When Americans hear the word “cholesterol,” they often think it’s a bad thing. But that’s not always true. Cholesterol is a fat that is naturally found in body tissues. It’s essential in building cells in the body and is needed to make hormones and vitamin D. In other words, it is an essential component for normal body function.
Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs, but additional cholesterol is introduced through foods from animal sources — meat, eggs, and cheese. Sometimes, because of several factors, too much cholesterol accumulates in the body, which can cause numerous health problems.
Inside Cholesterol Image of cholesterol test results
Inside the waxy substance of cholesterol are lipoproteins. These are a combination of fat and protein, and the different types of lipoproteins serve different purposes.
HDL or high-density lipoprotein is often called “good” cholesterol. It transports cholesterol from other parts of the body to the liver, where the organ removes cholesterol from the body.
LDL is a low-density lipoprotein that also delivers cholesterol through the body, but it is often called “bad” cholesterol because high levels of LDL create plaque in the arteries.
VLDL, or very low-density lipoprotein, is also often called “bad” cholesterol because too much of it also can lead to plaque in the arteries. However, while LDL carries cholesterol through the body, VLDL mainly carries triglycerides, which are a different type of fat.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Cholesterol Levels
Too much cholesterol can lead to the buildup of plaque in the arteries. This buildup narrows the arteries and slows or blocks the blood flow to the heart, which can lead to heart disease or a heart attack. Maintaining a healthy level of cholesterol is important for long-term wellbeing. You can’t “feel” if your cholesterol is high, but your doctor can test your blood with a cholesterol panel to determine your levels:
- Total cholesterol level of 200 or less is desirable.
- LDL less than 100 and HDL more than 50 are considered optimal.
- Triglycerides should be less than 150.
- What Contributes to High Cholesterol?</li?
Several factors can cause high cholesterol, including:
- Diet, exercise or activity patterns
- Being overweight or obese
- Certain medical condition and medications
- Cholesterol levels also vary with age and gender. Apart from lifestyle, certain genetic conditions can put a person at risk for higher cholesterol levels.
Preventing and Lowering High Cholesterol
The steps to prevent high cholesterol are similar to the ones needed to lower it. Diet plays a very important role in preventing high cholesterol levels. Foods rich in fats and refined sugars can increase cholesterol levels. Reducing saturated fat and trans-fat can improve cholesterol levels. Omega 3 fatty acids are considered heart-healthy. Increasing fiber in the diet also can improve cholesterol levels.
To prevent high cholesterol, eat a diet rich in vegetables, fiber, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean meat. The Mediterranean diet is considered one of the heart-healthy diets. Regular exercise helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
Controlling risk factors — such as obesity and overweight status, and diabetes — can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. If everything fails, medical help is needed especially in individuals whose high cholesterol is due to genetic factors.
If you already have high cholesterol, a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat or no-fat dairy, plant-based protein or lean meat naturally lowers cholesterol. Regular physical exercise is an important component for maintaining ideal cholesterol levels and can help control or reduce the additional risk factors of obesity and diabetes.
Just because you can’t “feel” high cholesterol, it can still be there, potentially damaging your body. If you have high cholesterol, talk with your medical professionals about how you can get and keep your cholesterol at a healthy level.