Cholesterol The Facts & Nutrition Source

Cholesterol The Facts & Nutrition Source

Through time, there have been plenty of misconceptions and wrong connotations about cholesterol. You’ve probably heard someone saying “don’t eat that because it has a lot of cholesterol,” or “how much is its cholesterol content?” Hence, often time, clueless people would wonder, “What is cholesterol?” Is it good or bad?

With this, it’s best suited to delve into the matter thoroughly and comprehensively. It’s imperative to know more about it, especially as it’s related to health. Everything about health is important and relevant. So, what’s cholesterol?

What is cholesterol?

Generally speaking, cholesterol is the soft, oily, and seemingly fatty matter in our body cells. It is both good and bad. It is good because the body needs a bit of good cholesterol to create hormones, vitamins, and other essential nutrients to help the digestive system. In other words, the body needs a significant amount of good cholesterol to help with its proper function.

However, when the level of bad cholesterol is higher than the good one, things can go wrong. The body’s proper functioning can come crushing and becomes faulty, creating undesirable side effects and complications in health. By saying so, there are two generic types of cholesterol, namely the good cholesterol and bad cholesterol.

What is good cholesterol?

High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) is good cholesterol. It is one of the essential classifications of complex particles that are made-off of many proteins called lipoproteins. The lipoproteins in HDL take charge of transporting all fat molecules or cholesterol substances through the bloodstream into the liver to remove them properly from the body, as they should, once the intended use or function is satisfied.

The good cholesterol helps in building the cells of the body and aids in other essential functions. The bloodstream carries the HDL that is in the proteins, the lipoproteins, from the food or drink you consume. That means, higher levels of High-Density Lipoprotein cholesterol in the body, help in reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

What is bad cholesterol?

So, what is bad cholesterol?

Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) is the bad cholesterol. Health experts refer to it as the bad type because when there is a higher level of LDL in the body, it accumulates plaques build-up in the arteries.

Therefore, when you have more than enough of the desirable cholesterol level in the body, it will blend with other substances found in the blood. The plaque formed in the process will stick to the wall of the arteries, which will become atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis can lead to a heart disease called coronary artery disease. This condition happens when there is a narrowing or impediment in the body’s coronary arteries.

What is VLDL or Very Low-Density Lipoprotein?

In totality, there are other lipoproteins that the body needs, and Very Low-Density Lipoprotein (VLDL) is another classification. Although considered as “bad cholesterol” due to the presence of LDL, VLDL is much better and more essential than the first.

While Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) primarily carries cholesterol, VLDL chiefly transports triglycerides, which are significant for the body’s production of energy.

The body will convert the food you eat into calories. These calories will get stored into the triglycerides when the body doesn’t see the need to use them yet. However, when the needs arise, the hormones created with the help of lipoproteins will then release these triglycerides for the energy you need.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that the body needs triglycerides for the production of energy, having more than the required amount or level can also increase the risks of heart diseases.

Where can you get cholesterol?

There are two ways on how you can get cholesterol. First, the liver creates all the cholesterol the body cells need, and the second or remainder is from the animal food or products.

Cholesterol from the food intake is in the proteins that you consume, such as cheese, egg yolks, meat, and other food or drink products called dietary cholesterol.

What can cause high cholesterol level?

Living an unhealthy lifestyle is the most common cause of having a high cholesterol level. The list includes improper eating habits, living sedentarily or no physical activities, and vices.

  • Improper eating habits

As mentioned, cholesterol came from the food you take. Hence, it is important to be mindful of what you eat. One main cause for the cholesterol level to spur is consuming plenty of bad fats, such as saturated fats that are in some meat and dairy products.

These bad fats are also in baked goods, chocolates, and deep-fried foods. Saturated fats are also present in all processed foods. So, consuming any of the fats mentioned can increase your LDL cholesterol level.

  • Sedentary lifestyle

Living sedentarily or passively is when you lack physical activities. The body needs to keep moving to be healthy. When you have more time to sit down than moving, you are increasing your chances to lower your good (HDL) cholesterol.

The body needs a good level of HDL to supply the needed essential nutrients to keep its proper function.

  • Vices

One of the unhealthiest habits that some people are practicing today is having vices, like smoking and drinking. Smoking can lower the High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and increase Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol. 

  • Other causes

Moreover, genetics can also cause high cholesterol. Health experts expressed that someone can inherit it from hereditary conditions, like Familial Hypercholesterolemia.

Apart from that, other health conditions and prescription drugs or medicines can also cause high cholesterol.

What are the things that can contribute to the risk of having high cholesterol?

There are many things that can contribute to the risk of having high cholesterol. So, here are the contributing factors.

  • Weight

Overweight or obesity and other related weight problems can raise the risk of you to have high cholesterol. Going over your required weight limit will highly contribute to getting high LDL (bad cholesterol), and thus, lowering the essential HDL (good cholesterol).

  • Age

Age can also contribute to a high level of bad cholesterol. The body functions also depend greatly on age. So, as you get older, chances for the bad cholesterol level to spike up increases. Although uncommon, younger people like children can also incur the risks of getting high (bad) cholesterol. It all roots back to the food you eat. The key point is to observe a proper meal.

  • Genes

Genes are also a contributing factor to the risks of high cholesterol. High blood (bad) cholesterol runs in the families. Hence, another contributing factor is hereditary. The race also contributes to the risks of having high cholesterol, as studies of health experts revealed. There are particular races that typically have higher levels of HDL, while others have higher LDL levels.

What are the health-related problems caused by high cholesterol?

When there’s a massive plaque build-up in the arteries caused by higher LDL levels, an area of that can rupture or blowout, which can cause blood clotting. The blood clot can appear on the surface of the plaque, and when it becomes bigger, it can impede the flow of the blood to the coronary artery.

The blood that flows to the coronary artery carries oxygen for the heart to function properly. Hence, it is of great importance for it to flow smoothly and properly, so the heart can pump and function effectively. So, when it gets blocked, chest pain occurs, and heart attack can happen.

A plaque build-up can also happen in other parts of your body’s arteries. It can form in the carotid artery. When that happens, blood carrying oxygen to the brain, neck, and face will get blocked, and thus, it will lead to carotid artery issues, such as stroke, peripheral arterial illnesses, and other carotid artery diseases.

What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?

There are no evident symptoms that show when someone has a high level of cholesterol. That is why cholesterol is such a tricky enemy because you will never know if you have a higher level or not unless you go for a regular doctor’s check-up.

With that said, you will get a higher risk of health conditions with symptoms, like chest pain brought by a heart illness and high blood pressure that can lead to stroke. Other circulatory ailments may also manifest. Nevertheless, here are a few of the symptoms that may show when you have high cholesterol.

  • Overweight or obesity

Weight is a significant sign that one has high cholesterol. When you are overweight or obese, chances are your LDL is high and your HDL is low. Thus, your high blood pressure cholesterol increases.  

  • Diabetes

People with diabetes also have higher chances of getting a high level of bad cholesterol. New research showed that excess sugar in the body is due to bad cholesterol and unhealthy levels of triglycerides.

  • Yellowish lesions

One significant indicator of high cholesterol is the appearance of yellowish lesions or growths on the skin that are soft. Xanthomas is the name of the yellowish lesions that indicates a likelihood of problems on cholesterol.

  • Impotence

Due to the excess of cholesterol in the blood, arteries get affected, which can result in impotence to many men.  It is also a sign or symptom of high cholesterol.

  • Shortness of breath

Another significant symptom of having high cholesterol is shortness of breath. When you feel like you are having a hard time breathing even if you’ve only walked a few steps, your bad cholesterol might be high.

  • Symptoms of coronary artery disease

Having high cholesterol can lead to several symptoms of heart problems. Some people might feel pain at their back, jaw, neck, and upper abdominal area. However, the most significant symptom of diseases related to the heart is chest pain. Other indicators include extreme fatigue, heartburn, and coldness or numbness of the extremities.

  • Telltale signs of stroke

Plaque build-ups occur when the bad cholesterol is high, and so, putting anyone at serious risk of a stroke due to the oxygen-blood carrier getting blocked. With that, here are a few relevant indications that someone is experiencing a stroke.

  • Mumbling words
  • Vision problems (blurry, double vision, or blackened)
  • Confused
  • Extreme headache
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Asymmetry of the face (Onset face deformation)
  • Sudden coordination imbalance
  • Immobility
  • Numbness in some parts of the body
  • Other artery problems

Symptoms for other artery problems include dizziness, pain in the lower legs, garbled words, unsteady walk, and the feeling of fullness or pressure. Other manifestations include Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) that can also cause some health complications, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. PAD indications range from achiness or cramping to gangrene, which can result in limb amputations.

How high cholesterol gets diagnosed?

Your next question now would be how to diagnose high cholesterol. One way to find out your cholesterol level is through a blood test. The frequency of the test will greatly depend on age and risk factors. Also, the family history of hereditary high cholesterol is an additional factor for that. Nonetheless, a few of the general recommendations by health experts are listed below.

  • For adults – 20 years old and above

Female adults from 20 to 54 years old should take the blood test every five years, while those who are 55 to 65 years old should at least do it once a year or every two years.

Men adults from 20 to 44 years old should have the blood test every five years, while those who are 45 to 65 years old should have it every year or two years.

  • For younger people – children to 19 years old

The first blood test to check the cholesterol level should be from or between 9 to 11 years old. Children should get the blood test again after every five years from their first test. Teens follow the same recommendations. However, if there’s a family history that relates to high blood cholesterol, like a heart attack or stroke, it is advisable that children should get the test starting at the age of 2 years old. 

What are the treatment, cure, or remedy for high cholesterol?

Before even thinking of treatment or cure for high cholesterol, it would be best to settle with prevention. You can always avoid getting health complications. For high cholesterol, one primary way to prevent having high cholesterol is a lifestyle change.

  • Lose some fats

Overweight or obesity is a major contributing factor that can cause high cholesterol. Hence, losing some fats can help in lowering the level of bad cholesterol.

  • Establish physical activity

Avoid living a sedentary life. Establish or create a physical activity that can make you move. If you are working at home or is always in front of the desk working, there are other creative ways you can intercept in between to establish a movement or physical activity.

  • Regular exercise

Exercising is the best way to establish physical activities and lose fats in the process. You can start by walking a few steps until you can walk 10,000 steps a day to lose some pounds, and thus, lower cholesterol levels. You can also go for a minimum of 30-minute exercise daily.

  • Following a healthy diet

Eat only healthy food, specifically a heart-healthy diet. You can get it from plant-based foods, such as vegetables and fruits. That said, you should also limit your saturated fats from dairy and meat products. You should also limit your trans fats intake that you can get through processed foods.

  • Stop smoking

It could be a cliché, but one way to lower the bad cholesterol is to stop smoking or don’t smoke at all. The smoke from the cigarettes can increase the levels of the bad cholesterol (LDL) and the triglycerides or the blood fat. When that happens, plaques build-up that can cause a blockage in the arteries.

  • Avoid drinking high-calorie content alcoholic drinks

Drinking a high-calorie content of alcoholic drinks or beverages can also increase the levels of cholesterol. So, if you are a massive drinker, avoid those with high calories or simply avoid drinking alcoholic drinks or liquors.

You can start by eating healthy food or observing a proper diet. Doing physical activity or exercising is also another way of keeping a healthy lifestyle. By doing so, you are avoiding accumulations or build-up of bad cholesterol. Nonetheless, in cases when your cholesterol level is still high, despite living healthily, your doctor will recommend other options, like medications.

Choices of medications will vary and depend on different factors, such as age, risks, family history, and drug complications or side effects.

  • Statin drugs

These are medications prescribed by a doctor to aid in lowering bad cholesterol levels in the blood. The liver creates cholesterol apart from the food you take. So, when there’s a high level of cholesterol in the body, the statin drugs will stop the liver from making cholesterol through blocking the substance that lets it create.

By doing so, the liver will eliminate the cholesterol from the blood. These drugs can help correct malfunction in the process due to excess in fats by returning it to its normal function. Thus, preventing coronary artery disease or heart-related illnesses. Therefore, prevent coronary heart disease or heart-related diseases.

  • Other medications

Aside from statin drugs, other medications are also available to aid in correcting or lowering the high level of bad cholesterol. Other medications include bile-acid-binding resins that will let the liver use the excess cholesterol in making bile acids indirectly. Thus, when more cholesterol from the liver gets used in creating bile acids, the cholesterol level will reduce or decrease in the blood.

There are also what they call as cholesterol absorption inhibitors. These drugs can help in the absorption of cholesterol into the small intestine from the diet. Once absorbed, the small intestine will then release the cholesterol into the blood screen. Thus, limiting the dietary cholesterol absorption in the body.

  • Under the skin injection

New inhibitor drugs can also help in lowering LDL cholesterol levels through injecting the PCSK9 drugs (inhibitors) under the skin. The patient can also self-administered the injection.

Medications in lowering triglycerides, contain by Very Low-Density Lipoprotein (VLDL), are also available for prescriptions. However, there are some over-the-counter medications too that your doctor will advise you to get or prescribed. The omega-3 fatty acid supplements can also aid in lowering the level of triglycerides.

How to monitor cholesterol levels?

One best way to monitor and manage your cholesterol level is to have a blood test. Your doctor will provide the schedule for your appointment. Nevertheless, here are a few tips before going to your doctor.

  • Write down any symptoms that you felt or noticed
  • Include cases of history of high cholesterol levels or cholesterol-related diseases, such as diabetes, stroke, heart attack, and others, in the family
  • Take note of all the medications, including supplements you are taking
  • List down some questions for your doctor

While setting up the appointment, you should ask your doctor if there’s anything that you need to do prior to the blood test, like not eating for how many hours before the test or if you need to fast for how many hours before the exam. Normally, the doctor or his secretary will tell you about the steps before the test.

Conclusion

Cholesterol is not totally bad. Hence, there’s good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. You need to have a sufficient amount of good cholesterol to help in the proper function of the body.

The good cholesterol, technically called as High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL), aids in the creation of hormones and other essential nutrients, including vitamin D, the body needs to function properly and effectively. It’s the bad cholesterol, or Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) is what you need to avoid.

It is important to control the level of cholesterol in the body to avoid plaque build-up that can lead to the impediment of oxygen-carrying blood in the arteries. When a blockage occurs, arterial problems will happen. The arteries flow blood, which contains proteins and cholesterol, to the coronary, brain, and other parts of the body. Living a healthy lifestyle can greatly help in keeping our cholesterol level at its best.

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Nicolas Desjardins

Hello everyone, I am the main writer for SIND Canada. I've been writing articles for more than 10 years and I like sharing my knowledge. I'm currently writing for many websites and newspapers. All my ideas come from my very active lifestyle, every day I ask myself hundreds of questions to doctors, specialists, and physicians. I always keep myself very informed to give you the best information. In all my years as a computer scientist made me become an incredible researcher. I believe that any information should be free, we want to know more every day because we learn every day. Most of our medical sources come from Canada.ca and government research. You can contact me on our forum or by email at info@sind.ca.