol, it is far more prevalent in people over 40. This is because your liver becomes less capable of removing LDL cholesterol as you age.
- Poor Diet: If your diet consists of foods that contain too much saturated fat or trans-fat, this can raise your cholesterol levels. Saturated fat can be found in fatty cuts of meat and full-fat dairy products, and on the other hand, it is common to find trans fats in packaged snacks and desserts.
- Lack of physical activity: A sedentary lifestyle puts you at greater risk because it may increase the amount of LDL in your body.
- Medical conditions: Health conditions like chronic kidney disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, lupus, and so on can cause unhealthy cholesterol levels.
- Medications: Some medications for other health issues, such as anabolic steroids and corticosteroids, can also worsen cholesterol levels
- Alcohol and smoking: Excessive smoking and drinking alcohol will increase bad cholesterol in your body.
What are the Symptoms of High Cholesterol?
Unfortunately, high cholesterol has no symptoms. The only way to know whether or not you are in the clear is by taking a cholesterol test to determine the level of cholesterol in your body and estimate your risk.
However, high cholesterol could increase your chances of developing certain illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, and these conditions could manifest symptoms that prompt immediate action.
Some of these symptoms could be in the form of:
- Chest pain
- Soft, yellowish growths or lesions on the skin called xanthomas may suggest elevated cholesterol levels
- Many people who are obese or have diabetes also have high cholesterol
- Infertility in men can be a sign of high cholesterol
Nonetheless, the fact remains that a lot of people do not realize how bad their cholesterol levels are until it is too late, and they develop serious complications that could lead to death.
This is why here at Craft Body Scan, we encourage you to take care of your health by getting regular checkups to stay up to date with what happens in your body.
How Can You Diagnose High Cholesterol Levels?
To determine the cholesterol level in your body, your healthcare provider will recommend you have a complete cholesterol test, also known as a lipid panel or lipid profile.
This blood test can measure the total blood cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL (good cholesterol), and LDL (bad cholesterol) in the body. This test is usually done early in the morning.
For healthy adults, these are the numbers to aim for:
- Total blood cholesterol should be less than 200mg/dl
- The LDL cholesterol goal is below 130mg/dl. If you have heart disease or diabetes, the goal is less than 100mg/dl
- The HDL cholesterol goal is greater than 60mg/dl
- The triglyceride goal is below 150mg/dl
When Should You Get a Cholesterol Level Test?
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommends that a person undergo their first cholesterol screening between 9 and 11 years of age and then every five years thereafter.
Furthermore, the NHLBI recommends that cholesterol screenings occur every 1 to 2 years for men ages 45 to 65 and women ages 55 to 65. Then, people over 65 should receive cholesterol tests annually.
Nonetheless, more regular tests may be required if you are at a high risk of having cholesterol, i.e., medications, family history, and weight.
How Can You Keep Cholesterol Levels in Check?
The best way to keep your cholesterol levels in check is by making healthy lifestyle choices. These choices can help you prevent and even reduce unhealthy cholesterol levels in your body. Some of the things you can do are:
To reduce your risk of unhealthy cholesterol, you must consider losing weight if you’re obese or overweight.
You can start by making little changes in your everyday life by swapping beverages and soda for tap water. Cut down on snacks, sleep better, eat more fruits, and be more active.
Consistently doing these will surely help break down the fat in your body and lower your risk.
Clean Up Your Diet
Similarly, another lifestyle change you can make is to modify your diet. You can achieve this through the following:
- Reducing saturated fats: You get saturated fats mostly in red meat and full-fat dairy products, and excess consumption of these can raise your total cholesterol. So, decreasing your consumption of saturated fats can reduce the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in your body.
- Eliminating trans fats: While trans fats extend the shelf life of processed foods, they are harmful to humans. You mostly get trans fats from fried foods, savory snacks, frozen pizzas, baked goods, margarine, ready-made frosting, and coffee creamers. A diet solely centered on these kinds of food will ultimately raise cholesterol levels. So, try cutting back on these foods, switch to healthier options, and always read the labels to stay informed.
- Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids: While Omega-3 fatty acids do not directly affect blood cholesterol levels, they do, however, help reduce blood pressure by improving the health of blood vessels. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, herring, and walnuts. Consider adding this to your diet to improve your health.
- Increasing soluble fiber: A fiber-rich diet can limit cholesterol absorption into your blood. You can get soluble fiber from oatmeal, apples, kidney beans, Brussels sprouts, and pears.
Limit Your Alcohol Consumption
Moderation is always key when it comes to alcohol consumption. To stay healthy, women of all ages and men over 65 can drink up to one drink daily, while those under 65 can drink up to two glasses daily.
If you don’t drink, keep it that way, and always remember to opt for water over alcohol and other beverages.
Quitting smoking can improve your HDL cholesterol level. This happens quickly after you quit, with your blood pressure and heart rate returning to normal within 20 minutes of quitting and lung function improving within three months.
After a year of quitting, your risk of heart disease will be half that of a smoker. So, if you smoke, speak with your doctor about measures you can take to detach yourself from cigarettes.
Working out regularly can improve cholesterol levels. Adding physical activity, even in short intervals several times a day, can help you lose weight. The truth is, with moderate physical activity, you can raise the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
So, pick an exercise you enjoy, like dancing, walking, swimming, or cycling, and stick to it. You could also consider:
- Walking to places that are close by
- Using the stairs
- Riding your bike to work
- Playing a favorite sport, etc.
To stay motivated, consider finding a workout partner or joining an exercise group. Listening to music or a podcast also helps make working out more enjoyable.
Are There Medications for Controlling Cholesterol Levels?
Yes, there are. Aside from lifestyle changes, your doctor may suggest medications to help lower your cholesterol. You could also combine the medication with the lifestyle changes we’ve mentioned above.
Some medications that doctors commonly recommend to reduce cholesterol include:
- Fish oils
- Selective cholesterol absorption inhibitors.
- Omega-3 fatty acids and fatty acid esters.
- Adenosine triphosphate-citrate lyase (ACL) inhibitors.
Be sure to discuss your options with your doctor to decide which type of high cholesterol medication will be best for you.
Staying Healthy With Craft Body Scan
While cholesterol is necessary for the body to function, having excess cholesterol is detrimental to your body. Also, waiting for symptoms of high cholesterol to manifest is a bad plan since you’ll never get any.
Checking your levels at intervals and adopting a healthy lifestyle are the major ways to take care of yourself and always be on the safe side.
At Craft Body Scan, we offer preventive screening services, including heart scans, lung scans, and full body scans. Our mission is to help you take control of your health and wellbeing by providing all you need to make informed decisions about your wellness.
Click the link below to book an appointment at one of our many CBS locations.